Monday, October 09, 2006

evangelicals worried that teens won't acquire the fire



on friday the NYT ran a front page story that focused on "acquire the fire's" youth revivals and evangelical's concerns about the faith of their children. apparently ron luce, the director of AQF, has frequently noted that if we fail to properly evangelize and indoctrinate our teens only 4% will grow into "bible-believing christians." these claims are highly suspicious insofar as they rely on a dated study by thom rainer, who admits in the body of the article that these figures are not current, and the surveys of evangelical pollster george barna, who tends to define "bible believing christian" in unmistakably modern terms that would paint many of us as apostate ee-vangelicals (i.e., belief in biblical inerrancy, an embrace of biblical "absolutes," etc.). while i agree with sociologists such as christian smith (who is interviewed in the article and recently co-wrote soul searching: the religious and spiritual lives of america's teenagers - a book i am dying to read) that the state of american christianity is not quite so dire, i do believe that we need to effectively proclaim the story of Jesus to america's teens, find more effective ways to incorporate them into the body of Christ and empower them to participate in the mission of God. however, i do not think that mass youth rallies that merely stir up religious enthusiasm and the ongoing propagation of a christian subculture (i.e., by countering the consumerism of the world by creating christian brands such as luce's branded by God line and the ever popular, sexually subversive wait wear line) is going to do the trick.

rather, in order to effectively share the story of Jesus with teens, incorporate them into the body and empower them to participate in the mission of God i think we need to: free them to create new and engaging forms of worship instead of just consuming the rah-rah shit we've been serving up for the last 30 years, find opportunities for them to serve in transformational ways and environments (i'm thinking of letting them discover the spirituality of cleaning toilets at places like l'arche and creating callouses on their hands as they dig wells in sub-saharan africa) and teach them how to actively subvert the consumeristic culture of the western world instead of simply teaching them to support and sustain the "sanctified" ee-vangelical sub-culture of middle america.

in short, i respect the passion of people like ron luce, but fear that his methods are not going to produce the ends that he seeks. i'd love to hear what you think about these matters. i'd especially like to hear what youth ministers have to say.

5 comments:

g13 said...

i really think that xenos student ministries provides a helpful paradigm here. instead of creating a group of teens that are trained to consume christian goods and services (i.e., sunday morning, wed night, etc.), they actively equip their teens to learn the scriptures, lead small groups, actively disciple and even teach their peers. the more i think about it, the more i'm convinced that the primary problem with a lot of contemporary youth ministries is that they are training teens to be consumers. i think we need to go to great lengths to empower teens to be active producers of contextualized biblical teaching, authentic spiritual companionship and meaningful, incarnational christian service.

of course, i think this problem of producing christian consumers is plaguing the american church as a whole, but that's another post.

james said...

Glad you posted this article man. I, like you, have also been stumped by the phrase "bible-believing Christians." I mean, I know what they're trying to say, and what's more, whom they are trying to single out . . . but that phrase at it's face value seems to imply that there are a whole strain of Christ followers out there who don't believe in the Bible. Kind of humorous and annoying at the same time.

Regarding youth ministry, all I can speak from is my own previous experience in working with youth. What kids will remember most is the time you spent with them. No speech, talk, tesimony or whatever other kind of sit-down-and-bore-the-kid-with-the-gospel-message kind of soliloquy will substitute for this kind of relational wholeness.

When i was a youth intern, one of the youth leaders took the kids to the "Aquire the Fire" thing when it came to town. Thank be to God I wasn't there to attend. But seriously, no one ever talked about it after they returned home. Bottom lie . . . It didn't have a lasting impact...

But I'm pretty sure the time i spent with kids on their school lunch breaks and after school was something they will remember. Not that i'm saying I'm the dude the kids want to be like or something...but just . . . you know what i mean . . . positive role models and showing that you are trying to live what you believe and stuff.

g13 said...

the more i think about it, the more i worry that the church is too focused on drawing people by satiating their need to consume.

for example, we can tell people that church is not the building but the body or tell them that our worship services are incidental to who we are as the body of Christ, but if we focus 80-90% of our fiscal and human resources on the sunday morning service i think our actions speak louder than our words.

perhaps we should spend a little less time cooking up programs and schemes to hook teens, and adults for that matter, with the gospel and a little more time worshipping God and challenging/enabling/empowering our communities to be a blessing to the world.

s & s is not exempt from the latter criticism, btw.

monts said...

our church budget was broken down into 3 categories which made up 100% of our entire "income":

40% - church staff
40% - building payment
20% - bills (electric, gas, etc.)

starting 3 weeks ago our budget was broken down into 4 categories which make up 100% of our entire "income":

30% - church staff
40% - building payment
20% - bills (electric, gas, etc.)
10% - missions (local and international)

the 10% is a huge stretch for our church, but it's so sad that the bills make up more of our "giving" than missions (yes, they saw bills as giving at one point)... we don't even set aside money in our budget for "in-house" ministries. i couldn't even imagine what would happen if not only our church could change the percentages, but if every church could... it'd be an amazing outpouring of money into all sorts of areas to make a tangible difference for the kingdom instead of just building churches and calling it the kingdom.

...we can tell people that church is not the building but the body or tell them that our worship services are incidental to who we are as the body of Christ, but if we focus 80-90% of our fiscal and human resources on the sunday morning service i think our actions speak louder than our words.

GUILTY AS CHARGED.

g13 said...

maybe guilty for the moment aaron but under your leadership destiny usa has a chance of turning things around. i have great faith in you and great hope for the future of your community.