smells like teen spirit…

In her new book Almost Christian Kenda Creasy Dean, minister and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that teenagers within the Christian church are following a mutant strain of Christianity that is producing “fake” Christians.

Dean’s position is that churches and even parents are passing on a self-serving strain of faith that views God as a therapist whose sole purpose is to produce good self-esteem.  According to her research, she concludes that this type of faith is not “durable enough to survive long after they graduate [from high school].”

Not only do I concur with Dean but I would also argue that our churches are reaping what we have been sowing over the last few decades.  Our churches have strayed so far away from Jesus that it should not be surprising when our adults, who proclaim Christ with their lips yet ignore him with their lives, in turn have children who are just as untransformed and superficial.

The truth is that our churches have sold their souls to the consumerist gods.  The sacrificial way of Jesus has been co-opted by the self-serving, consumer driven interests of cultural America.  Our churches proclaim success when the masses flock into our Mall of America type organizations yet when the masses leave the Sunday services they are indistinguishable from the average American in the way they live their lives.

Beyond that we have created children’s programs and ministries that work to develop good character, high self-esteem, and wild fun, yet are painfully absent of the way of Christ.  Our children have fallen in love with those things that make them feel good about themselves.  Meanwhile they remain painfully unaware that the way of Christ is not- how good they can feel or how much they can gain for themselves, but rather how much of themselves they give up for God and for others no matter how good or bad it makes them feel.

This is the system we have created.  Our churches have adopted corporate strategies to meet consumer needs, giving them what they want and offering a wild smorgasbord of options and choices.  Consequently the consumers search for that which yields the greatest satisfaction or perceived benefit, avoiding that which causes much discomfort and sacrifice.  This mindset sets up a very sick system:  consumer Christians will flock toward churches that offer the greatest satisfaction even when it strays away from the sacrificial way, life, and teachings of Christ.

How is it that we have not figured out that the joke is on us?  How have we not realized that our modus operandi is a “mutant strain” of Christianity that mixes a little bit of Christ with a lot of entertainment?  How long must we operate in this superficial, consumer driven mode before we finally realize that it doesn’t look anything like Jesus and is certainly not what he has been calling us to?

Even the deceased 90’s grunge rocker Kurt Cobain was more prophetic than the majority in our churches when he cynically sang, “Here we are now, entertain us!”  He correctly understood the superficial, self-seeking nature of people and the way that corporate America goes out of its way to feed the insatiable hunger of the consumer.

But we have been so wildly naïve and more interested in our own glory, our own fame, and the number of people who come into our buildings each Sunday that we have failed to realize there is now an entire generation of Kurt Cobain’s who are sick of the gimmicks, who are tired of being entertained, who are cynical toward the entire system, and who are desperately longing for something real.  There are more and more children growing up who are tirelessly searching for something of substance, something of meaning, something of value, and something for which they can give their lives.

Will our churches ever find Jesus and his sacrificial way in order be the means through which a generation begins to find substance, meaning, value, and that for which they would give their lives?  If so, who will be brave enough and prophetic enough to lead it?



11 thoughts on “smells like teen spirit…

  1. in terms of solutions to this problem specific to children and teenagers…

    – we have to all rediscover the beauty of Jesus. that is not just lost on children and teens…but more importantly ADULTS.

    – we have to quit teaching “pop christianity” but rather…what Jesus really taught…no matter how it makes us feel. it will confront all of us and step on all of our toes.

    – we have to look LESS to the centralized church for the spiritual development of our children…instead taking the responsibility on ourselves as parents. churches need to do a better job equipping parents to be the means through which their children follow Jesus and his way.

    – we need to make that we spend more time developing deep, Godly relationships between our children and with adults so that they may see what true Christ-like community looks like.

    – we need to develop a better system of one-on-one discipleship/mentoring with our children and Christ-like adults (other than parents). this is a person who will walk with, guide, listen to, and model the way of Christ to our child.

    this is just a beginning point…but the emphasis has to be less on the centralized structure and the “youth minister” and on relational community centered on Christ.




  2. Here is my comment that I wrote on Facebook:

    “Kids only understand church as a place to be entertained maybe because parents (and churches in general) have thought from the beginning that children need to be entertained during church, either in the nursery or Sunday school, or with toys as distraction during church. Children are rarely engaged as part of the worship service. Why start when they are teens? By then, they usually have been made to feel the message is for their parents anyway, so why listen? Only once in a while will a pastor say something like, ‘Now teens, this is for you too, so listen up…'”

    I agree with you, Brandon, that parents need to be faithful at home and in their lives, all week long, to be living out what they believe. But I’m curious…what do kids to at TLR during church? Is there kids’ church in a separate area, as if adult church is too “boring?” Or do they have Sunday school during the same time? I know this is what many churches do, and partly it’s because the adults see the young kids as a distraction to them., and the leaders don’t want to take the time to be creative enough to engage all ages in the message. If you guys do it better than this, forgive me, because I’ve never been to TLR, but I’ve never been to a church that I’ve been satisfied with any real given solution to this issue.

    And personally, as a mom, I have been frustrated because when babies and young kids are brought in to the service, parents feel obligated to take them out when they are disruptive…and the majority of the time, guess which parent has to miss part of the service? Especially if baby is breastfeeding, and heaven forbid mom nurse her baby in the middle of the church service…SACRILEGIOUS! 😉

    Sorry. Yes, it’s a hot topic for me, just at a different angle.


