Durable Faith – Kingdom Living

As the mother of three young adult children (ages 28, 26, and 21), a pastor of over a dozen years, and an Instructor in EMU’s Bible and Religion department for six years, I can say definitively that I do not know for sure what sort of environment creates a young adult follower of Jesus. There are many variables that can be controlled, but perhaps more importantly there is mystery, choice, and the winds of the Spirit which we cannot in the end control.

It is certainly true that coming from a home with parents and grandparents who unapologetically claim faith helps, but this is not always enough. Also, coming from a strong and caring congregation that has provided nurture and a solid Christian education is a great gift, but again, this is not always enough.  For many young people, facing adversity, suffering or loss at a young age draws them closer to God and causes them to be more reliant on faith, but for other young people suffering and loss might have the opposite impact. And again, this alone, is not enough.

Perhaps more importantly than these variables, young people need to understand how their story is a part of the Biblical story, and how the Biblical story continues to unfold. They need to grasp the extraordinary truth that they are a part of writing the next chapters of the story. When my Church Leadership students express concern about the current crumbling state of the church I am quick to tell them that they have the sacred privilege of getting to be a part of helping to re-form church for the next period of history.

Behold, God is making all things new, and we are in a season of creating new wine-skins for the church.

Rather than being some of the many young adults who are abandoning church, our young people need to be challenged to be some of the dedicated young adults who stick around and help to make something new! What an awesome joy and responsibility. Throughout all of history major reforms in the life of the church have been led by young adults. It is our sacred privilege to help our young people to know that they are vitally needed to help to shape church into something that can speak to the needs of the next generations.

Durable faith is built on families and congregations who are rooted and grounded in God’s story. Durable faith calls us to examine and care for our own faith formation and spiritual pilgrimage. Kenda Creasy Dean, Christian Smith and others who write about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are quick to point out that the weaknesses in the faith of our teens, are only mirroring the weaknesses in the faith of us as adults. If we care about the next generation of Christ-followers, we need to start by caring for our own spiritual dryness and malaise.  Only after the Spirit has rekindled our own faith-walks will we find that durable faith is watered in prayer, pruned with acts of service, and harvested with love.

Durable faith will keep us humble, because as we and our congregations live in to this model of Kingdom Living we will find ourselves challenged by the faith of our own children and young adults.

They will call us to grow.

And that is as it should be, in our classrooms, in our congregations

and around our dining room tables.

 

 

Carmen Schrock-Hurst is an Instructor in the EMU Bible and Religion Department (Harrisonburg, VA) where she teaches courses in Spiritual Formation, Youth Ministry, Church Leadership and Intro to the Bible. Prior to teaching at EMU Carmen and her husband Luke were co-pastors in Richmond, VA,  Pittsburgh, PA, and Harrisonburg, VA. They also served overseas with MCC in Honduras and the Philippines. They have three young adult children and two grandsons.

 

 

Questions to Ponder: How to create a culture of God’s love

I watch the high school musical with three of our youth in it in awe. 

The youth (they all just have bit parts) have talked about how demanding the new director is, and it shows.  The musical is being performed at a level of excellence far above previous years.  I find my thoughts sliding towards bitterness:  Why are these youth willing to commit so deeply to a musical, and their commitment to youth group remains so shallow?

I’m having coffee with a college student who is a year or so out of our youth group, and she says, “I liked our youth group because the adults were truly interested in me.  We could be honest in what we were saying—that was okay in our group.” 

I am amazed.

Our group is sitting in a circle in the sanctuary of a church in NE Nebraska.  This has been our home for the week we’ve worked on an MDS house during our summer mission trip.  During this week we have worked together, played together, eaten together, worshiped together.  As we share about the week, I have a deep sense of being a part of one small community of God’s kingdom.  I am experiencing God’s kingdom come, God’s will being done. 

And this seems to happen every summer on these trips.

Sunday evening Bible Study has, in its history, often had 50-75% of our youth group participate.  This past spring we have sometimes only had two out of a possible fifteen. 

