By Ian Eastman
I get to work on a project of my own design as part of my certificate program in Youth & Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. I am pondering how faith is passed down through generations. Sometimes churches jump the gun and go straight to a particular manner of passing on the faith to young people (i.e. doing things the way they've always been done in a particular tradition, or copying another church's successful program). I want to get down to the nuts and bolts in a way that honors an ecumenical faith tradition and incorporates the best practices we know about youth development.
It is an exciting time for youth ministry. Gone are the days when most books for youth groups consisted of games and skits. There is a growing body of research about youth, spirituality, and effective ministry practices. The evangelicals at Fuller Seminary have published their findings in a series of books under the Sticky Faith banner, Catholics have Faith Formation 2020, Lutherans have Exemplary Youth Ministry, and Southern Baptists are encouraging people to Think Orange with a series of curriculum and materials. Professor Kenda Creasy Dean, a Methodist at Princeton Theological Seminary has published some very insightful books over the last several years and Vibrant Faith has some wonderful resources for "mainliners."
The interesting thing is that these diverse sources are all pointing in the same general direction: mom and dad. Not pointing in a scolding way, but in recognition of their primary influence of the religious and spiritual lives of their kids. Want to know what the faith of your child will most likely look like? Look in the mirror. Depending on what you see reflected back, that can be relieving or distressing! It is all about being an example.
So that's where I am at so far. Now I'm pondering these kinds of questions: What would it look like for the church to partner in a different way with parents? What kind of materials would they find helpful? How might it change the job description of clergy and youth workers? And how do we backtrack when for decades we have taught parents that church programs will do this job for them? Too often the church utilized parents as taxi drivers to programs, when it should have been equipping them for the important task of faith formation. Fascinating stuff-and I plan on writing more about this as it further develops.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I'd like to invite you to a youth ministry discussion group that meets for lunch twice a month at Family Services. Give me a call at 723-1330 and I can let you know when we're meeting next.
Ian Eastman, M.A. is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County, a charitable agency the helps people with counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.