November 2007 - Vol. 13

Keeping Faith Alive 
for Community Kids

Passing on a God-centered way of life that honors God and offers a Christian witness to many others

By Dr. John Yocum

photos by David Steingruber 

How do we pass on our Christian faith and help young people grow to mature Christian adulthood? Creating environments that build strong formative relationships between adults and younger people, and healthy peer relationships, are a must if we want faith to take root and grow in fertile soil. Dr. John Yocum, an elder in the Servants of the Word, teaches theology at the Loyola School of Theology in Manila, Philippines, has many years of pastoral experience working with young people in North America, Europe, and Asia. While this article is primarily addressed to parents and youth workers in the Sword of the Spirit, it offers a perspective that can be helpful for all Christian parents and youth workers who strive to pass on their faith to the younger generation.
A complex mystery?
This was a scary article to write. Usually I write on simple topics, like the Trinity or the relation between divine and human action in the sacraments. But “community kids”? Now there’s a complex mystery.

What do I know, after all? I wasn’t born or raised in a community. I gave my life to the Lord when I was 18 and then joined a community after my first year of college.  On the other hand, I’m also not a “community parent” — or any other kind. 

But, on the third hand (see: this is getting awkward already), I have been around young people my whole adult life — as a youth worker, University Christian Outreach worker, graduate student, and university teacher. And since my peers started becoming parents themselves, around 15 years or so ago, I’ve spent a lot of time with community families, enjoying that privileged access to both parents and kids that belongs to our community youth program. 
I think it’s easier for an “outsider” to understand what it’s like to be a parent in a community than it is to understand what it’s like to be a boy or girl, man or woman, who is actually raised in a community. So, I took the precaution of asking a few questions and running my thoughts by a few genuine “community kids,” as well as youth workers which helped.

A different world
The first thing to say about community kids these days is that they grow up in a different world than we over-thirties did. How different is the world of a young person today? Really different. The changes I’ll note here often (not always) touch community kids less directly than other kids, but they shape the whole atmosphere they live in:

  • The Web: I read a novel recently that centers on the life of some high school kids. Here’s a quote from one of the characters, chosen because it’s a good description of the impact of the internet on kids today, everywhere. “We’ve got about as much freedom and liberation as anyone can stand. I’ve had a computer in my bedroom since I was seven years old.  I’ve had access to basically all the information in the world since I was twelve – not in a library but right at my fingertips. At the slightest whim, I can view images of just about anything that piques my curiosity. And I have. But am I better for it?”

  • Sex and modesty: Most kids have seen simulated sexual activity on the screen by the time they’re in high school. They’ve read about it — or heard it sung about and talked about — almost daily all their lives. Many, many more kids are sexually active than 20 years ago; but beyond that, modesty in speech, dress, and attitude has eroded almost out of existence. A few years ago, a conservative Jew wrote a book with a title that sums up the change: Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?

  • Stuff: Few kids these days talk about money; but they definitely want lots of stuff, like nice phones, iPods (or, now, iPhones) and computers with Vista.  They often unconsciously expect to have as much “stuff” starting out, say, in married life, as their parents did in middle-age. This is the marketing age. The marketers create “needs” and by the time middle-class kids finish college, they have collected a lot of needs. They spend a lot of time on their stuff, using it, or thinking about it. The dreams of poorer kids center on the same stuff.

  • Cynicism: This is the “Yeah, right…”’ generation: slow to believe politicians, bishops, teachers, or parents when they talk in terms of ideals and dreams. The media have fed them with a steady diet of scandals, exposés, and unveiled feet of clay. “Show me the money.”
Community kids struggle with all those influences. And the sharp contrast between community life and life in the world around them makes for another struggle. As a couple of kids in our community youth program said to me recently, “It’s just hard to be so different.” They can find it doubly difficult if they think they’re expected to be models. As one of our teenagers said to me, “We’re not that much better than other kids.”

A different entrance to community life
They’re different from their parents too. Most of their parents had a conversion experience sometime in their youth or in early adulthood. They made a choice, took a stand, gave themselves eagerly to the Lord, and eventually joined a covenant community. (Some of us really old folks even sang about it in classics like “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”)

Most of us came into community as a result of a powerful encounter with the Lord and with covenant community, but community kids are born into or pulled into community life because it’s their parents’ thing first. They’re in a community before they’ve made a choice, by virtue of family ties, not as a result of a life-changing experience. Their spiritual decisions are less sharply defined, and sometimes, for better or worse, they’re not even consciously made. 

For adult members of the community, the series of community courses was life-forming and foundational. Most community kids hear a lot about community teaching. But they haven’t necessarily heard the teaching — including its rationale, qualifications, applications — just the conclusions, especially the dos and don’ts. They can get a little jaded; The Bare Naked Ladies’ song, “I’ve Heard it All Before” could be a community kids’ anthem.

A few thoughts
The Lord has given us a great gift, a great privilege, and an important mission: Passing on a God-centered way of life that honors God and offers a witness to many, many people. Our kids are our heirs. Here are a few thoughts on passing on our inheritance. 

  • Be community: Pray together. Celebrate the Lord’s Day together as a family and with other Christian friends. Attend community gatherings together. Community has to start in the home. But it only starts there: Send your kids to the community youth program, summer camps, mission trips, and when they reach university age to University Christian Outreach. Give them a chance to let their parents’ community be “our community” from their earliest years.
  • Be communicative: It’s probably the case that most of our kids need more teaching, not less. A lot of it, though, should be “dialogical,” especially as they grow into and through adolescence. It should come in conversations, in give-and-take. Most of our kids need more talk, but not necessarily more talks. They need to talk first of all with their parents, but also with youth workers, community “aunts and uncles”, and community leaders. We need to listen, as well as talk; we need to talk because we’ve listened. As they grow older, we need to help them understand not just how, but why we do this or that, and why it’s good.

  • Be confident in helping them — and letting them — make it their own. At some point, our kids need the room to fly solo; to spread their wings and find their adult identity in our life and mission. As our kids get older, we need to give them that space. Our community formation program is designed for the transition from youth to adulthood. Kairos can offer our college students a place of discipleship in outreach. For a great number of kids a “gap year” — a year of service in another Sword of the Spirit community — has given them a “buy-in” to this adventure as truly their own. 

  • Last thought: We’re now at the stage in our history when “community kids” are becoming community adults and “community parents.” Increasingly there are men and women among us who have made the transition to adulthood within our community, and I look forward to seeing us grow from their acquired wisdom. 
[This article was originally published in True North Magazine, a publication of the Ligaya ng Paginoon Community in Manila, Philippines. Used with permission.] 
(c) copyright 2007  The Sword of the Spirit
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