If you’re interested in feeling terrible  just sit and think for a minute about all the kids who’ve graduated from your church and partied their faith and values away on some distant college campus.  Or what about the kids who didn’t drink away someone else’s money but just sat around at home, maybe working, maybe at community college, maybe doing nothing… but still seemed to be uninterested in your church?  Sorry to do that to you.  Feel free to take a moment and compose yourself.

Yeah it sucks and to some degree it may be inevitable for many young people.  Much is being said on this topic and there is a lot of debate as to who or what is to blame.  This may actually be settled quite easily: we are all to blame and almost every contributing factor that you’ve read in a book or blog is probably relevent in greater or lessers degrees in various contexts.

So what do we do?  Accept it and move on?  Maybe.  Get pissed and point the finger?  Definately.  After all, that strategy works brilliantly in every other context (marriage, politics, etc…).

My personal perspective of how to deal with this is evolving regularly.  I’ve already stated in a previous post  (“Why You’re There”,  that I can’t imagine doing youth ministry anymore without doing College Ministry (or some form of post high school ministry).  Because of the given cultural climate and the developmental factors involved with this life stage, CYA ministry is to me the logical and neccessary extension of youth ministries in the Western Church.  For various reasons this may be hard to swallow for some people, but I’m to the place now where I’m willing to fight for this.  I’ve actually invested a significant amount of my professional life maintaining and building this ministry in my context.

Here’s a few thoughts:

We need to disciple students better so that when they graduate from high school they’re better prepared for whatever life they find themselves in.  As you may realize, due to developmental and cultural dynamics, this is a very complicated issue.    In my opinion the “Church” could do a lot better job of discipling people of all ages.  Some balance has to be drawn (or does it?) between entertaining them so that they’ll show up and actually teaching them to follow Jesus.

Sanctification is the process of the Holy Spirit shaping our identity into someone that looks like Jesus Christ and being daily transformed back into the true image of God (Garden of Eden style, except with more clothing).  So much of scripture speaks to this journey and yet with all the work that psycologists have done on identity formation, we seem to still miss the obvious connections.  That is to say, at least I have.  As scary and unsettling as this life stage is for parents, church leaders and other adults, it can still be made holy by God.  I want to be a part of that process.

There needs to be CREATIVE and RELEVANT assimilation of young people into the life of the greater church and a similar effort to assimilate older people into the lives of young people (by young people I mean both youth and young adults).  This actually is a serious burden for me.   Young poeple can contribute to your church’s overall mission, values, culture and leadeship.  That doesn’t mean they take over; I would not advocate for that any more than I would advocate for you taking over.  Create opportunities for people to be and work together.  Feel free to make mistakes.

Personally, I’m not yet willing to give up on these people.  I still see too much untapped potential in them and I’ve felt for a long time that God has shared his heart with me for their futures.


4 thoughts on “Neccessity

  1. There is an intellectual component that plays a part in this “leaving faith” behind when students are sent off to become adults. The Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan sums it up well.

    “A religious background… while it confers an inestimable aid in the process of development, it can in the concrete work out as a hindrance: namely, if religion does not keep pace with other development. Thus the faith of a child requires a development into the theology of an adult. If development remains childish – on the level of ‘(pastor) told me” – this can be dangerous in the life of the cultured adult, who will decide, not only that such faith is outmoded, but also that religion itself is childish. At best, religion will cease to have much influence in adult life. History gives us material to ponder in this connection: The church in europe lost the workers in the nineteenth century; but would the church have lost the workers of the nineteenth century if she had not lost the intellectuals in the eighteenth?” Understanding and Being by Bernard Lonergan, pg. 183-84

    “(Religion) can be a hindrance if there is not a religious development concomitant with the cultural development of the individual. If the individual develops as a child in a religious atmosphere, and then his religion remains at what was excellent in a child and is childish in a (grown person), well, there is an obvious lack of balance in the total product, if as a (person one is) a very highly cultured individual. Now it could occur that such a person would not want to touch anything in his religion, would not want to develop on the intellectual side of his religion, because he would be afraid of upsetting everything(…)” Understanding and Being by Bernard Lonergan, pg. 382

  2. That’s a great perspective, which if fully developed could add significant depth to the discipleship of youth so that they might avoid the “lack of balance” that Lonergan suggests. Thanks for sharing this bro.

  3. On Lonergan’s mention of faith remaining “childish,” there is certainly a difference between childlike faith and childish faith. That difference is glossed by some so that childish faith is held under the guise of childlike faith.

    Also, the balance between entertaining them and teaching them is struck when we see the purpose of youth ministry as faith formation through participation.

    Faith is formed in a person through their participation in a caring community of meaning and action. If they aren’t there to participate, then faith is likely not being formed. Or, you could put it like this: when participation fizzles, so does faith; when participation rises, so does faith.

    That might oversimplify, but it resonates with my own experiences in working with students.

    • Maybe oversimplified, but still relevant. I’ve not previously used the language of “participation” to develop this, but I like the imagery that it suggests. I also like your distinction between “childlike” and “childish” faith. My push back on Lonergan is that there may be a universal adolescent experience of differeniation in this regards, but it doesn’t have to pan out as a rejection in every case. I have seen, and I imagine that you have too, many college students who do not reject Christ or their community. I really like Lonergan’s approach, but we have to acknowledge the fragmentation of adolescent experience in order to see these things as highly circumstancial. The question for me is: what makes the difference between who those who reject and those who don’t? The answer may be participation as you’ve mentioned, or it may be another thing. Or it may be more than one thing.

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