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We Expect?
How much commitment
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Les Parrott

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talking with hundreds of kids. the young person's principal task is to relate his or her own religious views with the incompatible views of others. lunch. are less likely than children to believe in literal translations of the Bible. Teens. what kind of spirituality can you expect from teenagers?" That lunch was six year ago.v to think abstractly ('formal operations"). however. Such questioning leads to individual and personal religious belieb. engage in criticalselFreflection and examination of their beliefs and values. Ron pushed the menu aside and kept talking Is this stage view religious stories and music in literal. Persons at church just another social event for them? Do they understand the transforming grace of God? Can the-v practice any spiritual discipline? He pondered about the puzzle of adolescent spirituality. the universe is orderly. but I've been trying to answer Ron's question ever since. I'm not thinking they should be Billy Graham or Mother Teresa-but really. but as a spirit embodying moral truths and penonal presence. It's no secret that religious beliefs change as children enter and pass through adolescence. faith development.4. Children report they believe in God because their parents told them Cod exists." sentence fell out of Ron's mouth as he intc the restaurant booth to join me for one question after another. adolescents rely more on rational thinking in th-eir faith than on parental precepts. adolescents respond to religion according to their cognitive capacity. After reading dozens of books. After interviewing people of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. because the universe is orderly. The final stage in Fowler's model of adolescent sp i ritual developme nt is i nd i u id ua l-re fl ecti ue fa i t h. and commiserating with many a youth minister about adolescent spirituality. for example.ln early ado. though not all adolescents reach this stage in their hildren say they believe in God because their parent! "*rsts. concrete ways. I threw in my two cents'worth. Fowler delineated six stages of faith development of adolescent spirituality (they come in three pairs). "What can you expect? They're kids. Those who do. I thought.t\l f l ldon't Zslid lThe know if all this makes any difference." Ron fired back.. "What are you talking about?" 'Being a youth pastor.*'. They believe in God.:.: sprlng 1995 / YoUTlNYoru<m 33 . I put on all these activities.lhe level at which most adolescents begin their spiritual journey. They may conceive of Cod as a personal adviser and guide. They believe in God because. I've come to a few concluslons. 1. for example. They accept their religious heritage.Rrsurrs . but in a less personalized fashion than previ ously. The upshot of Fowler's overyiew is simply that adolescent spirituality is different{ifferent from a child's spirituality. When he finally stopped long enough to take a bite of his club sandwich. Next is synthetic<onuentional faith. Which ruant. I have creative Bible studies-but I don't think my kids get it:" This willbe a light-hearted lunch. of course. These adolescents view God in more abstract ways-not as a personal advisor. and they're worth remembering. with their increased capacit. The work of James Fowler." he muttered. different from an adu!(ls spirituality. The first stage is what Fowler calls mythical-lileral foith. "Whalcanyou expect? I mean. "Does it really rnake a difference? I mean. Adoles- told them h" eents rely more on rational think- irg than on parental precepts. Operating at a preteen and concrete level. lescence. first and foremost. tfiq!ti" rn'$t put ounselves in teenagers'shoes. They perceive God in human form somewhere in the sky. for example. ranks among the more extensive studies on how faith changes as people age." 'Exactly. no questions asked. On the other hand.

