Week of June 19, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Jen Bradbury is a Lutheran who is deeply committed to youth ministry within her church family. ­­She recently wrote in The Christian Century an article entitled “Sticky Faith.” “Sticky faith” is a phrase that emerged out of a study done by the Fuller Seminary Youth Institute on teenagers who managed to remain in the church through their college years and into their young adult years. Sadly, this group is in the minority now among those of their generation. But what this study asked was a set of hard questions centered on what it was that caused these young adults to stick with their Christian faith throughout their growing up years and into their young adult years. The results of this study can be found in Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers. Sticky faith is a faith that “celebrates God’s specific care for each person…in the global and local community of the church” and “shows marks of spiritual maturity but is also in the process of growth.” The kind of faith that sticks is woven into the fabric of a person’s life, influencing their view of the world and the decisions they make. It provides for these young adults a clear view of the Gospel.

What is held in common among young adults who have found a faith that sticks? First, these young adults report that they had church experiences centered in Jesus. “The Christian faith is one centered on the person of Jesus…What the church has is Jesus, and he is enough. He is what differentiates the church from every other organization. He is why the church matters. If the church matters because Jesus matters, then what youth ministries need more of are not entertaining activities but conversations about Jesus.” This is not just true for youth. It is true for all of us!

Secondly, those with “sticky faith” grew up in faith communities that took the Bible seriously as the primary place where we learn to encounter Jesus and where we learn to establish a living relationship with God. Bradbury writes, “For youth ministries to become truly Christ-centered, though, conversations about the Jesus of scripture cannot be limited to mission trips. Instead, cracking open a Bible and wrestling with its content must become part of a youth ministry’s DNA.” As I read Jen Bradbury’s article, I kept thinking that what she says about youth ministry is true about ministry for all people. People who find a faith that lasts for a lifetime are those who have learned to place Jesus at the center of their faith journey and folks who have learned to search and study the Bible as the best place to encounter Jesus. Our church’s mission statement, “To know Christ and to make Him known, and to exhibit His love through worship, education and service” is right on the mark of what creates “sticky faith.”

The third thing that the study found about adults who held on to their faith was that they worshiped regularly with their church family as teenagers. The study found that “involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith in both high school and college than any other form of church participation.” Of course, worship, when it is done faithfully, is centered upon the Biblical story and provides for a weekly engagement with the Jesus who emerges from the pages of scripture. One specific result of this is that teens who kept their faith found a network of relationships with adults who knew them and cared about them. In the best churches, a teen would develop some kind of relationship with at least five adults. Mark DeVries made this simple observation in his best-selling book on youth ministry, Family Based Youth Ministry. The church is one of the few places left where generations worship, learn and serve alongside of each other, and this is one of the treasures that First Presbyterian Church offers to its members. We have over two hundred members over the age of 80, and yet we baptize around sixty infants each year, and this year welcomed a Confirmation Class of sixty-two young people. We need each other across the generations.

Another finding of the study is that “prayer buddies can also be a powerful form of intergenerational connection.” This is a wonderful practice that has been woven into the life of our church for years, in addition to our practice of having Elder friends for each member of our Confirmation Class. Each week during the year, youth carry the cross into worship, children’s choirs sing in church, and we are working at adding youth readers into our worship life. We still have a long way to go. But the three primary findings of the study ought to speak to every one of us powerfully about what we need to be about as a church: Jesus, the Bible and generations worshiping, learning and serving together to nourish in us all a faith that sticks!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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