This Is What the Wall Street Journal Says We Need to Know about The 2017 Teenage Spiritual Crisis

On June 13, 2017 the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, The Teenage Spiritual Crisis. For those of us who have invested our lives in youth ministry, any new insight is always valuable. What do they see that I don’t? What is at the heart of this 2017 Spiritual Crisis and what can we do about it?

“I Don’t Pray Anymore.”

Clare Ansberry interviewed many students but chose to tell the story of one (Thomas) from North Alabama, whom she felt represented much of what she was hearing. He told her that after he He prayed that God would kill an elderly man with dementia to ease his wife’s suffering and he did die, he didn’t pray anymore. His youth pastor says that what the article doesn’t record is that this student faced 4 deaths in that same year. It was more than he could handle.

Doubting Thomas

The tag line of the journal article reads: “As adolescents form values and ideals based on personal experiences, many question their religious beliefs more intensely.” In Thomas’ case, although baptized in the Methodist church and playing in the youth band, his doubt stems from the way the elders in his church are “hypocritical because they talk about God’s love but disapprove of his friends’ homosexual lifestyle.”

Thomas said that, “When you see people behave in wrongful, hurtful, hypocritical ways, it’s kind of hard to believe that God cares.” Now, he doubts everything.

Doubt: The Journey to Faith

Doubt a step on the journey to faith. If teens are able to resolve this crisis they emerge with a mature faith that can withstand the storms of life. What we are seeing however is a majority of student’s with a weak foundation crushed by the inconsistencies in the church and the overwhelming challenges of the culture.

Thomas’ now has a belief in God that resembles humanistic deism. In the article he professes, “The earth and our solar system are too complex and fragile not to have something influencing and connecting everything.” “Whether whatever created us, loves us, is a different matter…,” Does this sound familiar?! (read up on what Christian Smith calls Moral Therapeutic Deism or MTD)

What does Thomas now believe? This is how he puts it. He believes in “The equality of all humans from birth to death, and that the only meaning we have in this world is that which we inject into it.” –Doesn’t quite sound like the Apostles Creed does it? In fact, it seems Thomas has stumbled upon good old fashioned humanism . It brought to mind Proverbs 14:12 about a way that seems right to a man and where that path leads… Many people feel they are wiser that what God has revealed in his word.

Dealing with Doubt

The article quotes Andrew Zirschky, academic director of the Center for Youth Ministry Training in Brentwood, Tenn.,  He explains that children start doubting faith in middle school, when many of them begin preparing for confirmation and bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.

“Right when kids are having the most doubts, we ask them to affirm their faith,” says Dr. Zirschky. Many plow ahead despite misgivings because they feel pressured to do so, he says, and because churches do a poor job of allowing faith and doubt to coexist.

He asks sixth-graders to draw the image of God they had in first grade. It is often a white bearded figure sitting in the cloud. When he asks them to draw the image now, they draw hearts, and use words like “loving” or “All-knowing.”

“At some point, you have to doubt your previous understanding of who God is and replace it with a better one,” he tells them.

Share the Journey: The Road to Emmaus

Jesus gives us an excellent example of how to walk with students who doubt. He walks with disappointed disciples on a road and listens to all of their concerns. After he has heard them out he begins to share with them his knowledge of the Scripture concerning what they had just experienced. He doesn’t just put them in their place, he then sits down to a meal with them and serves them in love. Only after the meal does he reveal himself to them. (Luke 24:13-34)

He didn’t pretend that he had doubts too. He shared his confidence in the Scriptures. I have read some responses to this Wall Street Journal article that seem to praise a relationship with doubt in mature Christians, like Tim Keller. I never see that in Scripture. I find the opposite in John, Paul, Peter, even Thomas; at the end of the story. (John 20:24-29)

Share your faith not your doubts.

I’m not asking you to deny or pretend you have no doubts about God’s existence or his character but if our faith is built on sand we had better find a better foundation fast, if we are going to work with students who are a product of the culture and not the Scripture.

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Ron Powell

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Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com