Maple Syrup Jesus

This past weekend’s read was Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark.  Written as a result of their studies for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), they are responding to the reality that a large percentage of church-going Christian students walk away from their faith in their post-high school years.  The main idea is simply this: something we are doing as a church and as Christian parents is NOT WORKING.  Faith for these students is not “sticky.”  Powell and Clark therefore offer some helpful suggestions to help parents address the situation.

In a departure from parenting models based on coercion or lecturing, the authors encourage a more open-ended style of interaction between adolescents and their elders.  Helping students not simply to know about faith but actually TRUST Christ is key in this.  Grappling with the reality of God’s existence means being open to the honest questions of reality and life–and demands adults who are willing to walk with students in the midst of this messy existence.  Simple, easy answers such as “because,” “that’s how God made it,” “that’s not biblical” or “you’re sinning” won’t suffice.

Conversations are needed.  And not conversations only about faith: but conversations about all sorts of things where one’s faith in God is assumed and a part of the natural flow.  Powell and Clark also encourage parents to involve teens in webs of relationships with various adult believers from whom they can learn and with whom they can share.  Hillary Clinton’s village comes back again, it seems.

Near the end of the book, the authors ask Christian parents to assist older adolescents’ transition out of the home by showing them unconditional love and helping prepare them for the various demands of adulthood.  Perhaps most importantly, they remind us that adolescence is by its very nature a time of change.  Teens will question inherited truths.  They will test the bounds of their existence.  They must find out what “being” means for their being.  No amount of hand-holding and catechizing can make anyone Christian or guard them against change.  Rather, in the midst of questions and change, they must find a faith–and trust–of their own.  That is the only way that it can be authentic.  If they have been prepared to ask the tough questions, reflected together with others on the existence of God in the midst of a broken world, and developed a framework of faith in their younger years, this path towards “stickiness” will be much easier.

A few thoughts I had while reading this book:

  1. It is an excellent parenting book for all those with teens–whether your family are Christians or not.  Learning to let go of increasing amounts of parental control and let an adolescent figure out his/her own way may be the hardest thing to do, but the most important.
  2. There’s a companion book for youth leaders.  I look forward to the ways in which this approach will help mold and model the ways in which we do youth ministry.
  3. We all know people who seem to only believe things because that’s the way they were taught.  People who might live very inauthentic lives in which they’ve never reflected on the connection between belief and action or simply act the way they do because that is what’s expected.  How about this, then: is it better to be a fully-actualized non-Christian than a person who simply grasps onto to the outer trappings of the faith, living forever as a “grandchild of God?”
  4. I’m thinking of the Parable of the Prodigal Son here.  I’m thinking that maybe we should celebrate the rebels and the free-thinkers.  Those that walk away and choose their own path.  Because when they return (and I hope that they do), they will be better sons and daughters of the king than any elder siblings that stayed behind.  As Powell and Clark remind us however, if they walk away with no knowledge of how to return and no awareness that there is love and acceptance and a parent (and Parent) waiting to meet them, they could stay forever in the far country.

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