  3. actually andrea…we are just now beginning the conversation @ TLR. that is why it is a hot button for me. i have held strongly for long time that it is the parent/parents responsibility first and foremost…and we should not look to the centralized church to be our solution. i am NOT against kids getting together to learn the Bible, stories, verses, etc. i am REALLY for it…that is where i learned the verses that stick with me today. BUT…we have been stuck with simply providing information (and in most instances entertainment). we have failed when community/discipleship/ mentoring has not accompanied it. when our children feel like an accessory of the church…more so than an integral part of the church…we have failed. i will keep you posted with our progress.


  4. brandon…very well said. it is time that all of us take a look at the sacrificial commitment that Christ demands out of all of us instead of the “whats in it for me” attitude? We cling to those scriptures where He says I will never leave you or forsake you or “I have plans for you, for good not for evil, but to prosper you, at the same time ignoring the scriptures that demand we give our all in following Him, passionately, radically. Are we REALLY committing our lives to Him? REALLY?? the time is now! i strongly recommend the book ‘Radical’. Again, well said Brandon!


  5. Well done, Brandon. One way that our church (maybe) addresses this, is through mission trips for the H.S. kids. They serve a poor community, by coming alongside the local church there, and provide the “staff” for the VBS. If nothing else, it is a start. Many of the teens, and younger, have also gone on trips to Mexico, doing similar work. I am not necessarily saying we do it well, but it provides a taste of “another way”, that the Gospel itself is all about. I have to admit, as my one and only has now left for college, I wonder how I/we did, in serving her and preparing her for kingdom work.


  6. Our church has been recreating our childrens ministry over the last few years. Being that we were a church of pre 30 somethings we had very few kids when we started about 10 yrs ago. Many churches that people had come from focused on keeping their kids quiet behind soundprooofed rooms and focusing on taking their parents out of the “madness” that was their kids so that they could focus on “worship”. House Church was the same thing. We would pay baby sitters so we could “get close to God” We would also have a rotation that 1-2 people in the group would watch the kiddos while we would “do House Church”. The big gigantic point we had been missing is that we were treating our kids as simply hinderances to what we thought we were doing. “Lets just keep them occupied while we do our thing…..lets just keep them quiet because “community cannot happen in the midst of madness”. We were missing the point. We gotten back on track in the last couple of years when we asked the question of what it would look like to include the kids in the mission of our church “To encourage people of all ages to be formed into the image of Jesus so we can love our neighbors in Indianapolis and around the world. In doing so, we hope to join with God in the restoration of the world through sacrificial love” We have not yet figured it all out, but things are working. Just the other day I was hiking with my son on my back in the backpack carrier and he was singing the whole time (17.5 months old) He was making a joyful noise unto the Lord, so I joined in. Sometimes or many times I think the kids can lead and encourage us just as much as we can them.


  7. Well stated Jon. Even the disciples made this type of mistake, rebuking those who brought children to Jesus. Why do we continue to try and separate our children when Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to the likes of them? We have more to learn from them about the truths of God’s love, and yet we presume to teach them the “correct” way by alienating them from the rest of the church community. I would also offer that in America, we consider people to be “children” for longer than other societies, keeping them hidden from real responsibility because we believe they are not ready. That is probably another discussion though.


  8. I guess I feel many churches try to indoctrinate kids because they feel you have to hook them while they are young. I think a better approach is that of a leader of this bluegrass family band that when asked how he got his kids to be such good musicians he replied, “I put the guitar on the bed and told them not to touch it.” The adults should be dwelling in the Lord’s presence in a way that the kids, at the time appropriate to him or her, hunger to do the same. Do people want their kids to really get it or is it good enough to keep your kid away from rock music and premarital sex? We tell teens being a Christian is cool; it is not cool, it is hard. We are not told to be like TobyMac, we were told to be like Jesus. Mother Theresa acted like Christ and I don’t think it was because it was cool.


  9. Brandon, a friend sent me your blog a few days ago and I love it. Keep speaking the truth! You have an incredible gift of writing.



  10. Great words Brandon. A friend at work mentioned (with high praise) your blog so I had to come home and read it since I hadn’t yet. I agree with everything you said. I do want to contribute to the ongoing discussion though. I disagree with having children in church. There is more than one reason. Yes, I absolutely come to church to fellowship, have corporate worship, to be used as God leads and to hear what God wants to say through any teaching given. I love every minute of it and it has nothing to be with being entertained. However, because I very much want to learn and to worship, I feel that noisy children are a horrible distraction. I adore my little girl but that isn’t the place to play with her. I have noticed that when little kids are in the “big church” (vs “children’s church/ Sunday school), the parents aren’t able to pay much attention at all. If such is the case, why keep the kids in as a distraction? Frankly, after babysitting every other day of the week, I don’t want to do so again in church.
    Another extremely important reason is that it is important fo kids to learn about God on their own level. In “big church” we don’t discuss many of the typical Sunday School stories. Instead we discuss more abstracted ideas like grace, hope, the Kingdom of God etc. No wonder a kid would be bored. They need visual aides and games that help bring home the point so that they remember it forever. Singing songs that help them learn Bible verses is a great way to teach them! I still rememer which classroom I was in when I learned certain stories. I loved the competition of Bible Bowl when I got to be old enough (4th grade I think). I still know Joshua Judges and Ruth better than some others because of that one year of studying so hard. I didn’t want to let down my friends on the team and in the process I learned so much about God that I might not have otherwise.
    To summarize, I think that we do need be our kids’ first example of godliness at home (going back to the original blog). I believe that we should separate kids below a certain age so that they can learn in the best way for them possible and for the adults to get to focus on what is being said.
    Again, great words Brandon as always.


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