3x Ways to Cultivate Faith in Youth

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In 1981, Dr. James Fowler published his famous book Stages of Faith, which sought to explore the developmental process of faith.

Of course times have changed since Dr. Fowler wrote his book, but there are essential principles that I believe are still relevant and important for us to consider. Passing on the faith to the next generation has been something I have been asked about before, but there is no simple answer, no silver bullet. There are times when we do ministry well and other times when things don’t come together the way we planned.

So here are three things from Dr. Fowler’s research that I believe help us communicate faith not only to children, but one another as well!

1. Modeling faith…
Modeling faith seems like a pretty sensible response to the question of how we pass on the faith to the next generation and to one another. But in reality modeling faith can be pretty difficult at times. We all know that kids and other people are watching the things that we do, especially when they know that faith is something that is important to us. This doesn’t mean that we have to live lives that are perfect (because no one can do that), but it does mean that we have to put some effort into how we make a connection between what we believe and how it guides our hands and feet. And when we don’t exactly make the mark, it’s important for us to ask others for help, admit that we were wrong, or get back up and try again, which are all difficult things when we live in a society that places an emphasis on self-sufficiency and pride. But these are all import things, because as we’ll see in the next point, kids and youth are pretty savvy when it comes to sensing what is authentic and what is not.

2. Get kids involved…
Getting kids involved can seem pretty daunting to people who feel as though there is a large gap in age and culture… So as a result, sometimes the work that we do with kids can feel unauthentic or phony (not in the sense that what we are doing isn’t important, but the way we do it isn’t sincere). And kids/youth to their credit can sense what is and isn’t authentic… I’ve found that kids are much more willing to get involved in church or worship if we are willing to be ourselves. We don’t have to become a “hip” youngster, but we do have to come as ourselves and willing to meet one another in some kind of neutral place. If we want kids, youth, and young adults to come and be a part of our community of faith, we have to be willing to do change things us for ourselves as well. Making this new path doesn’t cast off what was important to us as a church or religious community, but makes room for the next generation to come in and add their own gifts and talents to the rich history we are trying to pass on and nurture.

3. Read the Bible…
In 2013, the American Bible Society found that 88% percent of American homes had a Bible… But out of those who said they read the Bible only 57% said they read the Bible at least four times a year, while 26% said that they read the Bible daily. Reading the Bible is an important part of faith formation… The problem lies in the fact that we know the Bible hold key spiritual truths for our lives, but we don’t carve out the time for such spiritual devotion (Believe me… Some of the Bible is pretty dry reading… I’m looking at you I and II Chronicles!). Take stock of the Bible that you have in your house… Even if you have Bibles I would recommend at getting a newer translation of the Bible that makes it read “easier.” If you’re in need of some recommendations I would direct you towards The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. Because when it comes to reading the Bible with kids, youth, and others, the important thing is that the message of the Bible is easily accessible. It shouldn’t be hidden behind the complicated syntax or vocabulary, but should be understood by all who hear. So when you read the Bible on your own or with youth/kids, pick a translation that is easy to understand… In addition, pick a story that you haven’t before… We have heard the same Bible stories over and over again since we were in Sunday school, so why not start somewhere new? And of course it doesn’t hurt to come back to the “classics,” because we might not have remembered an important detail that was there before (i.e. Did you know that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis?).