Notes from Dr. Kenda Dean’s sessions at Symposium on Youth, Religion and Culture (Spartanburg Methodist College)

Kenda Dean

Symposium on Youth Ministry with Dr. Kenda Dean

Spartanburg Methodist College

Thursday April 11th, 2013

Speakers: “Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dean is the author of several books on youth culture, including “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” This latest book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted from 2002 to 2005 and provides an analysis of teen religious practice.

The symposium will also include an address by Darwin Glassford, director of the M.A. program at Calvin Theological Seminary, book review editor for the Journal of Youth Ministry and a well-known speaker on youth ministry and culture.” (I do not have notes for his sessions because it was a lunch session – we were eating).  For more on the symposium click here.

(Session 1)

Biff, Christ’s best friend – wishes he could do what Jesus does (lizard story)

When we see what it is like to bring life like Jesus, we begin to say, “I want to do that too.”  (Finger around the clock exercise – perspective/hermeneutics) What you see depends on where you sit.  We are helping young people begin to see their lives through God’s clock.

Research – Christian formation isn’t helping children/youth see life from God’s way

*Flea video – behavior set by the lid put on the jar

Jane Magonicle – “Institute for the future” – Playing video games will save the world; in gaming the player is looking for the “EPIC WIN” (research on WOW); Gamers feel better about themselves in the game than they do in real life – how do they transfer their skills to real life (10,000 hours in video game – parallel education system) You need 10,000 hours of practice to make yourself a virtuoso at anything.

Video gamers are Virtuosos at:

(1) Urgent Optimism

(2) Tight Social Fabric (we like people better after playing a game with them)

(3) Blissful Productivity (we feel better about something if we work hard at it)

(4) Epic Meaning (gamers are immersed in epic stories – saving the world)

God in Jesus Christ gave us an epic win.

(National Study of Youth and Religion 2005) – Christian Smith

(1) Teens are not hostile toward religion (apathy)

(2) Teens faith mirrors their parent’s faith

(3) Teens are “incredibly inarticulate” about religion (kids shut down)

  1. Mainline protestant kids are least articulate
  2. Catholics were slightly better (symbols and iconography)
  3. Teens are articulate about many things, but in talking about their faith they just did not know how to speak
  4. Mormons were tops (they get top of charts)
  5. Conservative protestants next

(4) A significant minority (40%) say religion is important to them and makes a different in their lives (8 % were in the highly devoted category; pray, go to church, read bible)  The church is good with the small group that attends, not with those who don’t

(5) Religion is most significant for

  1. Mormon Youth
  2. Conservative Protestant Youth
  3. Black Protestant Youth
  4. Mainline Protestant Youth
  5. Catholic Youth
  6. Jewish Youth
  7. Non-Religious Youth

Conclusion: Most teens adhere to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as their unacknowledged religious creed.

(1) God exists that created world and watches over us

(2) God wants us to be good and fair to each other

(3) Central goal of life is to be happy

(4) God doesn’t need to be involved unless I need him to solve a problem

(5) Good people go to heaven when they die

The Apostles Creed is about God!  MTD is about us (self-centered)

Teens faith mirrors their parents.  Because the teens mirror their parents religious lives, the adults are as well – this is our country’s dominant religion.

Churches that teach MTD rather than Christ are not differentiated from the world.  Young Adults think it is honest to claim “No Religion” and become “Nones”

(1)                   Fastest growing Religious group in the US – 19.6%; 1/3 of Young Adults 18-26)

(2)                   More “nones” than Mainline Protestant Christians (most people are as religious in college as they are about to get, 23 is least religious year).  When people come back, they usually come back because of marriage (marriage age is going up), and as you age you tend to get less religious.

