Tuesday, February 21, 2017
1. This type of shallow faith that most Christian young people embrace does not require the nurture of a faith community to thrive. Certainly, it is not a holistic way of life that demands we die to ourselves for the sake of Christ. And while it is indeed easier than following Jesus, I believe this uniquely American take on faith among young Christians is a core reason so many of them are disengaging from church to become nomads or prodigals.
- Is “shallowness” the new normal? Why do we accept this so easily?
2. All this leads to a faith that lacks one essential ingredient: humility. If you already know all there is to know, if you’ve been told your entire life that you’re “just right” exactly the way you are, if the main job of the god you believe in is to make you feel good about yourself (because you’re entitled to great self-esteem, along with everything else), then there are not a lot of compelling reasons to sit in the dirt at the feet of Jesus and live the humble life of a disciple. To follow Jesus, young adults in the next generation— just like the generations before them— will have to learn humility.
- From whom will they learn it? When they look at us, do they see humble servants and eager students of the Master?
3. I suggested earlier in this book that we have a mass-production approach to faith development. Taking our cues from public education, among other sectors of society, we have created a conveyor belt of development that industrializes the soul formation of young people— who eventually become adults with inch-deep, mile-wide faith.
A second way our communities of faith contribute to shallow faith is by failing to provide meaningful rituals— or, when rituals exist, failing to provide a clear sense of their meaning and importance.
A third problem found in many churches and families is expecting too little of the next generation.
A fourth practice that contributes to shallow faith is the fact that many of our youth ministries fixate on numbers of attendees rather than measuring spiritual growth and transformation. We emphasize quantity over quality.
- Review and discuss each of these contributors to shallowness of faith.
4. We must rethink what it means to “make disciples” (Matt. 28: 19) in a context of massive, compounded cultural change (access, alienation, and skepticism of authority). I believe we need to change from an industrialized, mass-production, public-education approach and embrace the messy adventure of relationship. We need a new set of ideas and practices based on apprenticeship.
- Review these three potential areas below for deepening faith:
A. Millions of young Christians, represented by those in our survey, admit that they have been frustrated with their faith because “God seems missing from my experience of church.” In a related critique, many students point out the gaps between the miracles and faith-fueled exploits described in the Bible and the flat, lifeless experience of church in today’s world. If people who want to meet God are not meeting him in church, we need to consider why this is and how we can make a different experience possible.
B. This generation wants and needs truth, not spiritual soft-serve. According to our findings, churches too often provide lightweight teaching instead of rich knowledge that leads to wisdom. This is a generation hungry for substantive answers to life’s biggest questions, particularly in a time when there are untold ways to access information about what to do. What’s missing— and where the Christian community must come in— is addressing how and why.
C. Another way we can cultivate apprentice-like training for the next generation goes to the very heart of apprenticeship— finding what young people are gifted for and called to do, and doing all we can to nurture that calling. Most youth ministers and volunteers have some sense that this is important and do the best they can. But I believe young people need a much clearer, definitive, objective, and directional approach to finding their calling in Christ’s body. This is not likely to happen through a simple weekly message. It’s a whole mindset that needs to pervade our faith communities.
- Jesus has commanded us to make disciples. In obedience to that call, how might we better help young people answer their callings?
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
1. Protectiveness has become a way of life in our culture— and an argument can be made that much of it is, on balance, a good thing. No one wants his or her child playing with a toy coated in harmful substances or mistreated by an unqualified childcare worker. But it should not surprise us that our culture’s obsession with safety has shaped two generations of Boomer and Buster parents who are deeply risk-averse when it comes to their kids. Is it possible that our cultural fixation on safety and protectiveness has also had a profound effect on the church’s ability to disciple the next generation of Christians? Are we preparing them for a life of risk, adventure, and service to God— a God who asks that they lay down their lives for his kingdom? Or are we churning out safe, compliant Christian kids who are either chomping at the bit to get free or huddling in the basement playing World of Warcraft for hours on end, terrified to step out of doors?
Here are some of the criticisms that young Christians and former Christians level at the church:
- Christians demonize everything outside of the church.
- Christians are afraid of pop culture, especially its movies and music.
- Christians maintain a false separation of sacred and secular.
- Christians do not want to deal with the complexity or reality of the world.
The risks of overprotectiveness include:
- Alternate thrills
- Failure to launch
- Paralyzing self-doubt
- Loss of creatives
- Review and discuss each of these criticisms and risks.
2. Yet this hopeful potential in the next generation also comes with a number of very real challenges. An aspiration to influence culture begs the question of how to embody in-but-not-of faithfulness, and how to deal with the poison pill of cultural accommodation that the pull toward mainstream influence makes available. Let me put it this way: gaining credibility for its own sake is vanity; gaining credibility to participate in God’s work to redeem his world is a mission. I am concerned that too many Mosaic Christians are so interested in pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful that they forget to acknowledge and draw near to the source of those pursuits— Jesus. The church must help the next generation live into the difference, by turning our overprotectiveness into discernment.
Here are some examples:
- Overprotectiveness characterizes everything that is not Christian as evil. Discernment helps young people understand that other people are not our enemies, but that there is fundamental brokenness in humans and an adversary who intends to derail us in every possible way.
- Overprotectiveness makes strict rules about media consumption to “save the kids from smut.” It avoids watching, reading, and talking about current events and pop culture in the hope that they will just go away.
Discernment reads “the Bible and the newspaper,” in theologian Karl Barth’s famous formulation (we might update this to “the Bible and the Internet”). Unless we choose to live in secluded Christian community— which is a viable option for only a few— exposure to media-driven culture is inevitable. Rather than steering clear of secular films, music, websites, books, and television shows, let’s watch, listen, and read together and do “cultural exegesis” as a faithful community.
