Archives For Spiritual Formation

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Remember the four-fold process from the last post? Let’s follow it through this psalm just to let you get a hang of how to organize it?


1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

Report of Crisis:

Verse 2 – “Cried for help”

Verse 3 – “Sheol”

Verse 9 – “The pit” “death”

Verse 11 – “Mourning” “Sackcloth”

Deliverance as An Accomplished Fact:

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Conclusion: A Vow to Praise

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Do you see how this works? Remember, there are always nuances to this but you saw the format as it played out. This is an individual psalm of thanksgiving, meaning, it is a very personal psalm. We do not know the circumstances behind this psalm but it probably was during a time in David’s life where he experienced some type of physical illness or even some depression. Perhaps there was loss (“mourning”) somewhere but the thankfulness expressed to God was an accomplished fact. God did it and it was a time to rejoice.

Verse 11 shows just how joyful David was. His mourning was turned to dancing (If you have a legalistic background change the word “dance” to choreography if that makes you feel better :)). But the moment of joy came in God hearing his lament. Because of this, David will come to God with a gracious and grateful heart. David got a little cocky (vv. 6-7) with God trusting perhaps in his own riches rather than the riches of God.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).

You ever trust in yourself rather than in the Almighty? Do you trust in your strength? Do you trust in your intellect? Do you trust in your status? David said God made his mountain stand strong. Any strength he had came from God and God alone. Give thanks to God for his wonderful blessings.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss a time when your weeping/mourning was turned into joy/dancing?
  2. Has the Western mindset of “do-it-yourself” hindered our spiritual growth? How so?
  3. Why is it important to remember God’s deliverance and to be thankful for those times He answered?




Let me start with my story so that you can understand where I am coming from. First, I have to give a disclaimer. I was taught to be careful when disclosing information about my past as it might give license for people to justify their actions. Sort of a “Well Robbie went through it so can I” mentality. I think the readers of this post know better than that so please do not misinterpret my story as license. Secondly, I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story. I have been ashamed of my past and have told very few people but now I am no longer ashamed because the past is what has made me into the man I am right now. In the words of Paul:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

I hope this post (albeit long) will help you if your child is using drugs or if you are using drugs and are reading this. I certainly did not get mixed-up heavy into drugs but nonetheless…

My Story

I was in the sixth grade when I first tried marijuana.

Let that sink in a bit.

I was 12 years old. Some neighborhood buddies and I had skipped school and we had gone into the woods when a guy pulled out this little bag filled with what looked like grass clippings to me. I remember he pulled out this weird looking pipe and put the “grass clippings” into this pipe and inhaled as he lit it. The stuff smelled like body odor with a hint of the smell when one burns leaves. It was my turn to take a “hit” from the pipe. I inhaled and coughed my brains out. I felt nothing… My friends were acting like idiots while I felt nothing.

The next time I tried it was when I was in the 8th grade. My buddy and I went to the top of a hill by the elementary school I attended and I tried it again. Only this time I felt something. I felt good. I felt relaxed. It was amazing. They tell you “Nothing beats the feeling of your first high” and you really don’t understand what that means until you experience it. From that moment on, I was hooked.

I would smoke on and off maybe once or twice a week but I remember longing for the moments where I would be able to smoke weed the next time. After my 8th grade year I moved to Chattanooga and I thought maybe my bad times were behind me but sometimes your past catches up with you and you find the same people just in a different context. I continued smoking on and off. I started attending a Christian high-school and I thought my past was behind me.

I met some Christians who smoked weed as well and my past was not behind me.

The last time I smoked weed was the fall of 1998. I met this girl whose father was a youth minister and I became a Christian and suddenly weed was not important to me. I am not sure if I was addicted to it because I usually did it with other people and it was more social for me. But I did like it. I could share countless stories of staying up at night, running from the police, my parents finding out and all sorts of other stories. I tried LSD once and drank some alcohol but weed was my drug of choice. I did it to escape. I did it because it felt good. I did it because my friends did it.

Shortly after that, I received the news that one of my best friends growing up (who I smoked with) overdosed and died from drug use. I never got to say goodbye.

I was walking in San Francisco this past weekend leaving a Giants-Braves game and I caught a whiff of weed someone was smoking among the crowd. Even almost 15 years without touching the stuff my body had tingles and my mind traced back to those many days.

So why this post? Why my story? I hope to give you advice on what to do based on experience with what my parents did but also watching and learning from others.