(3)                   Most “Nones” are raised in Religious homes

(4)                   Most of the “Nones” are not atheist or agnostic (no religion, practice religiousness secularly – have rituals, secret communities, culture, and prophetic witness)

What would it take to get the attention of Young Adults?  Where can they be honest about the toxicity of the world they live in?  The Church

Destroying Two Myths

(1) Young people will save the church

  1. If our church is going to survive, we need young people (only Jesus will save the church!)  Youth will not save dying congregations.  We should not use Young people for our own congregational needs

i.     VAMPIRE THEOLOGY – Young people are young blood that we need, and we proceed to suck the life out of them (this is an Anxiety Reaction)  This is survival, threatened thinking.

ii.     Entitlement goes into overdrive – we aren’t greedy, we are scared.  We can’t grow because we can’t take risks

iii.     Institutions cannot grow when you’re trying to survive, circling the wagons!

iv.     When anxious, we can’t access our whole brains (using reptile part of the brain) – classic reactions are fight or flight (freeze/protect) – we can’t think rationally, have no humor HOW MANY ANXIETY REACTIONS ARE IN YOUR CHURCH

We tend to think that Young Adults need the church, but it tends to be the opposite way around.  When you are a young adult, all the institutions that have tended to support you tend to be done with you when you hit a certain age.

(2) Making the church appeal to youth means we need to act like one

  1. Contemporary worship service is first way people try to solve the problem (critique of worship)  There is a lot of bad worship of all styles out there
  2. Marketers have learned that you don’t win teens by treating them like teens, you treat them like PEOPLE
  3. Pentecostals and Eastern Orthodoxy are attracting Young People
  4. Eastern Orthodox Saints are drawing for some
  5. Both of these groups (P and E.O. are High Expectation, Participative)  When we compromise ourselves to reach young people we say our church is “cheap”
  6. Mark Yaconelli (tells story of 4 year old who understands being a Christian has a high cost – might get killed like Jesus)
  7. When Resurrection happens – when young people are reached affectively they want to see

i.      Meaning – you have a part to play in this quest, people notice when you’re gone, living for the future because the church knows how the story ends

ii.      Belonging – being part of something everyone is playing a part in; Jon Stewart called the UMC the Univ. of Phoenix of Religions – we don’t want to inconvenience people by following Jesus into the dark places of the world .  When we invite young people to participate.

iii.      Radical Hospitality (Drew Dyson 2011) – people are appreciated for whatever they bring

  1. Story: A young admissions counselor dismisses UMC affiliation because they really accept anyone Kenda D: What!  Its because of your affiliation that you accept everyone!
  2. When was the last time you saw a community of Christians reflecting Christ so brightly that you said: “I want to do that too”?
  3. Example: A group of young adults face Neo-Nazi demonstrators dressed as “Coup Clutz Clowns” – Each time the demonstrators put their hands up, they would find something that rhyms with their slogans and turn it into something silly (ex. White Power/White Flour/White Flowers/Wife Power/Tight Showers) – tried to diffuse any potential violence (clowns defeat the clan)  People saw life, hope and thought: I’d like to do that too.

Young people are open to possibility, are not anxious about death, and are full of Hope.  Being young is not an age thing.  Conviction that the future is full of unlimited possibility.  Everyone whose future is bound to Jesus Christ is young (we have a different definity of youth).  We are participants of the Kingdom of God.  “Its not that the future belongs to the young, its that those who have a future are young.”  Ex. Pope John Paul II dancing with youth as they say “you are young”  Isaiah 40:30-31  – What if the church became known for its life, productivity, and live into their “EPIC WIN” in Jesus Christ.  How long before young people start saying “I want to do that too.”

(Session 2)

The “nones” have been around for a long time, but there is no social pressure or points to/for faking being a Christian anymore.

Sociological conclusions of how good a society is doing according to how we treat our Children.  USA is last of countries only after U.K.