- Overprotectiveness oversimplifies the tough stuff of life— suffering, failure, relationships— and offers formulas instead of honest, contextualized answers. Discernment is transparent about the hazards of being human and teaches the full witness of Scripture, which is messy, complex, and, ultimately, wonderfully true.
- Overprotectiveness discourages risk taking and uses fear to “protect” the next generation. Discernment guides young people to trust God fearlessly and follow Christ in the power of the Spirit, even at the risk of their lives, reputations, and worldly success.
- Overprotectiveness tries to convince young people that the only (or best) way to serve God is by working in a church, parish, Christian nonprofit, or mission field. Discernment recognizes that there is no difference between sacred jobs and secular professions. Yes, we need called and prepared young people to serve as priests, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. But we also need to affirm the powerful sentiment captured by Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
- Overprotectiveness paints a false picture of reality that hurts young people much more in the long run than honesty would in the short run. Many teens and young adults have been told they can be, do, and have anything they want— only to find the “real world” not quite so obliging. Discernment develops a robust theology of calling that recognizes each person’s unique purpose and gifting as nothing less (or more) than what God has ordained. Let’s recognize that the Holy Spirit has plans for the next generation that are bigger than what they can dream for themselves, and let’s make it our business to tune their hearts to hear his voice, not just ours.
- Along with the author’s input, discuss the risks of:
Following Christ; parenting; cultural influence; and holiness.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Chapter Three & Four
1. Here are some characteristics of the nomadic mindset:
- They still describe themselves as Christian. They have not disavowed Christianity but are no longer particularly committed to their faith or especially to churchgoing.
- They believe that personal involvement in a Christian community is optional. They see going to church or being with Christian friends for spiritual purposes as options, not requirements.
- The importance of faith has faded. They admit that Christianity was more important to them at some point in their past. If they describe it as important, it is on their own terms. About one-quarter (24 percent) of the young Christians we interviewed say they may be willing to return to church later in life, but it’s not particularly urgent to them.
- Most are not angry or hostile toward Christianity. They tend to find their personal history with the faith amusing, or perhaps distressing, but they are not generally angry about their past. Frustrated and disillusioned, yes— especially with Christians. Hostile, no.
- Many are spiritual experimentalists. Nomads find meaning and spiritual stimulation from a variety of activities in their lives, which sometimes include trying on other religious experiences for size.
- Review each of these 5 characteristics and share examples.
2. Here are some characteristics of the prodigal mindset:
- They feel varying levels of resentment toward Christians/Christianity. Many still have positive things to say about specific people (such as their parents), but the overall tenor of their perceptions is negative.
- They have disavowed returning to church. They feel deeply wounded by their church experience and do not plan to ever go back.
- They have moved on from Christianity. Prodigals describe themselves as “over” Christianity, saying it just does not make sense to them. Their spiritual needs, such as they sense them, are being met elsewhere.
- Their regrets, if they have them, usually center on their parents. In other words, they recognize that their faith choices have made a significant impact on their parents yet they feel as though they were compelled to de-convert.
- They feel as if they have broken out of constraints. Many prodigals feel that the Christianity they experienced kept them stuck in a box or demanded that they become someone other than their true self. They experience leaving as freedom.
- Review each of these 5 characteristics and share examples.
3. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of young exiles and their perspectives about the faith.
- Exiles are not inclined toward being separate from “the world.”
Exiles want their faith to matter. One-third of young Christians (32 percent) identified with the statement, “I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in.” They long for their spiritual lives to be connected, to be whole, and to make sense.
- They are skeptical of institutions, but not wholly disengaged from them. Even while they sense God at work outside of church, not all are post-institutional in their faith. Just one-fifth of young Christians (21 percent) say that the institutional church is a difficult place for them to live out their faith. Many young exiles are infrequent participants in conventional faith expression, such as regularly attending a church worship service, but most of them remain connected in some way to a faith community.
- Young exiles sense God moving “outside the walls of the church.”
This was among the most common views of any we assessed in our research— God is moving outside the church and exiles wanted to be a part of it. As Ryan’s story at the beginning of this chapter illustrates, many young people want to participate in ministry outside of conventional forms of Christian community. We explore their perceptions more fully in later chapters, but in a nutshell, exiles are dissatisfied with a church that is a weekend event, not a movement of God’s people on mission for Christ.
- They are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion. In some of our research, we discovered a common theme to be “I want to be part of a Christian community that is more than a performance one day a week.” Similarly, a frequently expressed sentiment was they “want a more traditional faith, rather than a hip version of Christianity.”
- Exiles express a mix of concern and optimism for their peers.
This generation is certainly self-centered but they are also very communal and peer-oriented. A related concern is the feeling of loss many young Christians reported about their peers. Many described being very concerned about seeing so many of their generation leaving the church.
- They have not found faith to be instructive to their calling or gifts.
One of the recurring themes in our research with young exiles is the idea that Christianity does not have much, if anything, to say about their chosen profession or field. The ways career and calling connect to faith and church community seem to be missing pieces in the puzzle for many young exiles.
- They struggle when other Christians question their motives.
A final characteristic of these young exiles is that their fellow Christians - particularly older believers - frequently have a hard time relating to their choices and concerns. This can be the young person’s parents, but often is the friends of parents or other well-meaning Christians who can’t get their head around their unique calling. In fact, many times these young exiles end up staying under the radar, as both fellow Christians and nonbelievers often misunderstand their faith and their calling.
- Review each of these 7 characteristics and share examples.