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“Fake” Christian Teens?

August 30, 2010

I ran across this article yesterday and was interested to read it.  Then a clergy colleague sent it to me this morning and I thought maybe it would be something we could talk about here.  Here’s a link to the article:

More Teens Becoming Fake Christians

The basic argument of the article is that more and more teens are adopting a “mutant” version of Christianity that the author describes as less of a faith and more of a “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  By that, she means that those who are buying into this version of Christianity are seeing God almost solely as the divine being whose principle responsibility is to make them feel good and increase their self-esteem.  The author, ordained Methodist minister and Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Kenda Creasy Dean, argues that “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.”

Now I have been involved in youth ministry for a while now, both as a participant and as an ordained leader and I can say that I have run across plenty of teenagers who are only at youth group meetings “for the free pizza” so to speak.  But I have also run across many who possess a faith so strong it inspires my own, an ability to articulate that faith in effective communication to others, and a confessed, deep dependence on God and His mercy for far more than “therapy.”  I wished the author had spent some more time writing about those teenagers and the youth ministry environments that develop them, than she did complaining about those who are just there for the feel good message and the pizza.  There are always going to be those who come just for the pizza, so to speak, or for the cute boys or cute girls.  (I have always told parents who expressed a concern about that, “True, they might just be going to X youth event to socialize, but wouldn’t you rather your son/daughter meet somebody to date at a church event than just about anywhere else?”)

The truth of our faith is that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, died for our sins on a cross, and that by so doing, took upon himself the consequences for us all.  That is a “feel-good” message on many levels; we do, after all, call the message of the disciples “the Good News” (i.e. “Gospel”).  But it is also a message that calls us beyond ourselves into a life of worship, service, faith, and self-sacrifice.  How we raise our children to understand that is up to parents, to our faith communities, and to their leaders.  More importantly, though, it is also up to us as parents to model that faith.  If your child or teen sees you living the true Christian life, chances are they’re going to want to know how they can too.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and the questions it raises.

Fr. Ryan+

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the insight, Ryan.

  2. Lizz Ward (Alderman) permalink
    August 30, 2010 5:12 pm

    Fr. Ryan,
    Thanks for posting this article. I have just a few things to add. Take them for what you will. I grew up in the church and attended many youth group functions both at my home church and my friends churchs. I was one of the few people that had parents that actually attended church with me and insisted that I did so as well as be involved. She does touch on the idea that parents are to be blamed for alot of this lack of real christianity if you will. Most teens whose parents don’t attend a church regularly do so because they are seeking something out, looking for the answers they are not getting elsewhere, whether that be at home or at school. I don’t think it is fair to say that they are practicing a fake form of christianity. All chrisitans began somewhere, some of us earlier than others and thus just because you may be the same age as the teen sitting next to you in youth group you may be more in tune with why you are there and what you are there to do. In my case my parents never did anything “radical” ,and let me make a point that I don’t think that is the proper term, I chose on my own to go out of my way to serve in new ways. I have been to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip, I painted a convent, I have served on youth councils for the diocese, been a counselor at christian summer camp. Neither of my parents had ever done such things. I found my own way at some point, yes I was lucky they were there to guide me as christians themselves but I found the way I wanted to serve. I may have strayed several times but I still find ways to serve and be active that suit me and my family. I would only hope that my children will follow in my footsteps and go on mission trips as well. My point to all this ranting is that we have to give them time to develop into “real” christians for lack of a better term. We must give them the resources and mold them while they are open and willing to listen and be led. Not all parents are going to be involved we must know and at the very least hope that if we can reach the kids maybe the parents will follow.

  3. August 30, 2010 7:42 pm

    Coy, Good to see you! Been a while, huh? Hope you’re still writing – I’ve got a short story out to a publisher now, so we’ll see. My rejection letter should be coming sometime next month. 🙂

    Lizz, Great to hear from you, too! I think you make a number of good points. I also came from a family that took me to church and encouraged me to be involved, but in terms of doing something “radical” – that I didn’t see unless you count my Dad serving as the church treasurer in perpetuity!