The question creeps into the back of my mind:  is it worth the effort of preparing?

 

It has been interesting to reflect on these happenings, and my responses to them, through the lens of what Chap Clark calls “abandonment”.  (I finally got around to reading Hurt last year—I’m only about a decade behind the times.)  Clark observes that youth live in a world where everyone demands something from them:  “Do your best!”  “Give 110%!”  “If you’re not at practice, you won’t play!”  The message that is communicated—whether by teachers, parents, youth leaders—is that your value is in your performance.  Essentially, the youth observe that they are being used to advance the ends of the adults.  They have been abandoned.  In response, the youth do whatever it takes to get along, but only reveal their true selves with their peers (if there).  I think there’s a lot of truth in this.

Our faith, our theology, tells us that our value is found not in what we do but in who we are, and whose we are.  We believe that when God made humanity, God said that we are good.  Not only that, we are created in God’s own image.  God loves us as we are.  God loves us so much that God will not leave us in the brokenness sin has caused, but takes the initiative to reconcile us to himself, to each other, to all of creation.

If ever there was truth to speak as a corrective for abandonment, surely this is it:  you are loved by God, deeply, recklessly, relentlessly.  And in our community we will try to follow God’s example.

So…  How do I respond?  How do we as youth leaders at First Menno in Newton KS respond?

  • Can I/we help create opportunities for our youth to encounter God and God’s love—in worship, in experiencing life together as brothers and sisters in Christ, in becoming the pipes through which God’s love flows to others?
  • Can I encourage opportunities to create a little bit of disequilibrium where the status quo of abandonment is questioned and God’s love for them and for their world has a chance to get through?
  • Can I be attentive to how I relate to individual youth?  Can I see them as God sees them—beloved sons and daughters?
  • Can I show our youth how much I value them, whether they excel, pass, or fail at what they are doing?  Can I find ways to invite them to “do all you do in the name of the Father”, so that all of life can become worship?
  • Can we foster a community of brothers and sisters in Christ, a safe place for you regardless of where you are in your journey?

 

What are the other questions I/we need to be asking?

 

 

 

 

Dwight Regier and Janet live and farm east of Newton, KS.  They have three grown children, one (going on two) children-in-law, and the cutest grandson on either side of the Nile.  They have been high school youth sponsors at First Mennonite, Newton for most of the time since the late 1980’s.  Dwight works very part-time as Network Team Leader for Western District and South Central Conferences of MCUSA.  (That means he gets to hang out with and provide pastoral care for a group of really impressive youth pastors/ministers in south-central Kansas.)

 

The “Stickiness” of Faith

Multiple people have recently asked me: “How did you become so strong in your faith?”

My typical response is “Umm… thank you?!” It’s been a difficult question for me to answer because I really don’t know how to reply to this question.

I grew up as a pastor’s kid, running around in church buildings throughout the week as if it were my own home. I have a hard time distinguishing my childhood memories of home life and church life because they were one in the same for me. God and faith have always been a presence in my life and church feels like a comfortable place. I have a feeling this is why my faith has persisted through all these years, even when life has presented challenges. I consider faith sticky because I don’t know why I’ve always had my faith and not knowing this drives me crazy sometimes! I like to know the answers, but I suppose that is the wonderment of faith, that it just is.

There came a point in college where I didn’t feel the presence of God. It was one of the hardest summers of my life, yet my faith still persisted. The summer was filled with my first heartbreak, my first time living truly independently from my parents, and the first time I experienced the death of someone that was too close to my heart. I kept wondering, “Where are you God?! I feel so alone and yet I’m living in a house with six other people!” I kept thinking that if I restated my statement of faith from my baptism I would sense God again. But it didn’t seem right somehow.

Ultimately, what got me through that summer were the friends and family who supported and loved me, even when I had trouble loving myself. I didn’t realize this until recently, but this was God working through others to reach me. I may not have sensed God in my life at that time, but God was working through the people around me. Comforting me, hugging me, and loving me.

