There was an interesting article on CNN a few days ago. It was talking about youth and church, and probably more importantly, faith and the faith of young people. Kenda Creasy Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of Almost Christian, a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.
Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.And that's just for starters. But, she says, there are reasons to have hope. In her interviews for the book she did find committed Christian teens:
She says this "impostor'' faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.
"If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust," Dean says. "Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about."
No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.From my work with teenagers over many years, I would agree with her assessment of teens with what she calls a "commitment". For many in my tradition that faith community was the summer camp and sometimes a group that did the mission trips. At times it was Sunday school or a particular group of young people that grew up together. In the end work with youth that focused on fun and games was usually not successful in the long run.
She goes on to name, what I think underlies many of the problems with youth ministry in churches.
Some adults don't expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.Elizabeth Corrie directs a program called YTI -- the Youth Theological Initiative at Emory University in Georgia. She goes on to name another problem often found in churches:
Others practice a "gospel of niceness," where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.
"If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.
She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.What can a parent do then?
"If your church can't survive without a certain number of members pledging, you might not want to preach a message that might make people mad," Corrie says. "We can all agree that we should all be good and that God rewards those who are nice."
Get "radical," Dean says.To which all I can say is "Amen."
She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips.
A parent's radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.
But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says.