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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Cultivating Teen Faith (Richard Osmer & Katherine M. Douglass, eds)

TITLE: Cultivating Teen Faith: Insights from the Confirmation Project
AUTHOR: Richard Osmer & Katherine M. Douglass, eds
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (240 pages).

One of the most important aspects of Christian leadership is about the preparation for the next generation of leaders. However, there are major obstacles that stand between the young and the Church. The pattern is similar. The young are simply not interested about the Christian faith. Youth ministries often have limited success.  Even if the children who grew up in Church are not keen to come. Such similar concerns spark the confirmation project, a three-year study of over 3000 congregations in America, spanning five different denominations. The twelve researchers gather both empirical data as well as apply their reflection on practical theology. Those who responded include parents, youths, workers, and leaders of church ministries. The name "confirmation" is traditionally used to symbolize the beginning of youth ministry. The researchers discover that youth ministries cannot be reduced to a one-time program or experience. Instead, they must be a process of intentional discipleship strategies. Using qualitative research methodology known as portraiture, they whittle down the selections to 12 success stories. It is also encouraging that youths who participated in the research find the following topics important for confirmation programs: God, Bible, The Lord's Prayer, Death & Resurrection, Experiencing God, Apostles' Creed, Meaning of Life, History, and Miracles. Interestingly, it was found that young people strongly mirror the faith of their parents. Those who participate in confirmation ministries are also more religious than their peers. At the same time, learning more about their faith does not mean they automatically grow. Significant factors include regular attendance at youth programs, VBS, Sunday worship, and camps. Youths who attend Sunday services regularly also feel a greater sense of belonging. The contributors take these five major findings and propose five ways to cultivate teen faith.

Addressing the top subject of theology, Katherine Douglass and Gordon Mikoski try to merge theological knowledge with holistic relevance to help youths encounter God more. Anchoring on Trinitarian doctrine and the Imago Dei, they show us the importance to relate to youths through engaging science and culture through the process of building dialogues. Mentoring is proposed to address the need to build relationships in faith formation. Here, Lisa Kimball and Kate Harmon Siberine shares several ways to mentor youths. Teach interdependence instead of self-autonomy.  Connect youths with adult mentors. Mentoring involves deep listening, preferring the relationships more than the curriculum. It means creating a safe space for learning. It also includes spiritual modeling and mutual mentorship. About camps and retreats, Kermit Moss and Jacob Sorenson look at the benefits of having a special time away from familiar grounds to connect with one another. We need to be careful not to turn such times into sessions of information download. Instead, cultivate participatory learning, caring for one another, and adhering to a rhythm of daily living. The fourth theme is about family participation. Joy Arroyo, Kate Unruh, and Katherine Douglass believe that faith formation of youths is directly related to the faith formation of their parents. Thus, churches need to have a strategy to integrate parents into confirmation programs of their kids. This single factor of parental influence has direct bearing on the youths' believing, behaving, and belonging. They point out that greater understanding between the various generations are the benefits of having such interactions. They share a letter to parents that contains amazing exhortation to connect with their kids. Reginald Blount and Gordon Mikoski shares stories about various forms of teaching instructions. Apart from direct teaching, we learn about "flipped classroom" where learners watch online materials and share their learning and applications with the group. Lest we succumb to dependence on human works, they remind us that God is at work with the young. They give us further points about teaching to transmit, transform, and transgress. Team learning is encouraged.

My Thoughts
This book is heavily based on empirical data. I really appreciate the efforts to collect and consolidate the data into qualitative findings. This requires herculean organization. Not only have the contributors done the data mining, they highlight key themes and learning for our convenience. They give us suggestions and strategies to build on these themes. Collaboration efforts like this help churches at large, especially smaller congregations. Churches with limited resources will have limited capabilities to implement the strategies. There are several caveats to note. First, the survey results are to be seen as snapshots of a particular context at a particular time. That means the results could vary when done at another time and another place. Second, qualitative responses may mean different things to different people. This means that the study should be interpreted with a broad understanding rather than any specific description. Third, contextualization is necessary. Just like not all churches are the same, the more important exercise for church leaders is to know their churches. What works for one church may not necessarily work for yours. Nevertheless, for such a huge project, thanks must go to the Lilly Endowment for sponsoring the work. More caveats in the book can be found in the last chapter.

Having said that, there are many good things to say about this book. It distills five main strategies for us to take and implement. Church leaders would be encouraged that a lot of teens still see the importance of direct learning with regard to knowledge about God. Mentoring is something often talked about but not practiced as much. The ideas in chapter two should provide some impetus to do something about it. The chapter on Practical Theology summarizes everything together for our convenience. Thanks to the authors for practical insights based on factual data to help us plan our outreach to youths.

Richard Osmer is Ralph B. and Helen S. Ashenfelter Professor of Mission and Evangelism at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and teaches practical theology. Katherine Douglass is assistant professor of Educational Ministry and Practical Theology at Seattle Pacific University. She helped direct the Confirmation Project with a $1.1 million grant from the Lily Endowment.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of William B. Eerdmans and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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