First off, don’t panic. I saw a stat that said that teen marijuana use is actually more than teen cigarette use. I know that your child using drugs is difficult and somewhat hard to fathom but your child needs your careful, objective and loving guidance and that takes some discernment and patience. I knew of a guy whose parents sent him off to rehab because he had tried some weed. Maybe there was more to the story but it seems it would have been better for them to discern then to panic and make rash decisions.  That does not mean minimize what they have done but don’t maximize it either.

Secondly, understand this could be a long road. Depending on their drug (mine was small in comparison) they could be in for a long road to recovery. Especially if meth, heroine, crack, cocaine and other highly addictive drugs are involved. It takes some patience, love and support to walk them through this. Remember, you are wrestling against evil and dark forces and every part of them does not want you to win. Seek the Lord’s counsel and help.

Thirdly, trust has to be earned. They broke trust when they started using drugs and it has to be earned and gained in order for them to have certain privileges. So the questioning of who they are talking to, where they are going, what are the text messages, let me see the Facebook, what did you do at school, and others are legitimate exercises to learn and earn trust.

Fourth, context is key to help. What I mean by that is what helped me was finding the right friends and purging myself of old ones. As harsh as that sounds I knew that if I was going to be clean I had to remove the unclean context. They were close friends but I knew that they would find new ones and maybe down the road when I was more mature and the time was right we could be friends again. I don’t understand why people who struggle with drugs go back to their druggie friends. That’s like saying you hate cold weather and want to rid yourself of it so you buy a house in Fairbanks, Alaska. Makes no sense. Context is key.

Fifth, find a support group, specifically one that is Christian. Ideally your home church network should be that support group but you also need to network among those parents who are struggling in a similar manner. Nobody wants to be alone and it helps to have fellow travelers who have been there and done that and can share the wounds and the victories.

Sixth, love your child unconditionally. They may scream at you. They may run away. They may struggle for years. They may cost you thousands of dollars. They may do unthinkable amounts of evil. But you love them. Unconditionally as Christ loved you. That doesn’t mean they go undisciplined or that they drain your savings but it means you relentlessly pursue them until they live a life of glorification to God. Sometimes we lose the ones we love the most but more often than not teenagers find healing and sobriety from relentless parents and a relentless God.

I hope this helps and has encouraged and strengthened you. What would you add?

I have been a fan of Yellowcard since they released their epic album “Ocean Avenue” in 2003. I have loved just about every song they have come out with. Their new album “Southern Air” looks to be a great album and I absolutely love the song “Here I am Alive.” In the video it portrays a couple of junior-high kids who have dreams but come across some bullies who say, “You are never getting out of this town.”

I thought about my own dreams and where I am now. The song seems to speak some truth to life about how there are ups and downs but we are still alive. He poses a question, “If I could write myself when I was young.” I have written on this before but if you could write a letter to your younger self what would you say?

What would you say to your dreams?

What would you say to your struggles?

What would you say to your family and friends?

What things would do differently?

This kind of thing allows us to think about what we use to hold important but no longer do but also things we gave up on and said that we could never do. Things people told us we would never accomplish.


Here we are…


Maybe we need to dream again.

What should you dream about?

What could you do?

Watch the video below. I hope you enjoy it.

“Messy Spirituality is the scandalous assertion that following Christ is anything but tidy and neat, balanced and orderly.  Far from it.  Spirituality is complex, complicated, and perplexing-the disorderly, sloppy, chaotic look of authentic faith in the real world.  Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.  In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms.”

Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality, p. 27.

Messy Spirituality Quote

I read an article in The Tennessean that talked about starting school in July in an effort to boost test schools for some districts.  I have no qualms one way or the other but I wonder what does a youth ministry do when the children have to go to school all year-round?  Most camps, mission trips and major activities are done in the summer for many churches and if you take the summer away what do you do?  It would force youth ministers and families to change how they function as a ministry but ideally the spiritual formation would never change.  I would say that those whose focus on programmatic youth ministry solely would suffer a decline in attendance and may lose vision.  But, youth ministries should be able to function regardless.  But…if youth ministries did have to adapt to year-round schooling it would force us to do three things:

  1. A shift from recreation to transformation.  You just don’t have that many times to be able to connect with the kids and so maximizing the amount of time in class and formation would be the natural shift.  We do not throw out recreation though but there cannot be those long trips or those huge mission endeavors.  Speaking of mission…
  2. A shift from foreign mission to local mission.  Sure there will be week-long breaks in there a few times but, as a father of four, those breaks probably need to be for the families not the youth ministries.  This means that those long, costly, trips to foreign destinations will be few and far between.  The foreign missions will not cease (I am not against them at all) as other schools will not be year-round but naturally (hopefully, at least) there will be more of a missional focus at home.  This is a good thing.
  3. Finally, a need to partner with schools and leverage their resources.  Maybe youth ministries need to get in the school system some how and find unique ways to minister to kids from within.  No you don’t have to come preaching on a soapbox with a bullhorn (not recommended anywhere btw) but simply come and serve the students, the teachers, the administrators or even the janitors.  Find ways to do it.  Click here for an article by Shaun Ellis called, “Youth Ministry Through Public Schools”.  Great stuff.

