Many of our congregations are growing older. Are there ways we can grow young? Of course, I’m talking about average age of the worshiping community, not reversing the aging process. The fountain of youth hasn’t yet been found nor will it be.
Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin tackle this question in Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. Baker Books, 2016.
The book is written for a broadly evangelical audience. Among the strategies are few that would surprise us. Competent leadership that passes the baton frequently, practicing empathy, making families a priority, attending to the needs of our neighbors all make good sense. The illustrations and advice given are encouraging and helpful.
But the third strategy! Wow! – The third strategy is “Take Jesus’ Message Seriously.” The authors address the problem of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). For more on MTD Google “Christian Smith – Soul Searching. MTD is a descriptor for the moralism devoid of Jesus that seems pervasive in North American culture.
Read carefully some of the “Ideas for Action” they offer to combat MTD.
- Elevate Faith Education beyond an “Elementary School for Morals” (147)
- Teach Creeds over Formulas (148)
- Tie Each Part of Scripture into the Grand Narrative of God (149)
- Allow Salvation to Look More like a Journey (153)
- Learn the Potential of Rituals (155)
Why am I surprised by some of the suggested ideas? I’m surprised, and pleased, because THEY DESCRIBE THINGS THAT WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE! They are our strengths as Lutheran Christians. We can build on these strengths in reaching out to youth.
- Going beyond an elementary school for morals means rightly learning both Law and Gospel.
- The Creeds are making a comeback as the church’s confession of faith rather than my feelings as my foundation.
- We start the Gospel with Genesis 3:15 and see God’s plan unfold with Christ as the center all the way to the end of time.
- Salvation is living every day in the gifts God pours out through Christ.
- Among their list of rituals are baptism, confirmation, and confession of sin.
Do you see what I mean? The very things to which we have grown so accustomed are being discovered by other Christians as ways to grow young. They even encourage the young to remember their baptism (156), something that we have always done. But when we remember our baptism, we see God’s promise for us as God’s action, just as the Lord’s Supper is not a ritual, but a powerful sacrament – a meal – to strengthen our faith.
What is my point in this review? By affirming the value of what has been passed down through the years, we model for the young God’s gifts that sustain us through all life’s challenges. Sometimes the new and innovative is really a renewed appreciation for what we have already received.
Dr. John Oberdeck was a parish pastor in Southern Illinois for ten years, and served on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in the Practical Department for thirteen years before coming to Concordia University Wisconsin in 2002, most recently serving as the Director of Lay Ministry. He retired in June 2017. He and his wife, Ginny, live in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, and have three grown children and seven growing grandchildren.