So when I felt lost again this past spring, I knew where to look for God. God was in the church members who constantly checked in with me. God was in my friend who called me up out of the blue to meet for breakfast. God was in the friends who footed the bills, when my checking account was close to empty.

What do I have to offer to others about this experience? Sometimes I feel like not much, but the truth of it is I had a community of believers (both in Christ and in me) that have continually supported me. It’s okay to have doubts and to question faith because it is sticky! It’s like the crunchy kind of peanut butter; you never know when you are going to get a giant spoonful of crunchiness or when the crunchiness will get stuck in your teeth. You can’t plan that (and I am very much a planner so this was a hard concept for me to grasp).

As musician, it’s times like these (when the sticky crunchiness is hard to grasp) that I tend to turn to music for my spiritual connection with God. I can’t plan when anxiety will arise or when I’ll feel alone or don’t belong, but I have found a solace in music. This familiar hymn has been one that is currently working its way through my heart and soul. May it bring you peace when the stickiness of faith sets in your soul.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near

And the day is past and gone

At the river I stand

Guide my feet, hold my hand

Take my hand precious Lord, lead my home

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renee Reimer graduated from Bethel College in 2014 and majored in Music Education. She current works as the Youth Program Director at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, KS and attends Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary as an MDIV connect student.

Creating Faith That Lasts

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1.

Youth ministry is all about faith; our faith in God and having faith we are disciple youth into a deeper relationship with Christ. If you are like me though, there are those times when we don’t have confidence in what we hope for in our youth and there isn’t any assurance because of what we see let alone what we don’t see. So how do we work at creating a faith that lasts in the lives of our youth? 

While there are many, let me suggest two ways I have seen youth’s faith being durable.

First is mission/service trips. Some might disagree but these trips are an opportunity for youth to get out of their comfort zone. It is there that they can see God working both in the little things and the big things that they don’t always recognize at home. In February of 2015 we took the Jr High group on a trip to Philadelphia. We were serving in homeless shelters, nursing homes, clothing banks and soup kitchens. Our “theme” for our trip was “love” since we were in the city of brotherly love. Our devotional on Sunday morning was from John 15:9-17. When we got to the place where we were serving, we set up for lunch before the worship service. The message was from the same passage as our devotional, which I thought was pretty cool. After we served lunch, the pastor shared with us about the ministry and that for the service he had planned on using another passage but sensed God leading him to the John passage. Our youth were able to recognize that it was God working in and through that situation. It is those kind of experiences that I believe create a faith that lasts. Youth being able to see God at work in their lives.

Second, is getting involved in the life the congregation. When we provide opportunities for youth to use their gifts I believe it is a way to build their faith. They can be part of a worship team, read scripture, preach, and help with VBS, etc. These opportunities allow the youth to experience the life of the church from a participatory view instead of an observing view. They have the opportunity to see God work in the lives of other people and allows adults to speak words of encouragement to them. I remember a “youth” Sunday when a youth from the community volunteered to preach. I had little faith that it was going to go well, but she shared from her heart and God used her to encourage the congregation. It also reminded me that God can and does use youth to increase our faith.

Creating a durable faith takes our willingness to give youth opportunities to use their gifts, to maybe even fail, and to experience the body of Christ in different ways. We are not always sure of what we see in the faith of our youth but have faith, their faith will grow and mature into a faith that lasts.

 

 

 

Dwight Rohrer serves as youth pastor of Neffsville Mennonite Church where he has served since 1999. He is also currently serving as interim youth pastor for Atlantic Coast Conference. He and his wife Jenny are parents of 4 children and they have one grandchild.

 

Spiritual Road Map

When I read the studies that show that young people are leaving the church and losing their faith, I wonder if we could prevent that from happening simply by sharing with youth before they leave the church what it can be like to hit the speed bumps on the road of faith.

I mean, we all hit one at some point. Especially when we are young adults.

This is an entirely predictable occurrence.

Those who have studied how faith is formed in people across a lifetime will tell you that in young adulthood, it is very typical for people to question their faith.

