As I read through Fowler’s Stages of Faith again with my class, the richness of his now 33-year-old monograph continues to teach. One of the topics he discusses early on is, not surprisingly, faith. As per his definition:
Faith, classically understood, is not a separate dimension of life, a compartmentalized specialty. Faith is an orientation of the total person, giving purpose and goal to one’s hopes and strivings, thoughts and actions.
Thinking about this definition from the perspective of youth ministry, I’m reminded of the way in which the big questions of life are first able to be asked during the adolescent years. Though teenagers may often be reticent to settle upon a particular orientation of life “too soon,” the ability to do so in a mature way is emerging in them for the first time. The questions we ask as their mentors, pastors, and leaders are important. The answers they land upon are vital.
So too is making sure that they understand–whether by Fowler’s definition or a more overtly theological one–that faith is never be simply one option in the grab bag of things that we might add to the furniture collection of our life. It is not something we take on or add like a hobby. It is, rather, the whole foundation of our lives. A foundation that can have some radical implications. That upon which we build our lives, see the world, make our decisions, establish our being, and live into our reality. For my money, helping students comprehend all of this is one of the most important tasks for youth ministry in our time and culture.
Fowler reminds his readers that faith can be founded upon many things. It can be founded upon something worthy, or it can be built upon things much more problematic. And, in my estimation, faith is always there whether we know it or not. As students consider these matters, therefore, they ought to be reminded that it is not a question of whether or not they have faith. It is a matter of what kind of faith they have. Because–“religious” or not–we all have faith in something. We all have some kind of foundation.
Which one we have is the most vital question of our lives, for by it all the rest of our existence will come to be defined.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.