I recently read a book that has been on my shelf for a couple of years, Kenda Creasy Dean’s “Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” Dr. Dean is a professor of youth ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also happens to be a United Methodist. I haven’t been as convicted by a book in a long time.
In this book she reflects on various aspects of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The basic thrust of her book is that most American youth, even those that profess a Christian faith, actually do not believe in the story of God in Christ, but instead affirm what Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce (the NSYR directors) call Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). As Dean writes, the study “reveals a theological fault line running underneath American churches: an adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world.” Rather, teenagers approach their faith practices as “good” things to do, like other extracurricular activity, but not essential to life.
Let me first say that I recommend the book to anyone in youth or pastoral ministry, as well as any parents that care about their children’s discipleship. As I read through the book I was repeatedly challenged by Dean’s assertion that the blame behind the wide acceptance of Moral Therapeutic Deism in today’s youth does not lie with youth themselves, but rather with their parents and the churches these youth attend. In essence our children aren’t disciples because we aren’t disciples. We’re more focused on our kids’ happiness and success than we are on their discipleship.
So I ask you, is this true? If so, I’d love to hear from people who think they are actually raising their own children, much less youth in their church, to follow Jesus.
What is happening in your family’s discipleship? What does family discipleship look like? How is your church facilitating your family’s discipleship? Are we going about discipleship as a family, or as a bunch of individuals? Any thoughts?
As a mother of three grown children and a life long Methodist, Kendra Dean is right on. When my children were little I introduced the ritual of the Advent Wreath at home as a way to bring God out of church and into our home. What I did not know until a year ago is how very little I knew and understood about basic orthodox Christianity; the Heidelberg Catechism and three books about it absolutely blew my mind; Christianity went from feeling like rocket science to being simply unfathomable. So far I can only talk about it some with my youngest child–the other two are deeply embedded with the understanding that “we don’t talk about this”. And truthfully, I know where they are coming from. Nobody knows how to talk about “God in their life.” I don’t quite know how to verbalize what I have learned because I have never been around people who verbalize it. My UMC pastor grandfather, uncle and Director of Christian Education mother certainly never verbalized anything about God in a personal way–it was all about “support the church”. Two friends from church have made it pretty plain they know what they know and don’t rock the boat; God can work through our imperfections and shortcomings.