A question was asked by a youth
pastor, not to me directly but to a group. It was "Why does it seem
that Christianity, or the church, has no power to keep youth, or
most people, for that matter, in relationship with God? How many of
us have seen kids who have a genuine conversion and relationship to
God, on fire with excitement and enthusiasm, seem to slip away and
go back to the old ways?"
reading this can relate to this question? All hands raised right?
Both hands too, right? I know I also have my feet in the air.
There were a lot of answers. Some
of the answers were to uphold the youth more in prayer; we work so
hard to get youth to feel that high, that we never really teach them
how to stay there; we haven't taught them how to make God the center
of their lives because He is in our lives already, the teens don't
know where to begin; discipleship is missing; spending too much time
on issues and not enough on teaching life lessons; not providing
enough mentoring; and lack of follow up.
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I came up with a different answer.
Youth are making many decisions now that they do not intend to take
into adulthood. I know youth who spend countless hours perfecting
their skateboarding tricks. But they don't intend to make a living
out of skateboarding. At my school alone there is a black student
who died his hair Bozo the Clown red. There are Asians with blue
hair. I don't have the room to describe how the white youth are
looking. Along with hair color, there are the piercings and tattoos.
The tattoo is a permanent decision they made in a nonpermanent
state. I know many youth who are already regretting their piece of
art. At least the piercings close up.
There is no way they expect to take
that look into adulthood. How did you look in high school? Nothing
like you do now, right? Have you used your looks from high school as
a humorous example in one of your messages? (This question does not
count for hair loss.)
This is why the laws of the land
protect minors. There is an understanding that they are experiencing
growing up and any bad decisions made in that process do not have to
follow them into adulthood.
So why do we expect our youth to
take a decision about their faith into adulthood? I know all about
the passion of our work which may answer the why quite obviously. It
is the core of our work, but... Why do we expect our youth to take a
decision about their faith made in adolescence into adulthood?
Before you start worrying about me and think I have fallen off of my
Wild Frontier, please let me make my case. Let's start with a look
at Faith Development, chiefly James Fowler's stages. At the age of
adolescence, the stage is called Synthetic-Conventional which
basically means that faith synthesizes values and information and
provides a basis for identity and outlook. It is fake-easy. It is
not completely that person's faith because it is mirrored from the
faith of others around that person. Adolescence is full of mirroring
already whether it is from other adults, other youth or magazines
and other media images. It is also true with their faith. They
mirror their faith off of us. Let me explain a step further.
In adolescence something new
happens in the learning process, contradictions and ambiguities. Not
everything is the childlike black and white anymore. This is part of
our development from childhood to rational thinking adults (insert
joke here). This causes great confusion in youth because they
realize that parents cheat on their taxes and drive too fast (if
that is the worst that they do). Even God has contradictions and
ambiguities. How can God allow evil to happen? Why didn't God heal
that person? We also have those questions but we have learned coping
skills to deal with it. Youth see us face unbearable situations and
yet we cope. So their faith is mirrored to ours who have "made it."
That is us and countless others. (Yeah!)
Another great work worth studying
in Faith Development is Stephen D. Jones' Faith Shaping tasks
(should be required reading for all youth workers. Let me repeat. It
should be required reading for all youth workers). One of the tasks
after Experiencing, Categorizing, Choosing, Claiming, Deepening, is
Task #6, Separating. This is the painful stage for us. I have lived
through it too often. Faith is set aside for a time to let one's
faith settle into actual ownership. This is the story of the
Prodigal Son. It is often the most recognized point in a person's
life of spiritual awareness. Do you remember the separation stage in
your life? At whatever age you were? I am sure you do remember it
because it is often memorable. If you take a look again at my
informal survey of the
several adult members of my church (April 2001 issue) this all proves true.
As Jones says, "Rather than being
surprised by this separating, rather than labeling it apathy or
calling into question the earlier religious activity, one needs to
recognize it as a legitimate faith task." This is a legitimate faith
task. To grow into the Individuative-Reflective stage or further
(Fowler) or Task #7 Responding (Jones), separation happens. How the
separation happens and to what extreme it goes to is up to the
The good news is that separation
does not always mean sin and rebellion and pain. It can be something
as subtle as doubting some of the creeds of faith. That doubt can
cause a search for an answer that takes that person's faith off of
the "mirror" and into a personal knowledge. However, we remember the
The open question then arises, when
does one reach adulthood? For many reasons it comes earlier than 18
and for many reasons it comes after 18. I was recently at a
paintball tournament and saw many, many grown men with blue and
green and whatever hair. Of course, it was probably washable so they
could go back to work on Monday.
Take a look again at the honest
answers some youth pastors gave. They all focus on themselves and/or
youth ministry. Only if I did this more or if I did this that way
and on and on are the questions we torture ourselves with. Like our
families and our health are not sacrificed enough in the name of
youth. Not one of the youth pastors took into consideration that
possibly this is a way that faith grows and grows into a healthy
Our jobs as youth workers is to
plant and water and to do that well (2 Corinthians 3:6&7 again). We
are to provide a foundation for faith to grow on. We are to provide
a mirror for their faith. We are to give them spiritual markers
where they can look back when re-evaluating their faith and say at
these points I know God is real and was real in my life. That is a
lot for us to do and the youth ministry business we should be about
The question being raised may seem
contradictory from someone who makes a living talking about the Wild
Frontier lifestyle. Shouldn't I be providing answers for how the
church can have more power to keep these youth?
The answer I lay out for you is to
set the challenge, even the extreme challenge (January 2001 issue),
to the youth. Your goal is to provide the firmest foundation
possible, the best mirror possible, and memorable spiritual markers
so that this separation stage does not mean rebellion and sin and
pain. Parents play a much larger role in this, but you have your
part. Do that part well.
has been doing youth ministry for seventeen years, eight as a
youth evangelist. Her first nine years in ministry she served as
youth pastor in churches in Minnesota and Virginia. Brenda
attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral
Science with a minor in youth ministry and was ordained by the
Assembly of God denomination.
Through Brenda's work as a
substitute teacher, dozens of students have become Christians.
These are not your typical youth group kids. Mrs. Seefeldt and
her husband, John Amodea, are literally helping raise these