It instead creates a desire to clear one's conscience and please those who are watching. 2:2).-ate il-iiQ af yeadv self-punishing? Because it workS. Ciiilt'lets results-but only for the shorl run. first and foremost. When youth workers loosen too many expectations about what a young person is capable of." wrote Bruce Barton. rakes about cultivating spiritual formation. Placing unrealistic expectations on adolescents about their spiritual development ensures failure and compounds guilt. "The greatest sin is to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. and by holding lackluster expectations of them. differentJifferent from a childb spirituality.T{ESULTS -! mtryk SMALL. A vating kids to deeper faith. Setting our expectotions for teenagers too high. grumblings. sense of giving. Adults from Socrates to William Bennett have fretted and fussed over the spiritual state of the younger generation. they communicate an unhealthy me* sage. I think. guilt sabotages a sincere minister's efforts to build an adolescent's faith for the long run. Yet we musl continually "think teen" and understand that"everv adolescent is in a singular phase of faith development. A common reason people expect much of a person emerges from their own high self-expectations. we imply that they aren't capable of reaching higher ones. ybu are frequently surprised by having them perform better than you had hoped. your whole life is a series of disappointments. and author early in this century. you pitch your expectations low. a businessrnan. . Therg is certahly wisdom in Barton's realism-but don't follow it exclusively. They are plagued with unrealistic selfexpectations and a relentless conscience. . No other age group carries around morE feelings of guilt than teenagers. that we must put ourselves in teenagerc' shoes. Cuilt fails to instill life-long qualities-a healthy Here are four common errors I've seen adults taking folks as the inefficient creatures which they are. remains: what can you realistically expect spiritually from youryouth grouP? Popular opinion holds that teenagers have scant interest in religion.' wrote T.lt's just as sinful. Such empathy will keep you from common mis. on the contrary. Setting expectations of adole. And more than any other emo tion. Equoting spirituality utith youth group actiuity. lt's simply inaccurate to gauge kids' spiritual maturity by how dedicated they are to our programming. Which means. politician. A young per- son's budding faith can be easily damaged by a minister's good intentions. lt's an easy trap to get caught in' There are sirnply too many activities these days that demand a young person's time. Eliot in Murder in the Cothedrol. adolescents cannot be held to the same level of expectancy as adults. S. Adolescents aspire to lofty goals. we all know that adolescent faith development is different. commit as they try to spur adolescents on to a more mature faith." -o SettinT too-low expectations for teenagers. different from an adult's spirituality. So why do we use guilt to motir. Sure. o Motiuoting by guilt. "lf." writes the apostle (1 Pet. cent spirituality too low can be as detrimental as s€tting them too high. Yet it's simply not true that young people have lost therr sense of heritage and religious values.nrwcinx-m / lrpring tlx)5 . he upshot of Fowler's oy-qrview is simply that adolescent spirituality is "lf you expect perfection from people. and complaints. Newborn babies crave milk "to grow up in their salvation. for example. Yet the ques. to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons.tion So you successfully sidestep these enors in moti- - recent Callup Youth Survey reports that a majority 34 tot. reads a sign on the classroom desk ol a kiridergaften teacher I know. Obviously.

on the other hand. but eventually this energy dissipates and questions arise that may cause doubt. Assimilation is the process by which a person makes an effort to take new information and join it to their existing thinking. Among the remaining three in l0 who disagree. only five percent strongly assert they are not religious. A young person may experience an emotional rush during the days. About seven teenagers in l0 say they agree with the statement that they are religious persons. The new experience either may fit easily or require minor adjustment Accommodation.it." of American young people continue to consider religion important in their lives. lt is endemic to spiritual growth. weeks or even months following a new spiritual commitment. lf there are no mountains without valleys. This process Expect unsettling adjushents to new lnslghb- to understand new information<ssimilotion and accommodation. Feelings of emptiness are a part of human existence. is necessary when the new experience stretches a p€rson beyond Spnng 1995 / YoUTtrwoRKER 35 E--- . lower your sights a bit to these realistic expectations: EIKp€ct splrltual stafit and stopo. Spiritual development does not progress at a steady direction toward a pinnacle of maturity. the world's most noted authority on the development of the intellect. and my pesonal kuior. is natural.Rtsurrs 4 _) \ -tllg-"' . including l9 percent who agree very strongly. A strong faith is not the result of avoiding questions.lUtIIJ- ) t I t o -This is my personal planner. but of working with doubt. my personal computer. Some theologians see doubting as a dynamic ancillary to belief and not necessarily in opposition to. can their be faith without doubt or answers without questions? Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. theorized there are two different ways people come If you tend to expect a lot from your teenagers. even on the spiritual journey.

