The Juvenile Church

From Wednesday Night, January 25, at Crescent School.

The Juvenilization of American Christianity is an article I have come across many times over the years. We took some time to examine it's point.

Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages.

Being a juvenile is fine, if you're a juvenile! Unfortunately, the church has celebrated the juvenile so much that we are content leaving people in this stage of spiritual growth. Spiritual maturity is seen as unnecessary, nice if you get around to it. The New Testament is filled with imploring commands to press toward the mark, use zeal, strive for the mastery, run to win, yet any time a person says Christians should get to work growing up, that person will be called a legalist.

The Church frets over why its people are so immature, and yet adamantly condemns anyone who tells people to grow up. It's a mystery, fer sure!

How did this juvenilization take place? Gradually and by the following steps:

1. new and more powerful youth cultures created distance between adults and adolescents.

2. Christians responded by creatively adapting the faith to adolescent tastes.

3. the journey to adulthood became longer and more confusing, with maturity now just one among many options.

"Teenagers" are a new thing, appearing around WWII. As America entered a period of prosperity and kids began to identify as a group (previously teenagers were married and working and approaching an early death!), they invented their own culture with their own music, entertainment, and fashions.

Juvenilization began in the 1930s and 1940s as Christians faced what everyone was calling the “crisis of civilization.” As they lived through the massive disruptions of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, adults feared that unless young people were saved and mobilized for Christ, American freedom and democracy might collapse. After all, Hitler and Stalin had ridden to power on the backs of fanatical youth movements.

Christianity morphed big time after WWII and into the Cold War. Christianity and patriotism became confused. We added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and confused American success with Christian success. In order to win this war, the Church focused on young people. If we can get the kids, we can get the families.

The most effective youth ministries of the 1950s fully adapted to the teenage culture of the day complete with Christian pop music, movies, games, hay rides, slapstick skits—everything that we now associate with the stereotypical youth ministry. The enduring club model of youth ministry was born in this era: a few skits, games, and upbeat songs are followed by a brief testimony or gospel presentation. The idea is to reach kids for Christ and then help them go deeper in their faith through other venues. But in many cases, the majority attends only the more superficial outreach-oriented programs.

The parachurch movement ("ministries" outside the church designed to "help" the church) can be traced back to the 50's, especially corporate children's ministries. The intent was good; the effectiveness can be debated. Some swear by such groups, others are not so sure. One thing we do know, the church used these organizations and focused on being attractive to kids. It worked. And now the church is about as theologically astute as a fourth grader.

What does juvenilized Christianity look like? The National Study of Youth and Religion calls it “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” Most American teenagers believe that God wants them to be good (moralistic) and that He is there in the background of their lives (deism) when they need Him to help them with their problems (therapeutic). Even some young people who attend church a lot describe their faith this way. In sharp contrast to other subjects they care about, American teenagers are amazingly inarticulate about their faith, probably because there is little content there. In short, juvenilized Christianity is self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually shallow.

It started with attracting kids, nothing inherently wrong there. But the church set up shop right there--being appealing to kids. Which turned churches into kid preserves, rather than discipling mature believers. Kids won't come if it's hard! Stick with entertainment.

This is not a kid problem, but is now an adult problem, now that we’ve had three generations of this infantile Christianity. adults had systematically abandoned adolescents. Adults absorbed with their own self-development don’t have the time or inclination to care deeply for children.We frequently put the most spiritually immature adults in charge of spiritually maturing children!

We put immature people in charge of teaching kids. Few are being encouraged to grow in their faith. The church is afraid to tell people to study and work for fear of being a weird fundamentalist legalist. So we sit around in our spiritual immaturity wondering why we're so immature. This isn't a kid problem anymore; the American Church is failing.

The Church exists to build up believers. Church is where believers get edified. They are to grow into Christ (read Ephesians 4 for a fantastic description of what church is for). If the church stops edifying, no one grows into Christ. When no one grows into Christ, no one can edify anyone.

This is where the American Church is. It's a very sad thing. Let us not be afraid to study and work. Let us be a place that follows Hebrews 10:25

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

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