That’s not all the ideas…what can you add or take away?

On July 31, 2011 I celebrated my 7th full year of youth ministry at Main Street in Springfield, Tennessee.  Seven quick lessons about my/our journey:

  1. Learn to say “no” – All ministers struggle with this as we want to do so much for people in the name of God.  We take on projects, speaking engagements, weddings, committees,  meetings, and a host of other things while our spiritual formation, family and our personal lives turn to shamble.  I read somewhere that every time you say “yes” to something you are always saying “no” to something else.
  2. Try to look for the big picture – A lot can happen in a youth ministry in a short time but also nothing can happen for a long time.  There are different seasons in youth ministry so staying focused and having an idea of what the big picture is will keep you from being distracted by a lot of the little things.
  3. Don’t get too full of yourself – I have blogged about this several times but no matter how great the youth minister is there is going to be something he is not good at and that is going to be painfully obvious to you and everyone else.  Learn to laugh at yourself and do it often letting others in on your laughter.  Have a ton of fun.  Go to Waffle House at 3am.  Laugh when one of your youth group guys goes through a wall at a hotel.  Laugh when a youth group girl passes gas on the bus and blames it on you as everyone writhes in agony at the smell.  Laugh when a youth group guy pronounces from the pulpit the word “Yahweh” as “Yah-hee” and instead of “wiles of the devil” he says, “willies of the devil.”  Learn to laugh and laugh often.
  4. Delegate and Empower – I am horrible at this.  I would rather do things on my own and wear myself out than asking someone to help.  The result…it almost burned me out of ministry completely.  Have a team of people who are your core leaders in the youth ministry who could lead the activities if you were gone.  Speaking of being gone…
  5. Try a slice of humility – This goes along with number three above but we need more humble servants who are John 13 ministers.  In youth ministry we get stepped on (clean the bus, babysit my kids, do the impossible), we get made fun of (second class ministers), we have impossible expectations placed on us by men who have not the slightest clue about youth ministry or teenagers for that matter, we are underpaid, we are overworked, we are extremely talented (cleaning the bus, writing the bulletin, etc.) and we are criticized by 40-60 people who “know” more about youth ministry than we do.  All of that happens to most youth ministers and all I can think about is this verse from Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  Some criticism needs to be addressed some people just need to be talked to in a reproved manner but sometimes we need to realize that we are simply humble agents of Christ suffering affliction to do something we love to do.
  6. Invest in people, not programs – It’s not uncommon for me to change programs in our ministry and I am currently in the process of completely revamping the youth group. One thing that I have not changed is getting to know people, investing in their lives and letting them know how much I love them.  I tell youth group kids that “I love them.”  Some of them are a little creeped-out about it but some of them respond with tears as if they have never heard someone tell them those three words and mean it.  I love them.  I love the parents and I let them know that I am here to come alongside of them.  This is important for when that youth group person is struggling with a situation at college or they have made by decisions in their life they come to me without reservation because they know, if anything else, I will at the very minimum love them.
  7. Don’t lose your soul – Youth ministry is tough.  It has been the most difficult seven years of my life.  I have watched people leave the church and never come back.  I have watched friends lose friends.  I have watched families become broken.  I have watched people who I thought would be soldiers of Christ become servants of idols.  But..I have watched visitors get baptized.  I have watched total reconstruction of lives based on Scripture.  I have watched youth group people find jobs based on their calling and I have seen many good things done in the name of Kingdom.  Friends, don’t lose your soul.  Keep your eyes focused, hang in there and love as you too have been loved.

