Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Two crucial books on sharing faith with youth

In the church I currently serve as interim senior pastor, we are coming to grips with the need for a fresh approach to youth ministry. Too many churches are stuck in a form of youth ministry that amounts to a pizza holding tank, where adults and families hope and pray that their sons and daughters will just be protected from trouble. Do anything you can to keep them happy and interested and out of trouble seems to be the tacit message! Only usually it's put out there much more directly. Save our kids! You teach them faith! We don't know how! Help!

Two critically important books address the current realities of youth ministry and point the way toward discernment and fresh approaches to leadership and partnership between youth and adults in handing off faith. The first I'll note is "The Godbearing Life" with co-author Kendra Creasey Dean. She makes a few trenchant observations.
  1. "Today's teenagers have less adult contact than any generation in human history, in large part because of working parents."
  2. All too often, churches practice the Mickey Mouse one-eared strategy of ministry with youth. Just picture Mickey Mouse with only 1 ear. The large round face is the congregation, and the small ear is the segregated collection of youth, who often have little contact with adults. And yet, younger generations crave solid and affirming and spiritual connections with adults who can be "adult guarantors" as one youth ministry educator once described it.
  3. Thirdly, the average tenure of a youth minister across denominational lines is about 18 months. Often these youth ministers are expected to be charismatic, personality magnets for youth, with a drawing power totally unrealistic to sustain.
  4. In the "Godbearing Life", Kenda Creasy Dean observes that 'Studies consistently indicate that a relationship with an 'adult guarantor' during adolescence outweighs all other forms of youth ministry in terms of positive influence on youth development."
  5. Finally, youth ministry is not just for youth. It's for adults who are called to be "Godbearers" and in the process are called to spiritual ministry and growth themselves.

The second crucial book for leaders and churches to read regarding youth ministry is titled "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers" by Christian Smith, with Melinda Lundquist Denton. This book draws from intense sociological study designed by Christian Smith to learn more through first hand interviews and surveys of young people across America.

Here's the first comment in the book: "American teenagers can embody adult's highest hopes and most gripping fears. They represent a radiant energy that opens doors to the future for famlies, communities, and society. But they also evoke deep adult anxieties about teen rebellion, trouble, and broken and compromised lives. Parents, teachers, and youth workers behold their teenagers with pride, hope, and enjoyment, but also often worry, distress, and frustration."

Smith's book lays out the main survey and interview findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a research project on the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents conducted from 2001 to 2005 at the University of North Carolina.

"Soul Searching' paints a picture of immense variety and diversity among American teens in terms of spiritual involvement. The good news, Smith reports, is that there is a positive correlation for teens and spirituality that shows more religiously active teens as doing significantly better in life on a variety of important outcomes than less religiously active teens.

Both the "Godbearing Life" and "Soul Searching" are of immense value to church leaders, pastors, parents, religious educators, and all for whom the spiritual health of adolescents is a major concern. Get them both! Study them! Discuss them! Find ways to implement their suggestions...


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