Passing on the Faith

Passing on the FaithPassing on The Faith; A Radical New Model for Youth and Family Ministry (Merton P. Strommen and Richard A. Hardel; © 2000 by St. Mary's Press)

Strommen is a research psychologist and a Lutheran pastor. He has served as parish pastor, college pastor, and national youth director. He is founder of both Search Institute (developers of the 40 developmental assets widely used by churches and schools) and the Youth and Family Institute of Augsburg College. He has conducted more than thirty research projects on youth and family, and has published many books and articles.

Hardel served as parish pastor for over twenty years and as an assistant to the Bishop in the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA. He is the Executive Director of the Youth and Family Institute of Augsburg College. He is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter on youth and family ministry.

v The goal of this book is stated in the first chapter:

  • This book addresses a major concern of Christian parents and congregational leaders: How can we increase the likelihood that our children will be committed to Jesus Christ and a life of service when they graduate from High School? We, the authors, address this concern with a new paradigm – a partnership between congregation and family in which the primary responsibility for faith development is assumed by parents. This partnership will encourage and support these ten characteristics that we have identified as marking such a life:
  1. Trusting in a personal Christ
  2. Understanding grace and living in grace
  3. Communing with God regularly
  4. Demonstrating moral responsibility
  5. Accepting responsibility in a congregation
  6. Demonstrating unprejudiced and loving lives
  7. Accepting authority and being personally responsible
  8. Having a hopeful and positive attitude
  9. Participating in the rituals of a Christian community
  10. Engaging in mission and service
  • A faith-formation paradigm limited to religious instruction for children and a youth group for High School students no longer equips one generation to effectively pass on the faith to the next generation. A paradigm shift is needed – one that results in a more comprehensive approach and fosters faith through experiences in the family, the congregation, the community, and the culture.

v The Family

  • Strong family relationships are essential to passing faith to the next generation – faith is formed through personal, trusting relationships.
  • One of the family’s primary purposes is to strengthen the relationships their children have with God. Strommen and Hardel describe this relationship in three dimensions: an affair of the heart (a relationship in which God captures the heart, and causes the heart to respond), a commitment of the mind (seeking to understand the God who loves), and a producer of loving actions.
    • Parents nurture this both by modeling and by teaching the faith.
    • Congregations provide instruction, resources, and support groups to parents who are engaged in this ministry.

v The Congregation

  • The goal of Christian education is to help young people’s minds better understand what their hearts have learned at home.
    • The authors identify six aspects of congregational and family life that contribute most directly to maturity of faith in adolescents and adults:
  1. faith nurturing families
  2. formal Christian education
  3. quality of worship
  4. congregational sense of family
  5. service to others
  6. thinking and caring environment
  • The rise of biblical illiteracy among young people has to be addressed: Memorization of the catechism, formerly a requirement of confirmands, has been denigrated as rote learning. As a result, persons being confirmed today know far less about the Bible, creeds, commandments, or church teachings than their counterparts in generations past. With a limited background of biblical information, today’s youth find it hard to understand what the words of the Scriptures connote or imply.
  • There are eight essential elements in a faith-focused Christian Education
  1. Present a personal Christ
  2. Teach a grace orientation
  3. Teach parents how to pray with their children
  4. Teach moral responsibility
  5. Welcome ethnic diversity
  6. Involve youth in service
  7. Involve youth in mission outreach
  8. Teach Christian rituals
  • The congregation is to serve as a supportive community beyond the family. Eight factors distinguish what this means:
  1. A hospitable climate
  2. Inspirational Worship
  3. A caring environment
  4. A thinking climate
  5. Families who help families
  6. An emphasis on prayer
  7. Intergenerational service efforts
  8. A sense of mission
  • It is essential for congregations to create a youth subculture. In a context where the culture of the nation is no longer supportive of Christian faith expression, the congregation can create a safe place for young people to express their faith.
  • The history of ministry to young people in our nation, as it relates to congregations in the mainline Protestant denominations:
    • 18th & 19th Century – Societies for young people developed, independent of church or denominational structures [Examples: YMCA (1851), YWCA (1855), Young People’s Association (1867)]
    • 1888-1930: The Era of Societies and Leagues – Auxiliary youth societies were organized because the Sunday School’s focus on evangelism did not accomplish the broader needs of the fast expanding youth populace. Many mainline denominations developed youth organizations, including offices, pledges of faithfulness, and rigid expectations of members.
    • 1936-1950s: The Era of Sunday Evening Fellowships – Rather than operating as an auxiliary youth league or society outside the control of a local congregation, the youth program now was under the congregation’s control. These groups functioned as a youth club, with its own charter, officers, and programs. Young people played official roles in the organization, and for many, this was where they learned what it meant to play a leadership role in the congregation. The demise of the Era of Sunday Evening Fellowships began during the 1950s, when older youth began dropping out of fellowship groups. Many felt that the most important activities of youth work were too focused on debate, discussion, and the general deepening of intellectual abilities.
    • 1960s-1980s: The Era of Youth Ministry – This era of youth ministry emerged as a result of two factors: the general disillusionment with youth work that was built on an educational base and the growing demand for youth to be given more of a voice in the institutions that affect their lives. It developed with an emphasis on empowering youth for ministry in the present as part of the ongoing ministry of the church. The loose structure of this kind of ministry mean that only a few youth and adult leadership positions were necessary, and the emphasis shifted from training congregational leadership to person-centered training in personal growth and human relation skills. Youth no longer developed the same level of identification with their church. Consequently, a dramatic decline was noticed in the numbers of young people who actually became involved in the life of their congregation.
    • What is needed now is a new era, with focus on eight essential components for a Christian Youth subculture:
  1. Discussion of youth issues
  2. Faith-sharing experiences
  3. Fun and fellowship activities
  4. Service and peer ministries
  5. involvement in music
  6. Informal friendship groups
  7. Adults counseling youth
  8. Youth involved in Congregational leadership

v The Community

  • In talking about the effect community can have on young people, Strommen and Hardel focus primarily on the 40 developmental assets described by Strommen’s Search Institute.
    • They describe these assets as being factors for prevention, enhancement, and resiliency in young people’s lives.
  • The church is described as having the ability to make an impact on the community.
    • Drawing on works such as Robert H. Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, Tex Sample’s U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches, and H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, the authors make the case that the central task of the church is the transformation of society.
    • Interestingly enough, that has happened. The 40 developmental assets that the Search Institute developed, with funding from Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance, have found their way into many school districts and community youth organizations. Resources from our own church have transformed the way many of these organizations work with young people.
    • The authors call on congregations to join them in seeking to influence the communities in which they are located in similar ways.

v The book ended with a surprise for me: a lengthy description of how Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota (my home congregation) went through a process of re-evaluating its approach to youth ministry.

v Implications for Saint Peter’s Ministries:

  • We need to take a comprehensive look at how Saint Peter includes young people in its ministries. Who has primary responsibility for their faith development? How are they generally received by adults in our community? What are we willing to do in order to become more effective at including them in our life together?
  • What would it look like if Saint Peter initiated a comprehensive effort to help parents develop the ability to share faith with their children? What changes would be necessary? What resources would we need to find? How would that impact staffing decisions?
  • A helpful process may be to re-evaluate the form and character of our corporate worship life, especially with a view to how it includes and inspires young people. Are there adjustments we need to make to increase the likelihood that young people will be able to connect with the way we worship?
  • What affect could Saint Peter potentially have on our community, and how it nurtures young people? Should we pursue joint ventures with other local congregations? Or a working relationship with the Cherry Creek schools just north of us?