Tag Archives: youth

QOTD: I just want to be _____________.

I deviated from the Question of the Day Plan. I had two more questions to ask out of Soul Searching but some conversations throughout the week made me decide to go in a different direction. So, as the kids streamed in to Attic After School I asked each to complete the sentence “I just want to be _____” on a little slip of paper. I got a total of 35 responses.

There were several ways of answering the question (though I was fishing for a particular one). A lot of the kids answered the question “I want to be a _____ when I grow up.” There were a few who wanted to be dancers, a couple singers, three soldiers, an anthropologist, etc. No small number just completely goofy: “I just want to be peanut butter.” One kid wanted to be a basketball player. One wanted to be a basketball. Go figure.

There were a few that said, “I just want to be me.” I’m still not quite sure what this means (a topic for another day, I suppose) though I think they meant, “I just want to be the best I can be,” another one of the responses.

Several went with religious answers. “I just want to be godly,” “I just want to be pure,” and perhaps most telling, “I just want to be innocent again.”

All were excellent answers, even the goofy ones, which made Talk Time more fun.

What I was fishing for, however, was the handful of people who responded, “I just want to be happy,” and it was to this that I turned my attention in my conversations with the kids. The goal was to point them to four simple truths.

(1) It’s not wrong to want to be happy. God created us that way. The problem is that (2) many of the ways we look for happiness lead to despair. Much of what the world offers is at best temporary, and at worst destructive. We lack the knowledge of ourselves and the world to know what will make bring us joy and so we go looking in all the wrong places. The good news is that (3) God, our Creator, knows just what we need to find lasting joy – and, in fact, He is just what we need. So, as Jesus says, instead of seeking happiness, (4) seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, rejoice in God first, and allow Him to fulfill the desires of your heart.

As C.S. Lewis says (because you can never go wrong adding a C.S. Lewis quote to your blog post):

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

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QOTD: Do you have to go to church to be truly spiritual?

QOTD (Question of the Day) Introduction: This blog series reviews questions asked to teenagers as part of the NSYR study as documented in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These questions relate to “seeker attitudes” among American Teenagers. I am also using these discussion questions to engage the kids in our After School program at a deeper level.

Question: Do you need to be involved in a religious congregation to be truly religious and spiritual?

“Here the majority of American teens swings back to the more individualistic position: two-things say believers do not need to be involved in congregations to be spiritual and religious; only one-third say that they do.” (Soul Searching)

My Brief Answer:

First, we need to answer the question, “What does it mean to be truly religious and spiritual?” This could mean a few things. It could mean, “right with God (saved)?” It could mean, “fully obedient?

If they mean “right with God” then the answer is No. It’s No, because only one thing is required to be right with God: faith in His Son Jesus Christ. To add anything to that list, no matter how good a thing, is legalism. I’m a big fan of being part of a church, but it doesn’t contribute to your salvation.

However, if they mean “fully obedient” then I would say Yes. I say this for a few reasons.

  • A head without a body is as bad as a body without a head: Kevin DeYoung made this point in Why We Love the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is the body of Christ. It’s always bad news when you have the body without the head (a church without Christ). But it’s just as bad if you have a head without a body (or an invisible body). The Body of Christ was always meant to be a visible and serving witness to Christ in the world.
  • A severed limb isn’t good for anything: In this body, every part has a role to play. That means you. You are needed. You are needed to build others up. But you have to be present (or at least involved) to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Disengagement leads to disobedience: Read my Advice for College Students.

What if you are unable to participate in a religious congregation?

Certainly there are those individuals who are unable to actually attend a church on a regular basis. In our church we call them “shut-ins.” Although they don’t come to church they continue to participate in the religious community in other ways. Various members of our congregation go to visit them and give them updates on church life. They continue to participate through prayer. They are not present, but they participate. I am extremely thankful for the shut-ins in our church. They are a blessing to all of us. There are occasions where church attendance is not possible. However, for the vast majority of us, it’s not about possibility it is about priority. Sometimes we say, “I couldn’t go” when we really mean “I didn’t really want to go.” Do your best to understand the difference.

What do you think? Have I gone too far? Not far enough? What are other reasons why church participation is essential?

Can you articulate what you believe? (Part 2)

Several weeks ago I asked the question “Can you articulate what you believe?” I then promised I would present a framework by which to answer that question within the week. I failed to do that but will spare you the excuses.

Since that time I did have the opportunity to pose this question to our youth group kids. I split them into small groups of 2-3 with one leader and had them attempt to articulate their core religious beliefs to each other in between two and four minutes. Some did well. Some struggled. One guy in my group did well, in part because he had a lot of practice sharing the gospel as a camp counselor. The moral of the story here? Practice helps. Overall, I was encouraged by the teenagers in our youth group.

