Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When Youth Ministry Destroys Faith

One of the things that I've never understood is "youth ministry," "children's church," or any of the other variations such practices take. And this is for Catholics and Protestants alike. In the context of the liturgy, it always seemed to be an excuse to dumb down the Faith. In all other cases, it appeared as a way to substitute leisure and fun for formation. Warm and fuzzy feelings took the place of actual virtue and focus on God. But that's just me.

And apparently some other folks as well and from a non-Catholic source.

According to a new five-week, three-question national survey sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), the youth group itself is the problem. Fifty-five percent of American Christians are concerned with modern youth ministry because it's too shallow and too entertainment-focused, resulting in an inability to train mature believers. But even if church youth groups had the gravitas of Dallas Theological Seminary, 36 percent of today's believers are convinced youth groups themselves are not even biblical.

Adam McManus, a spokesman for NCFIC, is not surprised by the church's deep concerns about youth groups. "Today's church has created peer dependency," McManus says. "The inherent result of youth groups is that teenagers in the church are focused on their peers, not their parents or their pastors. It's a foreign sociology that leads to immaturity, a greater likelihood of sexual activity, drug experimentation and a rejection of the authority of the Word of God..."

Cameron Cole, youth director at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala., says, "There is a propensity in our culture to outsource the development of our children. For intellectual development, we send them to school. For athletic development, we send them to Little League. And for spiritual formation, we send them to youth group. The church has done a poor job of communicating to the parents that they are the primary disciplers of their children. Parents don't believe this, but the reality is that kids listen to their parents far more than they're going to listen to a youth minister."

Kudos to these folks for getting the word out. However, I'd like to add another element to the problems here.

The idea that a child's religious experience is being forged to suit their juvenile entertainment aesthetics does nothing but promote the widespread and dangerous egotism of youth. They think it's all about them enough as it is. Why further such an opinion by making the activities of the Church revolve around them according to their tastes? This carries the peril of indulging pride and creating contempt for the more solemn (and real) acts of worship, prayer, and fasting that we are actually called to do.

Teenagers especially have enough trouble thinking the world owes them something and that they are the center of the universe. Let's not encourage that.

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