The danger with any topic like this it to paint with too broad of a brush. But as we explore the spiritual changes in teens we must focus on the most common denominator. With this in mind I will focus on one area from the research of Christian Smith. His research has been the most in depth and groundbreaking to date. It has also been some of the most depressing. At the core of his research he found that most of our teens have a moralistic therapeutic deistic faith. Here is how he describes it:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one- self.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Take a moment to let all of this soak in. You may need to re-read those five findings. What this basically says is that most teens have merged Christianity into the current American culture worldview. Christianity exist to help facilitate a lifestyle that will make me happy, have peace, and provide comfort when needed. God is not ever present in my life but I can summon him in times of crisis to help straighten out messes and get through hard times so I can be happy. When I first read all this, my first thought was that this was not true of my students. But the more I have meditated the more I find it to be true.
What is worst is that the church and myself may be supporting this view of God. How much of our teaching is based on morality = a good and successful life? How many times have we done the self esteem lessons that focus on us without bringing the focus back to God (you are wonderfully made, God has a plan for you, etc)? How many programs and events are inward focused ? Many of our teens are simply believing what we have taught them and showed them over the last two decades. So where do we go from here? Kenda Dean’s book Almost Christian discovers that the most devoted Christian young people in the United States share four traits:
(1) They have a personal and powerful God-story that they can articulate. God is personal and involved in all areas of their life. God is not out there somewhere but he dwells in me. Decisions are made based on scripture because God is working through me and I am a part of his story.
(2) They belong to a community of faith. As we live in community we discover that life isn’t about me but about others. This community is not only limited to teens but a intergenerational community that can share faith. The older women teach the younger as the older men teach the younger.
(3) They have a sense of call to live for a larger purpose. They are not the center of the universe. They are wonderfully and complexly made to accomplish God’s purpose. They were made to do good works to bring glory to God.
(4) They have hope for the future promised by their faith. This world is not the end all be all. They know that they are living for heaven and not for the things of this world. Comfort is not the ultimate goal in life.
Andy Stanley says that our ministry is perfectly positioned to achieve the results we are currently getting. What results are you currently getting? What changes do we need to make to break the trend of a moralistic therapeutic deistic faith?
Rusty Pettus is the Student Minister at Graymere church of Christ in Columbia, TN. He organizes the Student Minister retreat held annually in the month of March that encourages dozens of youth ministers. He also holds a weekly podcast called The Student Minister Podcast. You can connect with him at his blog at http://pettus.wordpress.com/.