Have you noticed how passionate and articulate teenagers can be about anything except their faith?
Eavesdrop on a conversation amongst teenagers and you’ll hear them talking passionately about many things: Friends. Video Games. Relationships. Celebrities. The Environment.
School (well, scratch that).
But try to engage many young people in a conversation about faith, and you may as well prepare yourself for blank stares.
Have you noticed how passionate and articulate adults can be about anything except their faith? Friends, Family, Work, and even Politics are all fair game. Yet try to engage many church-going adults in conversations about faith and you may as well prepare yourself for blank stares.
Coincidence. Yes or No?
In her challenging new book, Princeton scholar Kenda Creasy Dean writes, “Since the religious and spiritual choices of teenagers echo, with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issue, but ours.” If youth ministry is struggling in our churches, we all have some work to do, together.
Throughout the Anglican Church of Canada, we spend a great deal of time speaking about the importance of youth ministry. For some of us, youth ministry is about the future of the church. We want our tradition to continue, our buildings to stand strong, and our community presence to last a long time.
These are all good things.
We remember the times when we were younger, the relationships we had, and the role the church played in our own lives growing up. We recall the large Sunday Schools, the church picnics and outings. We recall, with fondness, many wonderful memories. We might even remember a bible story or two.
Perhaps we think back to camping trips or dances. Perhaps we think back to New Beginnings or Challenge weekends we’ve sent our children on.
Sometimes, when we gather to talk about youth ministry, we focus on technique. What will keep young people interested? What will attract them to church? What will keep them there in the long run? We’re concerned for the future of the church, and rightly so.
But sometimes we’re just spinning our wheels. Sometimes we spend far more time trying to find the latest tricks and techniques than we do remembering what brings us together in the first place. Sometimes we forget God’s story, into which we have all been invited.
We are created in God’s own image. We are loved by the God who constantly offers us hope and new life through self-sacrificing love. We have been entrusted with the stewardship of all of God’s good creation. We are a called-out people who follow Jesus in proclaiming God’s upside-down kingdom to all we encounter. We are co-heirs with Jesus of this kingdom, which will one day be fully revealed.
This gospel is astounding. It is good news for all people. Yet we struggle to communicate that sense of awe and wonder with one another. We are recipients of God’s grace and mercy against all odds. And in all of this, as the Rev. Canon Bill Cliff pointed out to the 1000 gathered teens and leaders at the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth Gathering, God always acts first.
This is mind-blowing stuff. Do we treat it that way? Do we live that way? Can we articulate what it means for ourselves to be a part of God’s family? If we cannot, how then will we communicate the importance of our Christian faith and Anglican tradition to our children?
In “Almost Christian,” Dean goes on to share four significant traits that teens committed to their Christian faith hold in common:
1) They have a personal story about God they can share,
2) A deep connection to a faith community,
3) A sense of purpose,
4) A sense of hope about their future.
And these things are as important for teenagers as they are for adults. Dean continues: “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.” As a church, if we’re to get this youth ministry thing right, we too will need to develop the traits Dean speaks about. The research is nearly unanimous: parents matter most in shaping the religious lives of their children.
If youth ministry is important to us, we will find the words and ways to articulate our own stories about God. We will connect more deeply with our faith communities. We will seek to understand our purpose and God’s call on our lives, and we will place our hope in God’s future.
Youth ministry is simpler than we think yet it does require something of us. It requires that we share our lives with young people, and that we model in thought, word and deed, what it is we believe. This is something we can do together. Will you join in?