And it’s a good thing—it is time for you to own for yourself what you believe rather than rely on the beliefs and experiences of your elders.  It is also typical in this stage of life to mistrust emotional expressions of faith and want a more rigorously intellectual expression of faith.

Put together, these changes within your spiritual worldview can feel like you are losing your faith altogether.

But you know what?  I don’t believe we need to look at it that way.

You are certainly losing the kind of faith you’ve been used to. But you’re not necessarily losing all faith for all time.

Many of us have passed through this kind of crisis at this stage of life and come out with a stronger faith. It’s a different kind of faith—more flexible, more comfortable with ambiguity—but no less “faith-full.”

People of all ages have times when it feels like God is absent or times when it feels like we are losing our faith. When I was in training as a spiritual director, we were encouraged to see these moments as invitations to a new way of knowing God.

When the old, familiar ways don’t work for us, God is inviting us to a new way of understanding and relating to God. God is nudging us forward in that life-long journey of transformation in Christ-likeness.

You know what I wish?

I wish that in our congregations, we took our seniors aside long before graduation, and gave them a spiritual road map for what is coming.

I wish we would say to them, “We just want you to be aware, that it is very likely that within the next four years, you will encounter times when you feel like you are losing your faith. That is natural! It is predictable; it happened to me.

“When that happens, it usually means that God is inviting you to a new way of understanding and relating to God. It doesn’t mean that you have lost you faith for good; it means your faith is changing shape.

“Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up on God. This is the time to ‘seek, and you will find.’ I will be here for you if you want to talk about it. Many other Christian adults will be able to help you navigate as well.

“Just know that this will probably happen to you, you will get through it, and you will end up with a stronger faith.”

If we gave them a preview of what is likely to happen, would more young adults hang in there with God when their faith seems to be disappearing?

I can’t help but wonder.

 

 

 

Shana Peachey Boshart is formation minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference, long time youth ministry worker, wise parent and adoring grandparent. Shana is no stranger to faith formation and has spearheaded some amazing initiatives like: Step Up, a leadership development program for Mennonite youth to learn the dynamics of church polity, and Anabaptist Faith Formation Network, a comprehensive digital website for online faith formation resources.

May Playlist–A New Chapter

‘“For I Know the Plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. Plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’

Jeremiah 29:11

This is a popular verse used this time of year for graduation greeting cards. We’ve worked hard on getting our youth to dig into the Gospel and claim it as part of their story; we’re working towards them getting that sticky faith that lasts a lifetime!

We are not God, so of course, we probably didn’t always make the right choices when it came to working with our youth. We may remember some decisions we made or words we said that have come back to haunt us or maybe even left our youth a bit confused. Weather it was planting the seeds or watering the ones that were already planted, we enjoyed every moment we were privileged to spend with them during this time. Luckily, if our youth let Him, God will go with them into this next chapter of their lives. We will continue to cherish the laughs and wonderful memories, we will remember all the lessons we learned FROM THEM, and we will continue to pray for them as they journey on. This month’s playlist is a prayer of the lessons that I/we hope made it past that backboard in their ears and went straight down to the heart (or up to their memory).

This is Not Goodbye by Sidewalk Prophets

“Cause this is not goodbye-it’s just “I love you” to take with you-until you’re home again”

While the complete message of this song may not be written for this context, the first time I heard it, I was brought to tears thinking of having to say goodbye to my senior youth this year. It’s not goodbye; we hope that they know we love them, and we’ll see them either here at their childhood home again, or up at our heavenly home.

Unfinished by Mandisa

“…that world I painted, where things just all work out. It started changing and I started having doubts…”

Mandisa’s personal journey that she points to in this song is a message in itself…but the lesson that it hardest to learn when we’re young is that the world is not easy. Stepping out of the bubble our parents/caretakers lovingly surrounded us with is scary and eye-opening…and there’s a good chance this is a time when our youth will have their first real struggles and start to doubt themselves. But we know that they ‘celebrate the truth, his work in [them] ain’t through, {they’re] just unfinished.”