The Hilo (llaa'ai| Setstfh Day Advattist Church At nrst we measured spiritual results by atten- tlnt L-ran't really place my finger on what it is. the focus is leadership-to see in what directions students grow in leadership.. Here's what they had to sry.C. They need to see faith lived out in peers as well as in adults. or doing. the results are if they stay with their commitrnents into high schod.rff and the serious stuf? I also look at \^/hat they do after they graduate. Arb. a lot of them stick around and help out with tfxe junior high. Advent Chrisfian C)uttrJl. Teenagers need models of vibrant spirituality whom they respect and in whom they have confidence.rvisors are looking for inner growth in students. Unhealthy models as spiritual authorities only compound the struggle. Danen Bottino. and goes beyond their structure of thought. Jey Frdtas. or being hsy. Logan Nw Alfuny. ministries in which they can use their gifts.) Fia/. Wn* . Pltoertfu. share a common faith. begin to develop different programs and Mullis. As a result. @md l<Janz" Cross in he Desett Unitd h. the session wants to see numbers. Case in point: an adolescent's completely new insight about Cod. they easily suffer disillusion with and disappointment in the church. Dutin's Grove Advent Christian Church. 36 YorJTlrlvoRm. except I can sit dorvn with some teens and talk easily Tn". Other kids show growth by a change in priorities. @lif. They'lltake leadership positions. and how they take control and ownership of the group themselves. Dome kids show more commitment to service. Attascrcita hesbytqian Chutdt. Radical new ways of thinking about spiritual matters can launch an adolescent into an unsettling spiritual phase. that was growth. Disappointed young people are bound to be critical of their religiously Yoslr Students? Splrltual Growth ln So How Do You tleasure hph ministry. When they go to college. for the tun str. Humble.l-a Crescanla (Afif. thinking that leads to criti- Because adolescents are so strongly idealistic..) Prcsbyter' ian Church M. Yet no church can adequately fulfill every ideal of every person. Tqtple W (elif. lt's hard to maintain your belief in a round earth when you're surrounded by people who fear falling off its edge. Tet<. kids started helping but with our younger youth groups. Lrtthsan AudT Do tn" kids stick around dance. a peer ministry begins to develop. For me. about God witput them turning and running. B*"r* I primarity focus on the junior You are recruited and paid to produce spiritual resutts in your students-or at least that's often the expectation of the church stafi or congregation. t'loat @vspnt &mmunU Cltutcll. Most sociologists believe faith is kept alive by a human as well as a divine support system./sprhs l99t . Expect the need for healthy models. and nrcre ernphasis on just being. Buddy Prince. but now we measure it by what the kids give to others. they may have a difficulr time developing a religious commitment. Barbara Jatred<e. &ve Johnsn. hrt. Je Cranvford. Ctprlotte. . N. frestr.uo. do things like that. Several of our group have gone to seminary and into the ministry.RESULTS li his or her comfortable limits-when it does not fit within their cunent beliefs. But how do iou garJge your effectiveness? We asked some of your p€ers how they gauge the level of their spiritual success with their )outh groups.let@ t Clurdt. lead Bible studies. lf young people lack a formative community of friends who Expect idealistic cism.They place less emphasis on material.