Thank you Main Street for putting up with me and teaching me about ministry.  I dedicate this blog to seven sets of people in ascending order of importance:

  • Elders – thank you for sticking with me and for supporting me spiritually, mentally, and fiscally.  You have given me raises, bonuses, a van, health coverage, freedom to make good and bad decisions but most of all your encouragment.  Thank you.
  • Parents and Friends – I love all of you.  I know I am not perfect and I know I have done things wrong from time-to-time but you have supported me.  I love you all.
  • Joe and Linda – you are my “daily bread” when a minister does not want to go to the office you make it enjoyable.  Thanks for being a great team.
  • Youth Group Members Past and Present – Words cannot describe how thankful I am for you.  You have made the journey worth it.  Thanks for taking Jesus seriously and for doing radical things.  I love you all more than you know.
  • Kaleb, Amelia, Madelyn and Samuel – Kids you make me so proud.  You are my most important youth group and I want to thank you for making daddy laugh on those tough days and for keeping me going when I didn’t want to go anymore.  I love you so much and as long as I have air to breathe I will serve you with a passion unrivaled in this world.
  • Heather – What can I say?  You are perfect in every way.  Not only am I married to a hot wife but you are also so intelligent and understanding.  Your care for me exceeds the proverb wife in Proverbs 31.  You are a servant and the fuel to my fire.  I love you.
  • God – You have allowed a wretched, hypocritical, inconsistent, unorganized, lazy and unlovable person like me to be called a follower of Christ.  Thank you for your grace, for your daily assurance, for your providence, for your discipline, for your correction. for your providence and for your glorious return.  I love you!

Dear Students,

I want you to know that my heart is dedicated to serving and helping your parents rear you to engage the world and the Word by way of discipleship.  I also want you to know that I am going to go the “extra mile” for you in ways that you will love and in ways sometime you will hate.  I want you to know that I have spent nights praying for you, attending your games, instructing you in class, discussing with you late at night, encouraging you with letters, laughing with you, crying for you, and rejoicing with you all because I actually love you.  I am not going to come alongside of you just to be your friend, pal or acquaintance but I am going to come alongside of you to laugh, learn and love.

I also want to be perfectly honest with you in that you need to put forth the effort if you want the most out of your years in the youth group.  I am sorry that we do not go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for a youth group activity nor do we go to exotic places for mission trips.  To be blunt with you, there is a reason why we do not do those things and you would do well to know the reason.  If you want the youth group to be about roller-coasters, $1000 summer trips, $3000 mission trips (kind of ironic when you could do it for free in your backyard), highly-emotional yet low-discipleship-oriented events, then you can find that group anywhere.  Go there and I will give you my blessings.  Yet, if you want to strive for authenticity, seek justice, study the Word, learn to pray, be in community with senior-citizens, learn how to serve the poor, engage in class, and wrestle with spiritual darkness while struggling to do all of those then join us.  Quit whining though that the youth is so boring because you are not doing anything to help it either.

Be careful what you say.  Words have an interesting way of coming back to bite you.  I remember students telling me, “I will never be like ___________ and go out and do _________.”  Only to find out that they have gone out and did exactly what they were condemning.  Be careful what you say.

Pay attention to your parents.  They don’t know everything and they are just as liable to mess-up like you so when they do and you offer your Neener-neener-neener argument make sure you look in the mirror.  It is tough being a parent and you have no idea what it’s like to feel the pressure of the bills looming around you like an ominous storm cloud ready to unleash at a moment’s fury.  Have a little sympathy for mom and dad and spend some time with them.

Read Scripture.  I am amazed at how many teenagers do not bring their bibles (the ones on their phone too) with them to religious functions.  Pick the Word up  and read it.  If you don’t understand it don’t put it down and say, “I am through!”  What if your mechanic was frustrated with your vehicle and said, “I’m through” then returned the vehicle to you?  Not a good mechanic.  If he researches and struggles he might find a solution though…and so can you.

Quit bashing the church.  I have said this in a number of posts but I hear it everywhere I go in that people like to treat the church as if it is a piñata.  The problem I have is that on one hand the institution of the church will never be perfect but (NEWS FLASH) never will your assessment of institutions be perfect either.  What makes you right and the church wrong?  That does not mean we do not need voices to call into question glaring hypocrisies that are prevalent.  It does mean we look at the church at what it is…a broken institution filled with broken people trying to put the pieces back together.  The question is whether you want to help or not?

Wherever you invest your time, money and your thoughts is what you worship.  I wish someone would have told me this years ago but it is true in that if all your money and time is spent with sports then you worship sports.  If all your time and money and thoughts are focused on a boyfriend or a girlfriend then that is who you worship.  Don’t believe me?  Am I being too harsh?  Write down how much time, money and thoughts you spent with God (thoughts, prayer, relationship) and then how much, money and thoughts you spent with your signficant other, sport or whatever.  So, who do you worship?