 

I’m Not Who I Was by Brandon Heath

“…the thing I find most amazing in amazing grace is the change to give it out…”

Let’s just be honest here, it wasn’t all smiles and laughs…during our time with our youth, we will probably see each other’s not-so-loveable sides. Sometimes there is that one youth that may have made youth group a little more difficult than it needed to be at times. But we are called to give them grace…and if we did not get the opportunity to see what giving them that grace did during their time in youth, maybe we’ll see it someday…or maybe we can continue to pray that maybe this song will be their song someday.

 

Father of Lights by Third Day

“We magnify your name, we lift you up and praise”

We pray that our youth learned how to simply praise God! That they were able to experience that joyful peace that comes with giving your all in praising God.

 

Broken Hallelujah by The Afters

“With nothing left to hold onto, I raise these empty hands to you”

We also pray that they learned how to praise God even when it hurts, even when it’s hard, even when they feel like they have nothing left.

 

More Like Falling in Love by Jason Gray

“I need more than a truth to believe, I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes”

We can teach them how to memorize verses, memorize prophet’s names, the Fruits of the Spirit camp song…but I pray they were able to fall in love with how much God loves them. That they were able to feel that love and want to give it back in praise to God. Rules and lines are easy to forget…but to feel the consuming love of our Savior is unforgettable.

 

Well Done by Moriah Peters

“So when my life’s a leap of faith…”

Following God hardly ever is the same as what the culture tells them to do or what their friends tell them to do. But I hope they learned that the reason we follow Christ isn’t to be cool (even though we followers know it is 😉 but it’s so that when we finish the race of life, that God is waiting at that finish line saying, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”

 

Let Go by DeWayne Woods

“Then He said you don’t have to cry cause I’ll supply all your needs”

Worrying about how to pay rent or pay for college or how to communicate with their parents when they don’t agree…adult life encourages a lot of worrying. I hope my youth learned to Be Still…and Let God do work! …even when I wasn’t always the best example of that.

 

Be My Escape by Relient K

“I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake…”

Getting outside of that bubble, they may stumble and fall a lot at first. I pray that they know that Jesus is the only true escape from this life and they run to him instead of any sort of addiction. But I also pray that if they need someone to pick them up after a night of partying or other not-so-churchy activities, they know they can call me and I’ll still be here for them if they need someone even just to talk to.

 

Can’t Shut Up by Anthem Lights

“Love is coming now, we are free, we can’t shut up about it”

I pray that they get to the point where they fully commit themselves to Christ so much that they can’t stop telling others about how awesome He is and that they have the courage to tell the world!

 

That’s How You Change The World by Newsboys

“It’s the smallest spark that can light the dark”

They don’t all have to become pastors or church leaders…they can help bring the Kingdom of God here by simple things like treating the McDonalds employee with respect, pay for the next person in line’s order, speak kindness in any room, and be polite to anyone they pass.

 

No Longer Slaves by I Am They

“From my mother’s womb, you have chosen me”

I pray that they know they do not have to be enslaved to any type of addiction or self-loathing. They are a child of God and I pray that they feel the strength to overcome any obstacle because of their linage in Christ.

 

He Knows My Name by Francesca Battistelli

“I’d understand if you picked everyone before me, but that’s just not my story”

God created each youth for a purpose; they are not a product of a factory. God created each one of their personally. I pray they see and accept their incredible worth. I pray that they never question their existence or their purpose.

 

Be Thou My Vision by Audrey Assad

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise”

I pray that they strive to see God’s plan for their life AND that they strive to follow it.

 

All That Matters by Colton Dixon

“All That matters is that I matter to you”

I pray they do not strive to please humankind. I pray they find fulfillment in this fact that they matter to you, God!

 

On My Side by Kim Walker-Smith

“You are on my side, you go before me, you stand behind”

I above all pray they never feel alone, because they know that God is always on their side. No matter how far they run, no matter where they try to hide. God will always be there to fight for them.

 

Always,

~Ash

 

 

 

Ashley Litwiller is the pastor of youth and worship at Arthur Mennonite (IL).