What I ask others to do, I should attempt as well. First, an introduction:

One framework by which we can express our faith making the rounds in today is the so-called “meta narrative” (Story) of the Bible. In my opinion, this is one of the most helpful frameworks for understanding the big picture of the Bible, of the world, of ourselves, of God, and of God’s action in the world. This framework has four parts which are named different things by different people, and are understood a little differently by different strands of the Christian tradition. For the purposes of this blog series I will use the language of Creation, Rebellion, Rescue, and Re-creation.[1]

If asked today, “What are your religious beliefs?” I would probably talk through it using this framework. Ten years ago I probably would have used some more traditionally evangelistic, starting with our sin, moving to the cross, and then explaining how to be sure to go to heaven. I’m convinced that these traditional evangelistic methods of explaining our faith still have merit in a lot of circumstances. However, they aren’t really a robust picture of the totality of our religious beliefs. Below is my attempt to express my religious beliefs using the “meta narrative” framework. My goal is to make this expression succinct.

In the beginning, God created the Universe. He created Adam and Eve, placed them in the garden, and gave them dominion over the earth. Adam and Eve were in perfect relationship with each other, with the earth, and with God.

Adam and Eve, after being tempted by Satan, rebelled against God. In righteous judgment, God placed a curse on the earth. Every relationship was irrevocably broken – between Adam and Eve, between us and God, and between us and the earth. Sin and death entered the world.

Rebellion reigned and escalated. It has continued to do so. Today, are born with a sin nature and all agree with the sin of Adam and Eve in our thoughts and actions. This rebellion continues to break down our relationships with one another and with God. It brings death and judgment from God.

As rebellion increased, God’s grace increased. He gave us the promise of rescue. He chose Abraham and promised that through him all nations would be blessed. He rescued Israel out of Egypt and made it a nation. He set forth the promise of future, and ultimate rescue – the promise of a Messiah who would save his people from their sin.

That Messiah is Jesus. God sent Jesus, the eternal Son, fully God, who was present at creation, to become fully man. He came to earth as a baby, was tempted yet did not sin, suffered, and died on the cross. He died as our substitute. His death paid for our guilt. Jesus’ death was not the end. On the third day he conquered death.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and many others. He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven where He is today having been given all power and authority.

Jesus is the head of the Church, all those who have put their faith in Him. The Holy Spirit empowers the Church to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all the earth.

We can become beneficiaries of the mercy offered to us in Jesus by repenting from our sin, turning to God, and putting our trust in him alone. In so doing our sins are forgiven, our guilt is taken away, we are adopted as sons and daughters, we are reconciled to the Father, we are made new, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are freed from the slavery of sin, we are united with Christ, we are made victorious, and we are redeemed, and we are imputed the righteousness of Christ. We are rescued. We have new identities, a new family, and a new purpose.

But, we still live in a world where rebellion seems to reign, even in our own hearts. We do not yet see all things the way they were supposed to be, or the way they will be. We are still subject to sin and death.

We look forward to another day, a day when God makes all things new, a day when sin and death are no more, a day with no more suffering or tears. This is the day of re-creation when God makes all things new.

So, how did I do? It’s hard to express Christian faith in about a single page. I was hoping for 400 words but still went over. Still, I’m not sure what I would cut out. I really didn’t want to miss the Trinity or the nature of atonement, or the church (things often missed). I didn’t use any language of the “Kingdom” which I sort of regret. Also, I didn’t mention baptism which is another thing I regret. Are there any glaring errors?

Sometime in the future (I won’t put a time frame on it this time so I don’t become a liar) I’m going to examine the consequences of leaving any one of the four elements out.

[1] I’m borrowing the language here from a colleague of mine: Jeremy Bouma.  An alternative is “Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.”

Can you articulate what you believe?

One of the findings from the authors of Soul Searching: Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers is that the vast majority of American teenagers are extremely inarticulate about their faith. They simply couldn’t answer basic questions about their core religious beliefs.

Perhaps they lacked knowledge, or didn’t believe much at all. Perhaps a bigger reason was that they were never asked by anyone to articulate their faith. As someone who works with youth, this was eye opening. It made me realize the importance of giving teenagers (and adults for the matter) opportunities to verbalize what they believe and why.

Another interpretation for the data not posited by the authors is that some kids simply have a lot of scattered knowledge and religious information that they simply don’t know where to begin when asked the incredibly broad question, “What are your religious beliefs?” I mean, would you know how to answer that question?

In this regard, it might be worthwhile not just to have knowledge, but an overall framework to put that knowledge in, or at least have an organized way of expressing it.

Sometime next week I’ll propose one way of expressing your faith in a (relatively) brief and organized manner but I’m curious, how would you, dear reader, answer the question “what are your religious beliefs?” I don’t just mean the content of your faith but how you would organize it.

On Faith: Increasing Boldness

“On Faith” is a series I have been doing at our church’s after school program for Middle and High School students. This week I covered Hebrews 11:29-31.

I began by asking the students, “What is an action that requires boldness?” My favorite answer was this: “Taking on Chuck Norris.” In fact, most of the answers had to do with combat, which is not surprising considering that our after school program has skewed largely to adolescent boys – a fact I contribute to the general awesomeness of the male leaders.