hoage. Trinity Pt€F. lkshville. Durhan. Yo. Lxpect a faith built mostly on emotions. and teen pregnancy can become less formidable if explicit values are taught and believed. If you tend to not expect much from your hids soin itually. Birmingtam. t-Excitement among the kids for getting into the Advat Ctv*st*n @. Mkir. recognize that they are capable of much more than you think: Expect a desire to know right from lwong. I don't think I can expect Chwd4 Atlc. not short-term. Another way to measure who willgive them a cfiance to ask qustions and sp{ritual grcnadft in rny students is if tfte!/ chango their let them say. I watch for how they interact with their peers as well as with the punger ones in the group. Their own difficulty in coping with temptations further contributes to their disillusionment. and their church. lt's when invotved in the program. Steve hgdhardt. I can measure onty what's app€ient-and that can be deceptive.. Kent. QhrE Phillip. Resutts aren't short term. EveW lruing. They may begin to think that the Christian life is impossible.<ould you opinions o\er time abod a controversi. but after six months they're sayrng. Wash. can't measure spiritual results.ss is student commitment-that's coming back.: Lonut-ffi"@frt . don't.utdt.' lives to Christ+pecially the kids whose parents who will wdk them through the Bible-someone'. Tstn. I didn't realize the impact my youth pastor had on me until 15 or 16 years later. sexual promiscuity. to do extra things-like helping in vacation Bible school and outreach programs{rot just showing I r""rur" where they are spiritually by looking at up for youth group. I've changed my view on that. Jimmy Chalmss. lt may not be a fast change. want to know more.. Cressef Eaptst Church. We've taken th€ Bible one book at a tme for a full when they walk down the aisle and commit their retreat. Adolescents are more emotional than cognitive. I think I can sense growth if students begin to have a positive kids in the group. when they really want to know rnore and are willing to chalbnge authority figures to ask them. Va Word is one way I measure our spiritual growth.al issue.. Wn"n their actions. Luthenn Church of the Rdsnq. Alaska tlxern to be somewhere I haven't been. but there's still change. Young people intuitively understand that strong-headed problems like vio lence. D uy the kids ask good questions. Silrley tunfu. lt may be a slow change with ups and downs. they're long term. W"'r" getting resufts $/'len they join the clrurcfr. Still. A young person's unpleasant feeling at church is more influential than sermon content when it comes to whether he or she is drawn to a religious context. They remember feelings more readily than facts. and they just love it. author of Wy Johnny Can't Tell Right from instarrce. drug use. The large majority (92 percent) of youths want to leam more about values. ' " '.'bytqiaurwhere I am spiritually. Church of the Nazatane. Bimingharn. 'l don't understand this. Concerning their church." Sfaqy Spetfe Hillcrwt Unitd Metltqlist Ch(trd1. They.Rrsurrs committed parents. maybe they thought that pro-chcice was the way to go. their youth pastor. MqJnnkxrille. bpiritual resuhs to me is wl'ren my students keep bpiritual succe. 8ut long term is the onV reliable way to tell if I'm effec-t on the younger Spdsg 1995 /YourtflYoru<n 37 . According to William Kilpatrick.come to church.ryant someone. Mkrt.C. "No. they know exactly how they feel about last Sunday's service even when they cannot remember what was said or taught. want to be long-term commitment. ln m" short run. Lonia LlNa Unive$lty Sevqth Day Adventist Churdt. Dave Curtrss. For explain this in more detail?"Joe Wemer. Lutheran fiey corne to all the s€ntrs ard hdp and wlunteer Cfurch of tl:e Rdeqnq. N.

so let's be sensitive to them. 'Hey. A46on Hudson. can do is be obedient. Kids go off to college and maybe lose their minds for a little while. developing faith. 