May theme–“Durable Faith: Creating a Faith that Lasts…Graduation”

 

It’s May.  Time for budding spring flowers, afternoon rain showers, prom, open houses, and graduation!

We prepare diligently for this day with great care.  We encourage our children and students to study hard.  We help them proofread their college essays.  We drive them to countless prospective student weekends looking to find the right fit for college.

And then that marvelous day comes when they walk across the stage, receive their diploma, and throw their cardboard hat into the air.

They did it.  Congratulations, graduate!

As we consider faith formation, there is no ‘graduation’ date.  As disciples of Jesus, we don’t receive a piece of paper that states our credentials to frame and hang on a wall.  Our faith is an ever dynamic, ever growing (hopefully), evolving, and deepening relationship with the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

However, research is clear–we are living in the age of the ‘nones.’  More and more of our young people are not claiming any religions affiliation.  The National Study on Youth and Religion state many reasons for this, and about once a week I’ll come across an “open letter to my church” from a Millennial on why they are done with it on social media.  Sadly it seems that graduation from high school (and youth group) also means a graduation from faith altogether.

So, what are we to do? Because I don’t think this is how the story needs to end.

This month on The Gathering Place, we are going to delve into the topic of “Durable Faith: Creating a Faith that Lasts…graduation.”

Join the conversation this month through:

Webinar: Sarah Bixler, Ph.D student at Princeton presents a webinar, ” Youth Attachment to God and the Church: Should the Church Act Like Fly Paper?” Sarah will share her research on attachment theory and connect it to how it can inform our faith formation efforts.  Wednesday, May 17, 1pm EDT/12pm CDT. Sign up now!

Study Circle: Shana Peachy Boshart will lead this month’s study circle on Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This is a top youth ministry (and parent!) read–so join the discussion today!

tGP Podcast:  An Interview with Brad Griffin. In this podcast, episode 19, Rachel interviews Brad Griffin, Associate Director of Fuller Youth Institute and co-author of the book, Growing Young, the newest book to come out of FYI’s research about qualities exemplary churches have that have the ability to retain young people. Listen to the interview now by clicking the title above.

As denominational minister for Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this quandary. How do we create spaces for authentic faith development to occur?  What does it mean to nurture spirituality in our children as they grow?

I look to hearing from you via our webinar and study circle, and you are in for a treat from our bloggers this month–seasoned youth workers–as they offer their own perspectives (new blog posts each Friday). Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to share a few of my own formation musings…

For starters, what do we mean when we use the term “faith formation”?  It seems to be a current buzz word–so I think it’s important to agree on what we are talking about!

My working definition is this: “Faith formation concerns the process of growth towards God.  It is a continual journey of being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ.”  For authentic faith formation cannot occur without being connected to the whole, and it needs to happen in both information and formal ways–not just in Sunday school or at church. All too often when we think ‘faith formation’ we immediately equate it to ‘Christian education.’

But it’s so much bigger than that.

I think we can all agree that this is a pretty decent working definition of faith formation—one that could transcend throughout history. But how this plays out, how this looks from one generation to the next, is interpreted differently.

This generation views church much differently than those of the “builder” generation mid-century that fully embraced the church as an institution with most of the cultural life centered around church and faith.

Not quite so much anymore.

The National Study on Youth and Religion (10 year study which followed youth to young adults and explored what attributed to lasting durable faith. They surveyed and interviewed thousands of folks from a wide variety of denominations) discovered the following as it relates to the current trend of youth perspective and religion:

  • Youth are by and large not hostile towards religion—study found they are actually benignly positive towards it, “it tries to make you nice.” This general sense of vagueness is because they simply don’t care all that much about it. They aren’t going to be passionate about something that doesn’t matter much to them.
  • Teens mirror by and large their parent’s faith. Yikes!
  • Articulating faith is very difficult—easier to talk about God in general terms than Jesus.
  • Religion is inconsequential. Despite our best effort, we have seemingly turned Christianity into a moralistc-theraputic deism. We’ve represented Christianity as being good and feeling good, than the gospel.

