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Spring 2006 | Volume 29, Number 2 | Faculty

New Research Speaks to Youth Leaders, Parents

Teen Faith

ATTENTION ALL WHO PASTOR, teach, parent, or mentor youth: Seattle Pacific University Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministry Delia Nüesch-Olver has published an article you may want to read. The piece, titled “Don’t Make Jesus Cry: A Qualitative Analysis of Spiritual Autobiographies of Older Teenagers,” was published in the Autumn 2005 issue of the Journal of Youth Ministry and is based on the careful analysis of some 500 “spiritual autobiographies” written by Seattle Pacific students in her freshman “Christian Formation” class over the last six years.

In the article, Nüesch-Olver uses her research to point to troubling trends in the Christian formation of today’s teenagers. For example, according to her findings, students often hold to an extremely narrow definition of the “Body of Christ.” If they can be led to a more biblical, more embracing view of the Body of Christ, greater reconciliation in today’s fractured church would likely result, Nüesch-Olver says.

Teens can also benefit from a greater amount of godly mentoring and behavior modeling on the part of parents and youth leaders, says Nüesch-Olver. “Without a single exception,” she writes, “students told stories from their own lives that underscored the power of mentoring and accountability in their faith journey.”

The research also shows that poor theology and a consumer approach to youth ministries have left many teens spiritually disoriented. In her article, Nüesch-Olver reports, “One student said, ‘During the larger group time we had pizza and chips. But as a prize for accepting Jesus as your savior you received a chocolate bar. This was all the incentive I needed. I accepted Jesus every [week] until they stopped giving me candy bars. The connection between God and me has remained a chocolate bar.’” Nüesch-Olver continues, “Somehow, their church experience had shaped their faith by leaving some confusing mental and behavioral connections.”

Many students reported a life-altering mission- field experience. “It doesn’t have to be an international experience, I tell them,” says Nüesch-Olver. “It can be a local experience — through such activities as working with refugees, or teaching Sunday school in urban, multicultural churches.”

Reaction from nationwide youth leaders to Nüesch-Olver’s article has been positive. Fuller Theological Seminary Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture Chap Clark — a significant contemporary voice in youth ministry — has this to say about her work: “I am so grateful for the insights Dr. Nüesch-Olver has gleaned through her research with SPU students,” he writes. “As a researcher and author on adolescence, I believe her study will be a valuable resource for all of us who are committed to the faith development of future generations.”


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