Nate Stucky & Marlene Frankenfield
Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean has grabbed the attention of not just persons that minister with youth but church leaders across all denominations. Nate Stucky, Ph.D. student at Princeton Seminary, returned for more conversations with church leaders, youth leaders and parents at Zion Mennonite Church (Souderton, Pa.) on April 14. Nate challenged the group with three practical ways to intentionally communicate a passionate faith with young people:
1. Tell Your Own Story: Find a way to tell your own story of faith to a young person, and then let the young person share their story. As you tell these stories, try to give God “agency.” In other words, make sure God is an actor in the story. What does God do in these stories? If we don’t answer that question, I think we fail to follow the example of scripture. Three different stories you might tell:
- Fill in the blank: If it weren’t for ________, there’s no way I’d be following Jesus today. Name one person for whom this would be true and tell the story of how that person impacted your life and shared Jesus with you.
- Dark Night of the Soul: Share the story of a time when God seemed most distant. How did you navigate that time? What did God teach you in the midst of it? How did that time shape your faith?
- Thin Spaces: Where and when do you consistently feel closest to God? Through music, art, nature, acts of service? Pick one place and tell a young person how you discovered that space, why you think God consistently finds you there and what that thin space might reveal about who God is.
2. Building the Constellation: While there are many benefits to the professionalization of youth ministry over the past few decades, one unanticipated and unfortunate byproduct is parents treating youth workers like “the hired help” to do youth ministry. In reality, youth ministry is the calling and work of the entire congregation. Each young person needs as many people as possible surrounding him or her to encourage and nurture the seeds of faith. Mark DeVries talks about having a constellation of support around each young person. Parents might benefit from making a list of the people who make up the constellation of support around their teen (teachers, youth sponsors, pastors, family friends, peers, coaches, etc.) and then intentionally building relationships within the constellation to provide as much support and encouragement as possible for the teen. Let the teen know that all these people care about their faith!
3. Participation in the life of the church: What might we learn from interrogating the bulletin each week? Do adults know why we sing? Why we pray, read scripture, receive an offering, take communion, baptize, and preach? Each element is presumably there for a reason, and adults and teens each stand to learn something from asking hard questions about why they exist in the first place. By having these conversations, we can’t help but increase the whole community’s vocabulary of faith. Additionally, Kenda reminds us that in order for any of these practices to be “Christian,” we have to explicitly connect the practices to Jesus. We practice “X” because we follow Christ.
When Nate asked Kenda Creasy Dean what one thing she would want to tell parents, she gave a simple and profound challenge: “Do one radical thing for your faith; do it in full view of your youth; and tell them you do it because you follow Jesus, not just because you are a wholesome or nice person.”
In an age when we feel like we are losing ground in passing on faith, perhaps we need to avoid being fearful and recognize that that the Holy Spirit is already acting in the lives of our young people and that we can come alongside and more actively share our stories of faith.