Grow up.  There is a reason why you graduate from high-school.  It is so you quit acting like a high-schooler.  I have heard people in their mid 20s who still act and talk like high-schoolers.  Grow up and put on your big-boy clothes, move out of your co-dependent relationship with mom and dad (and move out of their house), get a job and follow God.  It’s time for you to grow up.  That also goes for you high-schoolers who cry to mom and dad because the youth minister told you to not put that picture on Facebook or to not where those clothes or to not act like a jerk to a waitress.  Mom and dad may “bail” you out of trouble for now but you acting like a baby will eventually get you fired, broken-up with and the worst of all, alone.  Grow up.

Deo gratias

I love my teenagers so much at Main Street and this post is dedicated to the faithful disciples of 2005-2011 who still love God and are stoked about what he can do.  You guys continually show me that in a generation of people who say “we can’t” you are saying triumphantly “we can!”  I love you more than you know.

I interview Jess Rainer, son of Lifeway CEO Thom Rainer, about a book he co-authored with his dad called The Millenials. Youth ministers more and more are having to learn how to lead this generation as many of us come from the Millenial generation. This is an interview you do not want to miss.

There is no doubt in my mind that this post is going to offend some of you and if it does then I am truly sorry.  Do what you normally do when you disagree with something I (or someone else) say…ignore it. 

I am concerned that we (Christianity/the Church) have fostered what Kenda Creasy Dean so eloquently defines as a “do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus enough to follow him into the world” (Almost Christian, p. 4).  There is a lot to unpack and there is not “one-thing” that is causative for this pop-psychology “blue-skies-and-rainbows” type spirituality.  Dean points to many factors but something that is foundational is our theology (or lack thereof) that shapes a pat-you-on-the-back approach to Christianity.  Please do not misunderstand me as I am all about words of affirmation and encouragement as people who are in deep moments of despair need words immersed in grace and hope.  That is not what I am talking about.  I am speaking of the sermons, classes, youth talks, books and conversations all that funnel our spiritual formation into one idea: what makes me feel good for the day.  Part of that funnel process is how we approach Scripture. 

Reading on Facebook and looking at all of the daily devotional material it is doubtless that you have not come across the verse-of-the-day approach to spirituality.  Verse-of-the-day approaches to spiritual formation seem to limit what God had in mind with Scripture.  I receive verses of the day through Twitter (4 different groups), Facebook (3 different groups, numerous people) and e-mail.  I tend not to read the verses of the fday because most of them are the same.  They are designed to make you feel better about the day in a self-help, pick-you-up type of approach.  Notice you will see verses like Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 40:31; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 6:6-8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13; James 4:7, 10; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11; and anything in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Don’t get me wrong because those verses are all amazing and life-changing.  But all have a context located in Scripture but also a historical context.  You don’t get that on a Twitter feed or on a status update.  Two problems I see with this approach:

  1. This approach has the danger of taking verses out of context.  Jeremiah 29:11 is my classic example: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Little do they realize that in context God is speaking to the people who will have to endure exile in Babylon for 70 years (29:10)!  Then they will propser!  That doesn’t sound so appealing on a coffee-cup does it? 
  2. This approach has the danger of neglecting other verses in Scripture.  I jokingly put on my facebook status these words: “Anti-coffee cup verse: ‘When a man or a woman has spots on the skin of the body, white spots, the priest shall look, and if the spots on the skin of the body are of a dull white, it is leukoderma that has broken out in the skin; he is clean’ (Lev. 13:38-39).”  I wanted to make the point that nobody puts that as a daily bible verse (rightfully so) but does it deserve any less attention?  Nobody “liked” that on my status nor did they comment on that.  Furthermore, the verses that we may need to be paying attention to are often the verses that do not pop-up in our verse-of-the-day websites (Luke 13:3 anyone?).    

The flip side of this discussion is that these things are not bad in-and-of-themselves.  If they aide you in a daily walk with God then it is a good thing.  But these things should never be ends to the goal of spiritual formation.  Reading the bible in 90 days (or a year) has the same danger as the verse-of-the-day approach.  We need to learn how to read Scripture and read it well.  We should not neglect the “tough” parts of the bible just because we can’t understand them.  There are books upon books that are written to teach you how to read the bible.  Matter-of-fact there is a book called, How to read the bible for all its worth.  Check it out sometime.  

I hope this blog post has challeneged you and if I offended you…I am sorry and ignore it.           

Three girls reading togetherThe 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