We were wrapping up the Q&A session at the end of a workshop I lead on how some of the main cultural trends impact teenagers’ spiritual growth. There were about a hundred youth workers in the room and the questions throughout the workshop had been excellent. This was a sharp group of folks. As the session began to wrap up, an older gentleman raised his hand.
“In your opinion, how do we make teenagers care about their faith?”
The question struck me as significant. I chuckled a bit when the man asked it. In some ways, it’s almost insultingly simplistic. Even a bit arrogant. How do we make teenagers care? It sounds as if it is asking for a paint-by-the-numbers process for cramming the importance of faith down our students’ throats. Part of me wanted to say that I’m not sure I want to be in the business of making anyone care about anything. When it comes to caring, I’d prefer that people want to care!
And, yet, in other ways, this question may very well be THE question. I chose to give the gentleman the benefit of the doubt. I chose to see the heart behind what he was asking. I trust that what he was saying was born out of a history of investing himself in the spiritual growth of students. I assume he has watched over the years as some students did indeed come to care about their faith, thriving as a result. I can also imagine he has watched with frustration and maybe sadness as others failed to embrace the importance of their faith.
I chose to interpret his question like this: “What can we do, as youth workers, to lead teenagers to understand that their faith, their identity as Christ-followers, is of primary importance”?
Truth be told, it started a lively discussion in the room, one that had to be cut short because we simply ran out of time. But I thought about his question, and the response it created in the room, for a few days afterward. I don’t know that I came up with the paint-by-numbers plan he may or may not have been looking for. But I did think of a few essential principles that need to be in place for teenagers to see their faith as important.
Their parents must view faith as important.
One of the major takeaways from the National Study On Youth And Religion was that parents are the key influencers of their children’s faith. In her book Almost Christian, Dr. Kenda Dean showed that teenagers more or less imitate their parents’ faith. If their parents have a weak faith, this is the brand of faith most likely to be modeled by teenagers. If parents view faith as important, it is likely that their teenagers will as well. Of course, we know that teenagers who don’t have parents who are Christ-followers can still live active faith lives. But, having faith viewed as important in the home is vital for the transference of a faith that is valued.
They must know God and be invested in knowing Him more.
I tell our students this all the time: We can’t follow someone we don’t know. For faith to be important, teenagers have to understand their identity as Christ-followers as something beyond mere morality, or what some folks call “cultural Christianity.” They can’t see “Christian” as just another label applied in describing them. Faith that matters is faith that flows out of a close proximity to Christ. Reading the Bible. Actively praying. Speaking and doing the Gospel. These are actions that both precipitate and perpetuate a faith that is valued.
They must grasp the enormity of our rebellion and the truth about lostness.
In our culture, this is growing more tricky. In a world that doesn’t see God’s character or His Word as standards, our sinfulness (defined as any deviation from these standards) is becoming a concept that is more difficult to grasp. And yet, for their faith to matter, I think teenagers have to come to grips with what sin is and what it does to the relationship between God and people. And they have to care about a world separated from God as a result of its sin. If we can help in leading students to see beyond a myopic, narrowly focused of their worlds, we can begin to show them how important faith truly is.
Certainly there are more aspects of helping our students live a faith that matters. But these were three essentials I think are in place in the lives of those teenagers whom I know care about their faith.
How would you answer the question? What concepts do you think are vital to students caring about their faith?
Header image provided through creative commons, photographer Chris Sardegna.