Monday, August 30

More Teens Becoming "Fake Christians"

Ever since I have been involved in ministry to college students - and I'm starting my 29th year - the conventional "wisdom" has stated that "85% of young people will lose their faith when they go away to college."

I'm not sure about the statistical validity of that comment, but you can't get past the fact that a majority of students drop out of active Christian involvement when they get to college. The University of Arkansas is typical of this. We sit in the "buckle of the Bible belt" and I have no doubt that at least 80-85% of our 21,000 students attended church during their high school years. But once they get to college, it would be safe to say that no more than 25% of them continue to be active in their faith.

The easiest scapegoat for this is, of course, the university environment itself. It is true that there are a lot of landmines to faith on a university of campus. But most of us who work in campus ministry know that much of the problem is present before students ever hit campus. They arrive without a vital faith in Christ or a commitment to living out their faith.

A recent article on expands on this concept. John Blake quotes Kenda Creasy Dean, author of the new book "Almost Christian". She did considerable research on the Christian faith of teenagers. Some of her observations include:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.... "If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can't talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

So what can be done? Dean shares this interesting observation:

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

We, as parents and church leaders, need to do a better job of helping our teens verbalize their faith and the ways that God has influenced their lives. We need to help them build relationships within our churches. We can't let attendance at "events" take the place of face-to-face and life-on-life relationships that are built on a common commitment to Christ. And we need to continually paint for them a picture of how their lives can be eternally significant - no matter what direction they choose to go. Unfortunately there is still an attitude in many churches that the "committed" kids will attend Christian colleges. They are celebrated while those choosing other routes are often ignored.

Elizabeth Corrie, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, adds some advice of her own.

Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens' religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor. She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.

And what can parents do? Kenda Dean adds these thoughts:

Get "radical," Dean says. She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips. A parent's radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says. But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says. "If you don't say you're doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people," Dean says. "It doesn't register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots."

I know that part of my own spiritual development was watching the growing faith and changing lives of my parents - especially during my teen years. The reality of their faith and their commitment to serve was noticeable and helped to solidify my own faith.

So churches, ministers, and youth ministers, it is time to call teens to deeper community, a greater vision, and a more personal relationship with Christ. They need to be called to a faith that demands something of them and isn't just a weekly ritual.

And parents, model for your sons and daughters a faith that affects how you live and that demands something of you. If your faith is challenging and stretching you, there is a better chance that it will take root in the lives of your children.

Tuesday, August 17

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

It's that time of year again. Since 1998, Beloit College has released it's "Mindset List." The list is a reminder to us of our changing world and the "cultural touchstones" that have shaped the lives of this year's entering class of college freshmen. Check out the Beloit College Mindset List for the class of 2014.

Tuesday, August 10

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Thanks to Matt Perman and his What's Best Next blog for pointing me toward Clayton Christensen's address to the 2010 graduating class of the Harvard Business School. He challenges the graduates of one of America's most prestigious schools to consider how their choices and life strategies will answer these three questions:

1) How can I be sure I'll be happy in my career?

2) How can I be sure that my relationships with my wife and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

3) How can I be sure I'll stay out of jail?

It is a great speech and worth your time to read and consider.

Monday, August 2

The Tangible Kingdom

"They said this so much better than I ever have" was a recurring thought as I read The Tangible Kingdom (Jossey-Bass, 2008) by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. I heard Halter speak at the Exponential Conference last April and resonated with his story. In this book, the authors take concepts that I have been trying to express to our staff and students and put them into clear, practical, and moving terms. They help us to look at how we, as followers of Christ, approach the world and go about the mission to which God has called us. Here are just a few thoughts to whet your appetite:

"The missional part was Jesus leaving his Father's side in the heavens and coming to us in the form of a human. The incarnational part was how he took on the flesh and lived with us. Said another way, missional sentness is focused on leaving and everything related to going, but incarnational represents how we go and what we do as we go.... Words communicate what we know; posture represents what we believe and feel. Therefore, posture is the most important part of relationship and communication. Posture shows true emotion and the intent of our heart. When we try to figure out why those outside the church aren't interested in our 'good news,' it may have nothing to do with our message, but with our nonverbals.... Posture is about helping people want to hear the truth." p. 38-39

The book goes on to talk about the posture - the attitude and habits - that we need to demonstrate as we move about in the world and seek to represent Christ in a way that draws people to him.

From my experience, there are several causes of "bad posture" among Christians. One is lives that don't demonstrate a difference because of the presence of Christ. Our lives are too much like the world's in our values and lifestyle or they can be the negative and condemning. Another cause of "bad posture" can also be our habit of slowly withdrawing from the world and those who don't share our values. We slowly remove meaningful relationships with those outside of faith. I love this sentence:

"Influence doesn't happen by extracting ourselves from the world for the sake of our values, but by bringing our values into the culture." p. 31

If you're a church leader, read The Tangible Kingdom. If you're a church planter, read The Tangible Kingdom. If you're a Christian hungering to be a part of God's mission in our world, read The Tangible Kingdom.