Then I asked, “What is something we do in following Jesus that requires boldness?” The answers were decidedly less violent this time around but still (for teenagers anyway) require a fair amount of courage: Standing up for God when no one else is. Waiting to have sex before marriage. Standing up for someone who is being picked on. Witnessing. Etc.

Interestingly, the stories related in yesterday’s Talk Time had more to do with the answer to the first question than the second – they were stories about battle. But they were also stories about faith, obedience, and courage.

The three stories in Hebrews 11:29-31 all hold together because of their common theme of Israel’s ultimate conquest of the Promised Land. They are also stories of increasing boldness.

The first story is about Israel crossing the Red Sea. The initial response of the Israelites, when the Egyptians approached, was actually fear, not courage, doubt, not faith. God intervened, however, and ultimately turned their fear into faith. Hebrews says that they passed through “by faith.” Still, it’s kind of hard to characterize running away as boldness.

We see boldness more obviously in the story of the fall of Jericho. Here, it’s a smaller group – just Joshua and the armed men. Their actions, walking around the city of Jericho and raising a shout, certainly required faith because, from a human perspective, that’s just no way to take down a city. The boldness here comes from the sheer strangeness of their actions. It comes from doing something conventional wisdom (or peers) say is weird – trusting God.

The third story is the most obvious picture of boldness in faith. It precedes the Jericho story because it’s about one of the citizens of Jericho – Rahab. Rahab demonstrated boldness when she put her life on the line to protect the Israelite spies. She did this because she knew it was actually more perilous for her to oppose the people of God than to risk her life before the officials of the city. Because she spared the lives of the spies, they spared hers and she went down in history as one of the great examples of faith.

There is an interesting observation to be made here about increasing boldness and decreasing numbers. The “least bold” action came from the largest group (the nation of Israel running away from the Egyptians) and the “most bold” action (at least in my estimation) came from a single individual.

Craig Groeschel in Altar Ego (just reviewed) devotes a full one-third of his book to boldness (bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, bold obedience) and he regularly draws the connection between faith and boldness. He says, for instance, in the chapter on bold words, “You speak boldly about what you believe deeply.” Faith always leads to boldness. Godly boldness (as opposed to human arrogance or recklessness) always comes from deep faith. If you want to be bold, live by faith.

Your teen wants to go to church more, not less.

One of the more surprising findings from the National Study on Youth and Religion as reported in the book Soul Searching is that, as a whole, teens report that they want to attend religious service more often than they are currently attending.

“U.S. teens as a group profess to want to attend religious services not less, but actually more than they currently do. Some of this difference could be mere wishful thinking, with the effect of making teens feel better about themselves… On the other hand, at least some of the teens we interviewed did report uncooperative parents and transportation problems preventing them from attending religious services more often than they did.” (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers)

My recent experience matches this finding. Not long ago, one family in our church has gone out of their way to invite teens from our after school program to our morning services and, a bit to my surprise, they’ve been coming, and coming back. There is a spiritual hunger in teens we sometimes underestimate.

Religious Life of American Teenagers

I’m reading “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.” The book is a sociology book written in 2009 and is based on a very large study on American teenagers. Its findings have important implications for churches (and youth groups). I’m reading it because I work with the youth at my church and because I am aware that this was the book that coined the phrase “Moralistic therapeutic deism”, a topic which I am researching for a broader project. I just made it through the first chapter in which the authors summarize some of their major findings.

  • There is a huge variety of religious practices and beliefs among teens, even within a single denomination.
  • For many teens, religion and spirituality play an important and defining role in their lives.
  • Religious practices (church attendance, reading the bible, prayer, Christian service, fellowship, etc.) are crucial to a vibrant religious faith.
  • There are very few teens who are “spiritual seekers.” “Contrary to popular perceptions, the vast majority … are instead mostly oriented toward and engaged in conventional religious traditions and communities.”
  • While some teens can articulate their faith well, many more are “remarkably inarticulate and befuddles about religion.” The “agents of religious socialization” (churches?) don’t appear to be doing a very good job about passing on basic beliefs to teens.
  • A strong “structure of relational networks and institutional ties” has an extremely positive correlation with strong religious faith among teens. In other words, when several aspects of a teen’s life (family, peers, church, school, etc.) are all reinforcing the same beliefs the teen tends to have more vibrant religious life.
  • Even though churches don’t appear to be very successful in passing along the faith, parents hold a great deal of influence in their teens religious lives, whether for good or for ill.
  • American teenagers who are more involved in religious activity are more successful in other areas of life as well.

Some of these seem fairly obvious to me (there is a broad variety of religious experience and expression, religiously involved teens do well in other areas). Others were a bit more surprising (there aren’t many teens who are “spiritual seekers.”)

What do you think? Do these findings match your experience? Which are surprising to you?