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Get Radical to Get Teens

August 30, 2010

Check out this provocative article from CNN about teenagers and their faith. It discusses the research of Princeton Theological Seminary Professer Kenda Creasy Dean, who has come to the conclusion that many teenagers in our churches are being taught a watered down form of Christianity that she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Basically, she says, churches often teach our children to believe that God simply calls us to “feel good and be good.” But, Dean argues, churches all too rarely challenge teens and inspire them such that they become truly passionate about their faith and committed to their church communities.

Dean says that those teens who are passionate and committed share four basic 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.”

So how, you might ask, does Dean think churches can instill that sense of passion and commitment in young people? To begin, we adults need to get some spine.

Dean says too many Christian adults 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.”

Furthermore, as Emory University Professor Elizabeth Corrie puts it:

The Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them “to change anything that’s broken in the world.” Teens want to be challenged; they want their tough questions taken on, she says. “We think that they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake,” Corrie says.

So here’s the proscription: Get radical.

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… Corrie says the gospel of niceness can’t teach teens how to confront tragedy.

“It can’t bear the weight of deeper questions: Why are my parents getting a divorce? Why did my best friend commit suicide? Why, in this economy, can’t I get the good job I was promised if I was a good kid?”

What can a parent do then? Get “radical,” Dean says. 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.

I’d take it one step further. I think we need to give teenagers the opportunity to “get radical” themselves in the midst of our congregations. This is what we hope to offer our Youth Group members here at St. Peter’s through our Youth Lead services. By standing up and preaching the gospel–really preaching, from their hearts–kids can discover for themselves an authentic call to follow Jesus.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Adams permalink
    August 30, 2010 12:47 pm

    In all the years of my involvement with youth ministries and groups, it was the groups comprised of marginalized, dysfunctional teens that taught me the most about Christianity.


  1. Consequential Faith? or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? « Cathedral Crossings

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