Theological Forums: Kenda Creasy Dean
By YS on July 29 2011
Don’t forget to attend the new Theological Forums at NYWC this year. It’s an interactive conversation where you get to dialogue with a fine panel of youth ministry experts.
Kenda Creasy Dean is just one of those panelists who invites you to pull up a chair and pick her brain. Her name isn’t new to the youth ministry scene; she’s a frequent speaker at conferences and author of the popular, Almost Christian. Kenda currently works as a professor in youth, church and culture at Princeton and is active with the Institute for Youth Ministry.
We asked Kenda to give us a more personal take on her youth ministry experience before the conference. See how she answered these questions:
YS: How can you encourage your youth to think seriously about theology?
KCD: I don't usually have to encourage young people to think seriously about theology -- they do it all the time, though they don't realize that what they're thinking about is theology. But the questions that point us to God--who am I? Why am I here? Who are my people? Who do I belong to? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? -- That's the stuff young people care about. Just about everything they do is in the service of trying to answer those questions, even though there's a lot of trial and error. I find it harder to encourage adults to think seriously about theology--most of us get jolted into thinking about theology when a young person's witness convicts us of our own doubt or lackadaisical faith, or when some sort of crisis reveals our cheap religious shortcuts for what they are, and forces us to really think about who God is, and who we are in relationship to God, in a new way.
YS: What's the biggest challenge you see facing youth workers?
KCD: The biggest challenge might also be the best thing to happen to the church since the apostles and that is the fact that, even though 3/4 of American teenagers say they are Christians, most people in our culture really haven't got a clue what the church is about, or why Jesus matters, or what on earth the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. The fastest growing religious preference among Americans—especially among young people—is "none". And the "nones" aren't in other people's families or churches—they're in ours. Churches are going to keep shrinking and the "nones" are going to keep growing, at least for another 10-15 years, mostly because churches are now so darned hard to distinguish from any other well-meaning institution in middle class American culture. It's very hard for kids (and if we're honest, for us) to figure out why we should follow Jesus Christ when Christians are caught up in the same rat race as everyone else. So what does that mean for youth ministry? We can either spin our wheels trying to stem the decline of any number of wobbly Christian entities or we can go out and do ministry among the “nones.” If the church depends on Jesus Christ instead of on us, I think maybe it's time to spend less time worrying about dying and more time hanging out with young people who are dying—literally—to live. It's never occurred to most of them that Christianity has anything to offer in the "get a life" department, much less that we might offer something that is distinct from what is offered everywhere else. I think one way youth workers will serve the church in general in the next generation is to re-weirdify Christianity, and remind young people, and the church as a whole, that we live by distinctive standards, standards of grace, humility and hope, that make no sense in a world where the primary objective is to "get ahead".
YS: What's the funniest or most embarrassing moment you've had in your youth ministry experience?
KCD: This is a very long and pathetic list that mostly involves me saying things that come out wrong in front of my students. Nuff said.