If these findings are accurate and true, then it is paramount that faith formation for this new generation will need to look much different than it has in the past, because something is not working.

So, what do we do?  How do we reclaim authentic faith formation for this generation, connecting it in ways that make sense to them?

I think it begins by listening and taking an honest look into our own congregations and home-life to see what messages we are sending (both overtly and covertly). Our youth are stressed out and tired.  They need spaces to be themselves and loved and accepted unconditionally.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…they don’t need more pizza or crazy game nights (not to say that youth ministry can’t be fun–but we can’t simply stay in the programming/game mode).

Mark Yaconelli, illustrates the difference between ministry rooted in anxiety and ministry rooted in love. Or in other words, how are we busy doing things FOR Jesus, as opposed to creating space in order to be present TO him? I find his juxtapositions to be a helpful tool to use as you reflect and discern, structure and form ministries in congregational life:

 

Ministry rooted in ANXIETY Ministry rooted in LOVE
seeks control (How do I make Christians?) seeks contemplation (How can I be present to others and God?)
seeks professionals (Who is the expert that can solve this problem?) seeks process (What can we do together to uncover Jesus’ way of life?)
wants products (What book, video, curriculum will teach faith?) desires presence (Who will bear the life of God to one another?)
lifts up gurus (Who has the charisma to draw people in?) relies on guides (Who has the gifts for living alongside?)
rests in results (How many have committed to the faith?) rests in relationships (Who have we befriended?)
seeks conformity (Do the new people coming meet our expectations?) brings out creativity (What’s the fresh way in which God is challenging us through our new attenders?)
wants activity (What will keep the schedule busy?) brings awareness (What are the real needs?)
seeks answers (Here’s what we think.  Here’s who God is.) seeks questions (What do you think?  Or as Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?)

Mark Yaconelli, Contemplative Youth Ministry (London:  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006), 51.

Where are you anxious in your formation?  Where are you rooted in love?  What might holistic faith formation look like here? You might consider sharing this with another leader in your church and consider the implications together.

Before you begin to sketch out a new master plan, or panic (!), I have a few words of hope for you:

  • Don’t despair—it only take 3% of salt to make salt water, and Christianity only started with 11 disciples.
  • Often times, we just want to change things.  We begin to believe the woo of the world that claims to know the ‘secret sauce’:
    • We believe the croon, “We just need more young people,” thinking that young people will attract more young people to attend.  That young people will save the church—but only Jesus saves. Kenda Creasy Dean says that when we think like this we have “vampire theology” (young blood). We turn our ministries into programming.  When we frame faith in terms of numbers we reduce it to entertainment rather than equipping.  We become more focused on roping people IN rather than sending them OUT.
    • Another myth—in order to appeal to young people, it means acting like them. Churches are turning into coffee houses, sanctuaries are looking like living rooms…all of this is fine and good, but to what ends? If you are using these things as a gimmick, you fail to see those who come as individuals who are seeking transformation, and instead see them as a demographic to be marketed to.  But do you know what the largest growing denomination is?  Greek Orthodox.  It appears that significant number of millennials are drawn towards the mystery and the ritual, of ancient-future worship. (I wonder if it has something to do with the rhythm, quiet, and spaciousness that this tradition offers to our harried young people.)

As much as we want to keep our children and youth ministries siloed, like we did since the advent of big youth ministry programming (hello 1980’s-1990’s), I’m not sure that we can afford to continue with this trajectory given our current state. Families are more scattered and fragmented than ever before. “Regular attenders” come to our congregations once a month at best (Barna Research Group, 2015). Parents are feeling less and less confident in their own abilities to attend to the spiritual lives of their children, and bring their kids to church to get it (but due to the harried family schedule, can be difficult to attend)—and the cycle continues.

So, how do we break the cycle?  How do we think creatively and out of the box to meet our own unique congregations and families where they need to be met?  Guilt and shame have no place here.  Wishing for “the days of old” isn’t going to change a thing.  We have to be brave to look deep and honestly and trust that Jehovah-jireh will provide for us all that we need. Authentic faith formation is always connected to the whole. It’s about nurturing our children and youth to see that they belong to this faith community in real ways.  That they matter.  That they are seen. And then showing up for them, embodying Love as a verb (and I do hope that you are planning on coming to Orlando ’17–sly plug).

