I‘ve been on the road a lot this summer, traveling for vacation, continuing education and service to the larger Presbyterian church. I spent time working with colleagues in the early years of their ministry, sight-seeing and visiting family and friends in my home state of Texas, doing energizers with 5,000 of my closest Presbyterian youth friends at Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University (including our eight youth and two adults who went), fishing, reminiscing and enjoying time with family and friends in Canada. Most recently, I spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution where I made new friends, learned about American jazz music from Wynton Marsalis and enjoyed amazing music, worship services and concerts. I will be reflecting for quite some time on all of these experiences.
During my time at Triennium, I attended a series of lectures on Young Adult Ministry, which turned out to be about youth ministry as well. The speaker started with youth ministry because the role of faith in our young adults is a reflection of how we are intentionally engaging our children and youth in the traditions of the Christian faith. It was an honest, sobering, and energizing series of lectures that didn’t let me rest on my assumptions about youth and young adults. At the core of the lectures was the invitation to make Christian formation an intentional practice for people of all ages.
A massive study of the faith life of youth and young adults in this country made two key observations. First, the #1 resource children and youth have for growing in their faith is their parents. As go parents, so go their youth. Interestingly, it wasn’t simply or only important that parents go to church. What was most important was how parents model faith in their everyday lives, from daily devotions to discussions of faith practices (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, attending church) to how they speak of their own awareness of God’s presence and God’s call to serve God’s purposes in the world, not simply their own. The more parents lived their faith openly, the more children and youth made it a priority in their lives.
In the book Five Practices of Fruitful Living, which will be guiding our fall theme Fruitful, Rob-ert Schnase writes, “People who value Intentional Faith Development teach their children to learn about spiritual matters. They enroll them in children’s choirs, Sunday school classes, or vacation Bible school. They talk with their children about what they learn. They cultivate a home atmosphere which encourages faith practices and rewards inquisitiveness, curiosity, and exploration of the spiritual life. They share wonder and honor the enchantment and mystery of life. They make their homes a place of affection where God’s love is felt and God’s grace is named. They teach faith.”
The second finding was that young adults who had been part of an inter-generational faith community as children and youth were more likely to be involved in a faith community later in life. Although this was a distant second to the role of parents, its impact is important nonetheless. Children and youth need many role models of faith, and they need relationships with faithful folks of all ages. Participating in a vibrant faith community where other adults besides their parents and the youth director know the names of children and youth and care about them and where they are invited to participate fully in the life of the church is crucial to their faith involvement later in life.
In contrast, parents who drop their kids off for Sunday School or enroll them in confirmation class to expose them to religion or check off some box on the list of raising a well-rounded kid make faith a transaction (something for personal consumption and often self-blinded to God). This approach typically doesn’t have a strong enough impact on the future faith life of their kids. More often, it creates a belief in a generic deity, if that, without the teeth or power of the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ to be transforming.
However, parental modeling and a church that welcomes and nurtures people of all ages is a dynamic combination which creates a rich environment for faith formation in children, youth and adults. A church that makes Christian formation an intentional priority for all ages plays a powerful role in helping children and youth see themselves as part of something bigger in this world. It models for them that the church takes seriously the commitment it makes at the baptism of each child or adult to live the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ now and for the world.
So, here is my invitation. Make faith formation an intentional priority of your life. Make it a priority for your children and youth. If you don’t have children or youth at home, make it a priority for the children, youth and adults you promised to nurture in faith at their baptism. Stop asking someone else to model faith and life together for them. Stop making faith a transaction. Invest in your own growth and in our life together so that you can share the gift of faith that brings true meaning and purpose to life with others. Our newsletter this month shares many ways for us to grow more deeply in the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ. The Disciple invites us to be disciples. I look forward to what we will discover together about the God who created us, the Son who saves us, and the Spirit who sustains us in the coming program year together and how we will model the depth of that good news for all people, young and old, in our life and ministry together.
See you in church,