504 Java Profile

504 Java Profile
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Friday, May 10, 2013

On Cultural Faith Shifts

The excerpt below is from a thoughtful blog by an Episcopal priest regarding the mindset behind the trend of youth leaving the church. Rev. Haverkamp writes that our youth find meaning in participating in worship with their families and communities of faith even if they do not plan on being "religious" when they are adults.  Comments on the blog included a thought that if we "train up a child in they way they should go, when they are old they will not depart from it" which we now translate to "they will come back to it when they have children of their own." Her insight into one of the cultural factors behind students choosing to "leave church" is valuable since it has nothing to do with efforts by church or youth ministry to "keep them in church."

"I think our culture is what’s changing. Institutions—whether churches, schools, municipalities, or nations—locate authority and knowledge in very specific places: a book, a leader, a set of bylaws, a governing structure. But our world is becoming a place where sources of authority and knowledge are disparate and diverse: internet searches, social media, self-produced and self-promoted novels, music, and films. We are becoming a Me and My Smart Phone World. Many of us navigate the world through a narrow portal held in our hands or laps, a portal for personal experience, perspective, and tastes. Self-reflection and expression, at least in the culturally dominant White middle and upper class, are valued more highly than ethnic identity, group membership, or institutional participation. More and more, technology is encouraging us to explore meaning, knowledge, and transcendence as individuals rather than as members of communities or groups.

Full article found at

If she is right and I believe she is to a point, then allow me to make several observations concerning youth ministry practices:
  1. We should double down on creating meaningful interactions and significant responsibility in family and faith community.  I am excited about stories of family mission trips and projects, of parents teaching the Bible in small groups, of students participating in adult choirs and of work and worship that is intergenerational.
  2. We should also help students and families see how they can continue to have meaningful conversations and experiences about their faith.  I like a big deal made of Christmas Eve services and Mother's Day services and Easter services when young adults are likely to be home. We can craft ways during these times where families are brought together around Word and Worship without beating young adults up about their church attendance when they are away.
  3. We should keep the Scripture central and relevant.  If students are taught to memorize, comprehend, and embrace the Bible--and to how to study it on their own--they will at least have tools in the toolbox when they do not live with us anymore. The Gideons have helped us to see that the presence of the Scripture in a hotel room is enough to help people come to faith in Christ. Think about a young adult who is emotionally beat up or facing a huge decision and yet remembers where in the Scripture to look for counsel!
  4. We should help parents see how important their continued faith journey is for their adult children.  When the "home base" of parents and church continues to be real. There is a big difference in "now that my kids are grown I can sleep in on Sundays" and "God I celebrate another season of my journey with You" as these young adults search for solid ground in their fast moving techno-centric world.  They want us to be the dependable model of faith and substance.  It gives them a picture of what it is to grow old in the faith instead of outgrowing the faith.
I am thankful for youth ministers who continue to invest in lives.  Don't grow weary of doing good!