    Another thing I’ve often said is that God meets us right where we are, at whatever age we are, so I agree with you there. I also liked what you said about how peers influence peers positively. That is more than ok, that is what it is all about! We got more kids into youth group at St. Mark’s BECAUSE the teens brought their friends than any other way! Finally, in terms of kids doing “radical” things, yours may take the cake – telling their priest fish are falling out of the sky and all that nonsense! 🙂

  4. Lauren Desmond permalink
    August 30, 2010 8:18 pm

    Hey Fryan, its been a while, I hope you didn’t consider me as one of the teens for the “free pizza” but at any rate what I think the author of this article is trying to get to is instead of instilling fear into people (like in the old days, you know, when there were dinosaurs and cave men) that teens do look at God as kind of a self-esteem boost. And is that really so bad? Isn’t it better than believing in some fake “friends” or popularity for self-esteem? Although, if you look at God and Jesus as only self-esteem boosters, which honestly I can’t even fathom that, it is wrong.

    But what do you really expect!? We teens want someone to pick us up when we are down, and God is supposed to do that! God and Jesus are supposed to be all forgiving beings who look at us for who we really are, giving teens a self esteem boost, and also increasing our REAL faith. Adults who refuse to think that religion can be a confidence boost need to come out of their caves and realize that religion is not black and white, its very very gray and can be interpreted in so many different ways its not even funny.

    I hope all is well, we miss you in Florida, youth is not the same without you (especially since I have a job and can’t really go much anymore) but I digress, keep safe and happy, God bless and God speed 🙂

  5. Lisa Miller permalink
    August 30, 2010 9:48 pm

    Sometimes it takes the “free pizza” to get them in the door! A 100% yield is too much to expect of anything.

    It’s also important to consider that spiritual development doesn’t occur outside of cognitive and emotional development. Teens are where they are — still growing. Like adults’, some will have a faith that is more or less refined, deep, developed, etc than another’s.

    While it’s important to model faith and a Christian life to kids, it’s still not a cause/effect relationship to their faith. Everyone is on their own road, and some are farther down that road than others.

    Thanks for posting. Good food for thought (says the recent empty-nester)!

  6. August 30, 2010 10:43 pm

    @ Lisa – “Sometimes it takes the “free pizza” to get them in the door!” Amen and amen.

    “While it’s important to model faith and a Christian life to kids, it’s still not a cause/effect relationship to their faith.” No, certainly not, and sometimes its the teens modeling it for the parents. But, like you say, it can’t hurt, either way it flows!

    @ Lauren – SO SO glad a teenager posted on this! Thank you! No, you were one of the one’s who had the capacity to inspire me, and still do, though I’m not there to bear witness. Never lose sight of the fact that others look up to you. Remember what I said to you, oh, a few years ago now.

    “And is that really so bad? Isn’t it better than believing in some fake “friends” or popularity for self-esteem? Although, if you look at God and Jesus as only self-esteem boosters, which honestly I can’t even fathom that, it is wrong.

    But what do you really expect!? We teens want someone to pick us up when we are down, and God is supposed to do that! “ I think this is a pretty insightful thought and a salient point. Turning to God is always a better choice than turning towards the falsehoods that popularity can breed, or towards illicit substances. Teenagers do want someone to pick them up when they’re down, and God does do that. But more importantly, what God does is say, “I’ve been down, too. Can I sit with you for a bit while you’re down?” I believe you know that, probably better than most your age. Really glad to hear from you, and especially that you found me here on this blog.

  7. Brent permalink
    August 31, 2010 11:26 am

    Well done Ryan. I think you both make great points. It seems as though many churches have fallen into the trap of the self-esteem gospel instead of the “deny self, take up your cross, and follow me gospel.” Therefore, I have shaped my youth ministry around the teaching of theology, the practical application of the gospel in life decisions, and the actions of witnessing and helps ministry. It is vital that our parishioners have a clear view of the Biblical Gospel. I also throw some fun events in there, but it is so important that we challenge our teens to take up the true faith and be the leaders of the church today. Unfortunately, the culture and even the church has catered to the prevailing selfishness and humanism that is prevalant in our culture, and the result is teens who think their faith is all about them instead of about Jesus. We do well to teach our youth and especially their parents to stop worshipping themselves and give themselves completely to the Lord and his Gospel. I would highly recommend that you read the book “Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ” by Richard Ross. Wish you the best my brother as you lead the Lord’s people where He has called you.
    In Christian Brotherhood,

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