Lois C.K. Clip – Nun is irritated with him and his friends who won’t pay attention in class and so they bring in an over the top Crucifixion storyteller (education debacle); Child feels responsible for Jesus’ nails and pulls them out to “make Jesus better” or make amends.  Mother doesn’t believe in Jesus and tells her son that she wanted her son to have “religion” but he doesn’t have to get it if he doesn’t want to.   (ex. I need to take you to church so they can give you religion)

The shift to the “Nones’ has been an incredibly fast sociological shift.  Break down: Atheists and Agnostics has been growing slowly, but Nones has grown rapidly.

OT Scholar – Walter BrueggemanHelp young people become bi-lingual in faith. When conquered, the conquered people had to negotiate the treaty in the language of the dominant culture.  When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, they had to write a treaty in Assyrian, but they knew their covenant with God was written in Hebrew.  Behind the wall of Jerusalem, they knew that their identity was locked up in God.  On the wall conversation and behind the wall conversation.

(1) In our culture, we have to learn the language of the culture (don’t do Christianese) – On the Wall.

(2) Our inner-language – seeing an internal way to see the world – Behind the wall

(3) Kenda – There is a third part of our language (symbols, arts, rituals and practices) that express faith beyond words, and is a primary language for young adults.

Adults who want to care for these children/young people have to learn their language.

How do we translate?

*The best way to translate is to use people, not programs.  If we leave translating the Gospel to Youth Programs, there will be a wooden translation of the gospel.  Icrebreakers are not real life.  (We have a whole generation of parents who are not trained to be translators)  Video: Mom confronting Confirmand who reveals he’s an atheist.  The parent doesn’t have a way to respond (no conversation); her son Michael is outing her own doubts (the parents faith formation is pretty sketchy)

Parents want to be authentic with their kids, they want to do right.  Parents losing it are just trying to be honest.

Youth workers have thought that throwing information at people is the way to bring about faith growth – but it is really about transformation.  The easiest thing to share is what you love; it gets hard when we need to share what we know.  Kenda: her dad shared his love for White Castle hamburgers, and she remembers his love for her everytime she passes a White Castle.  She wants that love to be felt everytime someone passes the church. (example of sharing; History re-enactors, volunteers who want to share their love for history with someone else)

You Learn Best What you love the most.

When a person falls in love with a band, they hear the music first, and then the find out everything about the band, and then we share it with others.

Do we love Christ sufficiently to share Christ with our children (word and deed)

Get rid of things that get in the way of our relationship with Christ (embrace sacrifice) and dislodge us from our comfort zones ( A Big Adventure )

6 Tangible Ways (concrete Steps) for parents (Congregations can step in)

(1) Invest in your own Faith (you must live out faith in your own life)

  1. Profound Religious Experience (aside from parents faith)

i.     Answer to prayer

ii.     A moving worship experience

iii.     Witnessed a miracle

iv.     Sensed God’s presence in suffering

(2) Share what you love (its easy for you to learn what you love)

(3) Share your faith story with your kids (why do you follow Jesus?)

(4) Emphasize Good News over Good Behavior (counter the Jesus Jacket – compartmentalization of morality, just take it off)

  1. Kids that associate being a Christian with how you behave are the quickest way out of Christianity and Faith once in College (disposable kind of Christian identity)
  2. Who you are flows out of Christ, not what you do

(5) Speak Christian at home

  1. Do we talk about what happened at work like “the boss really showed you some grace.”
  2. Do you speak about and talk about Jesus OUT LOUD
  3. Congregations that talk about God as subject of sentences rather than an object (God as active and alive) have children of faith

(6) Do one radical thing for your faith in front of your children, and explain that you’re doing it because you love Jesus (because this is what it means to love Jesus)  (TAKING RESURRECTION SERIOUSLY)

  1. Acts of Radical Hospitality
  2. Acts of Radical Mercy
  3. Acts of Radical Grace
  4. Acts of Radical piety and practice of faith

How much are we willing to risk in our relationship with Christ?

Everyday Radicality.  The church needs to live out Resurrection and Transformation.  If we won’t be used, then God will find something other than us.

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