Life is like a clock
It has an exterior seen by people
And an interior filled with gears.
The clock has a function.
How well it functions depends
on the gears contained within
and how well they work together.
Faith is one of those gears.
So is God
and all the things that make up
the uniqueness of me.
When the clock functions well
It enables people who see it to
Function well within their day.
If the gears of faith
And Spirit are dominant gears
Then others see Jesus
As I serve God.
These gears of faith
Can be interchanged
With different clocks that exist in the world,
Such as the church clock
And the athletic clock.
While the gears that make up faith and God
Can be moved from the church clock to the athletic clock,
The reverse isn’t true.
Because the church clock is fixed,
Not open to the things of the world,
Or the things I love.
I look at the church clock from afar
Living in a space of happy medium
within the world,
Taking my faith and God gears into those spaces
But unable to take my world into the church.
A choice had to be made:
Do I continue in the church clock
Filled with plastic parts which fail to keep accurate time?
Or do I stick with the athletic clock that
Allows me to be myself
And trust God to be there?
I chose to stick with the athletic clock
Where authentic relationships happen
And the ability to become exists
In ways that help me later in life.
There are no plastic gears in that clock
Because the gears of faith and the Divine
Help it to function smoothly
Allowing God to be served
Through respect, love, and kindness.
This is summary of the metaphorically infused conversation I had with my 16-year-old son last night (approved and used with his permission); a conversation which was sparked by Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dean highlights how “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith- but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate high school.” She notes how many teens have embrace the five guiding principles of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
- A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
She also charted study results from the national Study of Youth and Religion regarding Four Religious Ideal Types.
Her observations served as the catalyst for the conversation with my son.
My son grew up going to church for most of his life. He went to Sunday school and participated in various children’s ministry activities. From age 2 to 10 he attended Bible Study Fellowship in both the preschool and school age programs. I remember taking him to pick up my leadership packet for a new BSF year of study. When we walked in the church, he saw the Cross hanging by the alter. He quickly, without prompting, shared the gospel with the other leaders present. We all beamed thinking, “This is why we serve the way we do.” He was the model 4-year-old of the BSF program. He also participated in local ministry outreach opportunities and short-term mission trips, learning at an early age the importance of caring for others.
When we moved to Oregon, our family spent time searching for just the right church. When we attended one that both of our kids felt comfortable in, we stayed. My son was in first grade. He loved the kids’ program and his leader, Mr. Wooley. Mr. Wooley looped up each year with the rowdy group of boys that were in my son’s class. He was a constant presence that provided a safe space where my son felt loved. Each week my son bounded into the church ready to learn and have fun. He was baptized in fourth grade, but by the time he’d reached fifth grade, his interest was waning, as the kids’ curriculum was geared more toward younger kids.
As he moved into the middle school program, he found the Sunday teaching to be similar. Lots of silly games happened before a simple bible story was taught. Most weeks, he found the content to be uninteresting and struggled to share content with us when asked what they did in their worship time. During these years, he also attended a Tuesday morning, large group, middle school bible study, and eventually added a Thursday morning, small group bible study (Wyldlife). It was in this small group setting that he seemed most comfortable and best able to learn deeper spiritual truths.
Over time, Sunday morning church attendance declined because of his soccer schedule. The Tuesday morning study fell off the calendar in eighth grade, and by high school, the Thursday group followed suit. School and athletic scheduling conflicts combined with boredom and distrust in the simplified curriculum caused him to lose interest in pursuing a community of faith.
During his late elementary, middle school, and early high school years, our family experienced huge emotional and spiritual upheaval. My religious legalism was dismantled through my attendance in seminary. Many of the theologies I’d clung to were challenged and deconstructed in ways that impacted my whole family. Overall, this was a positive thing, but it also had some negative consequences.
On one hand, my legalistic bent led my daughter to believe she would never be able to live up to God’s standard, and she wholeheartedly believed God was not interested in her life since God never answered her prayers. By the end of middle school, she wanted nothing to do with God or church, so she walked away. On the other hand, my son was ok with faith and God, but had little interest in actually attending our non-denominational evangelical church because he saw how its beliefs were different than those I began to embrace through my seminary learning.
For the past 5-6 years we have all be in a state of spiritual flux.
Based on the conversation I had with my son, there are echoes of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in his spiritual toolbox. He also doesn’t quite fit into the any one of the four religious ideal types. Clearly, he is no longer the poster boy for spreading the Gospel, as his ability to articulate his faith and beliefs about God is fragmented at best.
The path to this outcome was complicated. But I also believe it’s not complete…for either of my kids. While I fully agree the responsibility for the messy faith of my son lies on my parenting and the church’s discipleship model, I believe wholeheartedly in the redeeming Grace of God. I trust in time, through personal intention and the Spirit’s intervention, we can move him toward a more stable spiritual foundation, so he can find grounding in the love of God throughout his lifetime.
 Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010) 3.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 41.