Faith of teenagers is a reflection

I found the latest edition of the e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership interesting for a couple of reasons.

One was a quote from a Kenda Creasy Dean in Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Oxford University Press, 2010). She is describing an alternate faith embraced by many teenagers who self describe as Christians. The kicker comes at the end.

(this alternate faith has ) little to do with God or a sense of a divine mission in the world. It is a self-emolliating spirituality aimed at achieving personal happiness and helping people treat each other nicely. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, and helps solve problems by encouraging people to do good and feel good while keeping God at arm’s length.

This faith has two significant purposes for teenagers in American culture. It supports relationships in a pluralistic society by deemphasizing Jesus and any other Christian peculiarities in favor of a benign faith. Second, (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) MTD provides a safe religious experience to foster happiness and self-fulfillment.

The NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) revealed something else. American teenagers, for the most part, mirror their parents’ religious faith. MTD is the default faith for teenagers because it is essentially the default faith taught and practiced in congregations.

The article then goes on to list three key factors that help congregations nurture Christian faith in teenagers.

Another article draws upon other sources to sketch a portrait of congregations who have a vibrant youth ministry.

these churches are more likely to have a full-time youth minister, a variety of programs for teenagers, and opportunities for youth to participate in religious practice and leadership.

And from the Exemplary Youth Ministry study, … such congregations are more likely to:

  • portray God as living, present and active
  • place a high value on scripture
  • explain their church’s mission, practices and relationships as inspired by “the life and mission of Jesus Christ”
  • emphasize spiritual growth, discipleship, and vocation
  • promote outreach and mission
  • help teens develop “a positive, hopeful spirit,” “live out a life of service,” and “live a Christian moral life.”

These criteria are congruent with characteristics listed by Lesley Harrison, in the Emerging Spirit work, of congregations that are effective and vibrant.

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