By Victor Ochieng
Most churches, if not all, are on a serious drive to attract young people into their congregations. The church is so desperately looking for the younger generation because they know that without this lot, they’re most likely going to fall apart.
That’s why Andrew Root, chairman of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, decided to tackle the issue in his new book, “Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness.” In the book, Root explores the foundation built by philosopher Charles Taylor through his writings. Root shares a perspective on what youth ministry should be and where it has always fallen short.
In half of the telling book, Root looks into how we got to where we are. He digs deeper into the philosophy that shaped the past century, in which our society moved away from the age of duty and honor to what he refers to as the “age of authenticity.” Expounding on it, Root says “the age of authenticity asserts that we should be directed by nothing outside us but only by what we find meaningful within us” (17).
That’s the true definition of individualism, where everyone follows their hearts and remains true to none other than themselves. This is what many have referred to as free spirit, where we pursue the things that make us happy regardless of whether or not they’re good. In this age, truth is what “I” consider true; “I” define my own destiny. This maxim has quite affected how we do pretty much everything, from shopping, working, teaching, eating, raising kids, dressing and, of course, how we even establish and run our churches.
Root believes that this age of authenticity has affected the church so much and given birth to the obsession with the youth. Reason? The church believes the youth are more authentic. Root says: “Youth became the priests of cool who inherited the practices, perspectives, and predispositions to lead us all into authenticity” (60). If the church is going to seek nothing but authenticity, then the church is going to fall into the trap of following the youth.
It cuts across the society. The media has made us believe that for us to fit in we have to follow the youth; talk like them, dress like them.
Like the rest of the world, the church is idolizing youthfulness. While it’s good to seek to bring young people to the church, the kind of obsession it elicits has resulted in numerous troubles when it comes to building faith, more so among the young people. To dig deep and understand what this authenticity is about, the church is spending millions of dollars on research and efforts to make the church a “cool” place for the younger generation. If it’s about the music, it’s got to be cool and youthful; if it’s about dress code, the youth must set the pace so they stick around in the church.
For this problem to be addressed, the church must first fully understand its mission. Yes, the church should bring in everyone, but that doesn’t mean forgetting that we’re living in a secular and evil world. What if the things we want to bring to the church are from the enemy? Where should the church draw the line?
These are relevant questions the church must ask even as they try to protect their posterity and save the youth from running themselves to hell.