First Third Conversations

The Faith of Adolescents

By Dr. Nancy Going, Director of the CYF Distributed Learning Program at Luther Seminary  

You can't be in youth ministry very long, and not have both experienced and been the beneficiary of this phenomenon: The faith of adolescents. When you see expression that raw, passionate, "deeply connected to Jesus" kind of faith that comes from an amazing collision of the Holy Spirit and the unique playing field that is the phase of life called adolescence, it is nothing short of a gift. Obviously for them, but also for you. That kind of faith is the very thing that often draws adults into youth ministry, and the fuel that keeps us all slugging away at it, despite the pain and setbacks that sometimes come with working for the church.  

The trouble is most of the rest of the church doesn't ever get to see the expression of that faith. Or even more importantly, let it rub off on them. We may parade them up in front of the church a couple of times a year to share their trip stories, but that's usually not been enough to have an impact on the whole of a congregation.  This kind of faith that always shapes and sometimes even changes minds and lives is often left sitting on the couches of the youth room, instead of being the witness to God's action in the midst of those both older and younger than they. They may need to see and be touched by it even more than you do.     

This disconnect from the faith of adolescents might even one of the most profound negative realities affecting the church today.

I've been fascinated with this idea ever since I read an article based on a lecture Douglas Strong gave at the Princeton Forum on Youth and Culture, where he reminded that youth were a significant factor in the story of both of the Great Awakenings. 

There has been significant conversation in Youth Ministry of late about the power of intergenerational relationships for faith formation, based on the findings of the Sticky Faith Study, and the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study. We at First Third see it as our mission to keep mining these studies to continue to share their insights.  

 One of the most exciting findings of the EYM study was the way that it ended up identifying and exploring churches where youth ministry was not one-eared, siloed, or sidelined, but rather was integrated and central to the life of the congregation. We now know that has a significant impact on the faith of adolescents.  

What we need to further celebrate and pursue is the impact the faith of teenagers can have on everyone else. 

Check it out!  The story of the Exemplary Youth Ministry study, "The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry" is now available for Kindle, the Kindle app on iPad and Nook. Download your copy today!

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Nancy Going is a life-long youth minister, who loves Jesus, other people learning to love Jesus, her husband Art Going, and the two new families that are her kids and grandkids. See more >

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