Are you still feeling a bit lost on where to begin?

Here are a few practical ways to take the first step to be intentional in creating a holistic approach to faith formation especially with this generation that craves belonging, authenticity, and something to believe in:

1) Say hello! Making an effort towards hospitality says far more than just a greeting—it says—you are seen, you are appreciated, you matter.

2) Invite in authentic ways.  Don’t see young people as a project, for they are real participants in the life of the church with gifts and skills to offer.  Young adults are a bit skirmish on commitment, but inviting to short assignments is often helpful (just this one Sunday…or for this month…). The more connected they feel, the more they tend to find their place within.

3) Create ways to engage intergenerational mingling—we need one another. Allow opportunities to talk with one another and share stories from life. Curt Weaver, long time faith formation minister (currently at Portland Mennonite) has older adults invite the youth group into their home for an evening of conversation and fellowship where the hosts share “Your Life in 10 minutes”.

4) Be authentic—Being real and authentic about life and faith, naming fears and questions and doubts, is just as important as talking about what you believe in.

The future of the Church, by the statisticians point of view might appear to be grim or so-so at best. But the future of the Church depends on Christ, not us.  Christian formation is not simply for growing churches, but for growing people into the likeness of Christ.  The shape of the church is changing and young people simply don’t care about sustaining an institution.  They want a real community that believes and acts and has a fire in its belly for loving God and the world around them.

As we posture ourselves and seek to be rooted and grounded in this way of being, there truly is nothing to fear—for this is God’s church.

And God hasn’t failed us yet.

I look forward to talking more with you this month about this topic, as a parent, as a pastor, and as a lover of the Church.

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel S. Gerber, Denominational minister of Christian formation and the editor of this fine website

tGP: An interview with Brad Griffin of Fuller Youth Institute

I had a spectacular time talking with Brad Griffin, Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, about his new book, Growing Young (2016), a research driven book looking into the fabric of exemplary churches that have figured out their ‘secret sauce’ to not only forming lasting faith in their children and youth, but have flourishing active young adult participation.

In this interview Brad talks about these qualities that this research uncovered that seems to help congregations “grow young” as well as offer some wisdom for you about creating a ‘sticky faith’ culture in your own church.

If you have yet to discover the Fuller Youth Institute, check them out and sign up for their insightful newsletter which provides the latest in youth culture, development, and faith.

Brad M. Griffin is the Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger (fulleryouthinstitute.org), and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of the forthcoming Growing Young (fall 2016), several Sticky Faith ​books (see stickyfaith.org), Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California. Twitter: @bgriffinfyi

 

 

 

May Webinar: Attach with Sticky Paper?

This month, The Gathering Place hosts Sarah Bixler as she presents

“Youth Attachment to God and the Church:

Should the Church Act Like Fly Paper?”

Wednesday, May 17, 1pm EDT

Some congregations hope their youth ministers will transform them into fly paper: get their youth to stick to the church (preferably, their congregation) and not disappear into thin air after high school. But is the fly-paper model the best one for nurturing a lifelong commitment to Christ in the Anabaptist tradition? In this webinar, Sarah Ann Bixler, PhD student at Princeton Seminary will present that attachment theory provides another lens for considering how adolescents attach to congregations, which comes in all forms: avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized and secure attachment. And recent brain research provides more insights when it comes to adolescents’ attachment. This webinar explores how congregations can nurture ideal attachment for adolescents in their care that ultimately leads to their attachment to God in Christ. Sign up today!

 

Sarah Ann Bixler is a PhD student in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing on Christian education and formation. A former youth minister at Zion Mennonite Church (Broadway, VA), Sarah has also worked as a middle school teacher, youth curriculum writer, conference youth minister, conference administrator and residence director. She currently resides in Princeton, NJ with her husband, Benjamin Bixler, and their three children. They attend Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.