2:22). Owq FuBhum. I'm skeptical of the word measure because I think. A better gauge is if they're involved in areas of ministry or seruice. Nev. fu. Ha. Expect a commitment to Christian community. Eko. for adolescents with a being effective.rth group. is exactly what many teens are looking for. no problem. tryrr€ to see. dude. but \^/hether they're Christian d@tors. But you never know what goes on inside. can be channeled into the church. of my biggest indicators is how the group interacts together and how they treat each other individually. but er/entualty. How are t€y partkipating? But even that can be a facade. young people seem to understand that if they do not leam selfdiscipline and respect for othen. Christ the Kng Church. Teenagers have a powerful psychological need to belong-a longing that. be scary to think l'm hired to produce spiritual groMh in my yor. While all sorts of demands compete for teenagers' time. young people who want to 'flee evil'and "pursue righteousness. Orteg Unitd Methodist Churd1 l. Being held accountable by a group of caring peers. Christian rnerchandising managers. music. Bellingham. Uke ufpn srnokers come into the youth L-roming from a counseling background..but inside? I don't think that's ours to see.RESULTS Wrong. no matter how many health clinics and condomdistribution plans are created. 'l really appreciate the family that is holding this event in their garage. Dundin. in discipteship. A structure that is explicit and even costly (meaning that other activities may be missed) only adds to their desire to be part of some thing that really matters. 'a group of people who care for each other and support each other. I think the easiest way to them respond durirg uprship. Christian garlcage rn€n.' You can expect teens to commit to Christian community. Tex. Whitney Dempsey. we're down here hlng to rneasure.rys could just srnoke ofi the properbf 0^ns n€^. Sometimes I think all I "* I r""rrr. SomeOoOV can put on a great act and great works for Christ. faith. ln Religious Education Ministry with Youth. me€lsure spiritual growth in my youths is to watch B"ing Pentecostal.lf young people don't leam respect and justice from "those who call on the Lord. Gospe/ Lightlnuse ChLtdl. love and peace. Wash. Rlck Todd. My teens take micro-steps of growth.€r want a cigarette to come between them and God's love). Since they have young kids." That's grou/th.v.. Lawrence Richards reports that when he asked teenagers "How do you define church?" nearly all defined the word with a strong relational dimension-for example. derroted kids \/ho want to praise and worship God. maybe you gr. But sometimes lthink back on nry past experience and start wishing for a youth group of 50 core. &llas. the spiritual results of tlre kids the same way I measure my own spiritual results: Can I see any fruit of the Spirit? Do thry want to slad serving? Do they work with other kids? Do they go to the 38 YourrNyoRxn lsptl'gtgy' . And the kids respond. On. as humans. you just need to tdlus." problems of adolescent culture will continue to soar. That tells me they're taking what they're leaming and discovering ways to express it somehow-in drama. in fact. they respect a call of commitment to a group. When I get in front of the youth group and tell them.' They are looking for courageous models 'who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. grorp-{ hope we're doing things to shol them ue care about them ard are buildirp trust. they'll continue to exploit each other sexually. First Unitd Metffils't Ctturdl. First Presbyterian Church. The timeless message of Paul and Timothy echoes in the hearts of many young people toda. Mark Link Warde. are their lives beginning to count for Christ? ls He in their vocation? lt's not whether they've become Christian workers or whatenrer. or shortterm missions trips. Jad<sonville.

. Bah for GoOt Do kkls calt yor"r wift their questirns abcxrt . lthink. Sprttrg 1995 / YouTmronKn .. Jatoy &rI don't toow of any way to qr-rantify spiritual resutts. with corresponding emphases on prayer. elvary Tanfu.:ins t Oafpiano ard lead worsfrlp brfienr. or do they go bq md (O htH fumar.dan Church. is e. F on-any given day.. lwatdhed l\ote how many-kids-and sponsors-actq4ly' theni grow from teenyboppers into strong Chris. about l5 per' cent are horizontally oriented-and 55 percent bai' ance the vertical and horizontal dimensions of religion. gettinB-farniliar*: you start lr)ring to students' spirituality by !o_y_. orten ft€y spencj in prayer. the adolescent's laborious search for genuine Christian faith is not a single. themsefues with? Do they tend to stay hside their in there long enough to watch your youth o\ /n cornfort zone.: wifr mdrOenrctohattnes. Terry Stephens. I eavqi Cnriitin Church. W. oOseritig_ -.mlrpry. Expect an emerging other<enteredness. lruing. rnst? | - tt. if they c?l give tne.Who are their friends? What klnds of people do they suround PBbWtundurch.orr.ryou/ marv loiJs tians ilho were reallv intiiested in missidns and do for.:' .xamining souls ef ressioni of worship o-n their face if they didn't how muctr they are willing to risk sharirq their P€6rby' Cqtal Sie{i€ loving each other. listening io trdqUestions thsy ait. A Search lnstitute study by Peter Benson and colleagues revealed that about 30 percent of young adolescents are vertically oriented.'.. Nlqt. pqltq. futChurc/l. genuine prayer.hearts.1. A teenager's quest for faith must be bolstered b_v deliberate actions that nurture faith. establishing and maintaining a close relationship to God. fireside decision at summer camp. or because they Wdf. II I1*g Ore. know l'm meeting their spiritual needs. ttr{nl witr \t4. inuch Scripture they can quote.. Just to s€e sornb of tte ms '' tfteir qps OoseO ar16 tt'teii hands raised b encour. Westminster acceptance. vvitn XiOs] nang'ng .ttort.qsienate service.rdes.'.id<. Many youth workers emphasize what could be called a vertical Christianity-that is." Just so.l&. Bterrla. however. Adolescens understand the importance of spiritual rlisciplines. Novelist Walker Percy writes of a search that "anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. to doubt they are ready for disciplined Bible study. But those evidences may be. Jac* Moore.. Expect a Christ<entered lifestyle. whetl€r. er are tt€y judgntental?.{. nottlrcy have senant hearts---such thirgs:can be''. I | Ta<. worship. While the ways in which they think and feel '! down-and-outs? Do they get outside their circle? tings. and .. Mdford. . : ". emotional. Teenagers need to be chalIenged to hike the mountain called maturity. grow prsvious and churcfr cftange saw teens in my N'l and participate dn a mission outreac6. how much timb". Ado lescents. groupbrow and see-what drey Oo with i\eir li. compa.are call€d into the full-time. Namp.. are highly capable of a horizontal dimension to their Christianity that impels them to reach out and care for other people. First Prpsbytqtur Cttueh. and other activities that keep one's focus on God..false inbicators of what's really going on in theii ' agrng io me Oecause I loow they wouidn't b€ dos.. iteed hdp gettirg their spiritual needs \rvhat hres in their dotng God I fiern WfEn esk United It tney stay around or not.by their attih.an ans\ffer." problematic details in their lives.. watdring'Ul€m \orst$p.of the f@arelle. We must be clear about one thing: adolescents can make a genuine and meaningful decision to accept Christ.RrsULTs Expect the practicing of spiritual disciplines.C. and weekly worship is a mistake. Tax I think I get an idea of my effectiveness by talking 6r Dpiritual results are virtuatty unrneasurablg. Wash.' heve ft€arts.ri nniin-ner. And by how qey tpa] peoplH. ii.all we in! tieir eyes-inO-iaising their'hands with those sometimes. witmingtoi. A deeper indicator.€s.vtth lore and These are all good clues.r trarre in your discipbsfripn<ids rally hungry : wanted to work for ihe Lord Jesus Christ."rtyt*tan attitude of worship in tlreir It also matters that I observe kids in several set." I'll wat& fltd [ds.

'Our old life is still there. t ltt}flloil lllE t ?blf. They're in a moratorium of faith. and been transformed by that vision. 1:18). ilAf Jofl tf. Seuen Secrels of a Healthy Doring Relotionship.Arso HAs I 40 YouTrrv'()RKF-R / sp.locD 1Erf folrt6t{f ArtD ltto N I PEruR r:t{ *lf:f. seen it from afar. tuR At l^sr tbfir adD oilrbj r F*er O.. 0 Center for Relationship DeveloP ment and prolessor ol ps-vcholory at Seattle Pacific University.rdrE Fgolr vat{t l{Alr.. 'but its meaning has profoundly changed because we have left home. KfrP rrs fur Fhr AlrD." When it comes to cultivating adolescent spiritual- ity. and ktLp's Unven Enerny." writes educator and author Laurent Daloz. remains: What does the Christ<entered life look like in an adolescent? The Preacher writes truly that much knowledge brings much grief (Eccl.A^TATDED Nof TO B€ CO}IFO?'I{€D TD l'lcDoulgur. maturing faith. let's not miss the silver Iining because we're expecting gold. AS YouR S€EvAllr JD6{ rTE ARf. The question. though. They're fearful. Which is whv persons in the middle of a new spiritual quest do not believe anything too much.Dod€4 of ar tlrgtl FRtoRtfY @'s Frnrry As Sf6{ Fl odr . But exploration is still necessary. for out of it comes the discovery of a newfound. FATrl6P. TdE EVIL DESRTS OF d.RTSULTS about their faith may be different than in an adult faith-and while they are inclined to live out the principles of faith differently-there is no need to doubt that adolescents can make a decision to live a Christcentered life.. He is the author ol Helging the Sntggling Adolescent. (.in8 l9xt5 ..KE€P gg ftslu.R FoRI4ER LF€. Irs Parron III rs codirector of the fL'sS lrs lx rr{rs @t[tlt6 IE6R.

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