Monday, February 27, 2012

Thomas Bergler Is A Royal Pain In The Butt. . .

During my first three years in youth ministry. . . fresh out of college. . . I would attend church board meetings in order to report on our ministry and get approval for my plans. One of the old guys on the board. . . a guy named Jack. . . would sit during those meetings in a big old wing back chair in the corner of the church parlor (yes, there was a room called the parlor!). Jack very quickly instilled in me a dread that would start to rear its ugly head a few days before the meetings. It was as if Jack had been waiting for the church to hire me so that he could sit on that throne and question every single thing I wanted to do in youth ministry. With his constant flow of "Whats?", "Whys", and "Hows?," Jack very quickly became a royal pain in my butt.

Eventually, with a little help from other folks at the church, a bit of maturity on my part, and an effort to get to know Jack, I began to understand the method behind his questioning madness. Jack was not trying to make my life miserable. Instead, he was trying to make my ministry more God-honoring and effective. In hindsight, I realize that Jack was on my side the entire time, and he was making me a better youth pastor.


The youth ministry world is about to be introduced to another royal pain in the butt. Thomas Bergler, Associate Professor of Ministry and Missions at Huntington University, has written a disturbing book that will be released in April. . . The Juvenilization of American Christianity. I call the book "disturbing" because it's going to shake us up. I'm currently reading the manuscript as I've been asked to write an endorsement. Bergler brings together history, theology, sociology, and developmental theory in a brilliant mix that's going to make the church - I hope - sit back and ask ourselves some pretty hard questions about what, why, and how we've been doing things.

"Juvenilization," writes Bergler, "is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages. It begins with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young. But it sometimes ends badly, with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith." He goes on to explain how our churches now pander to American consumerism, self-centeredness, and immaturity of American believers. He clarifies, "The story of juvenilization is a story not of a sinister plot or a noble crusade, but of unintended consequences and unquestioned assumptions."

I'm not yet finished with The Juvenilization of American Christianity, but I'm really liking what I'm reading. I'm sure I'll be blogging on this book more in the coming weeks. At this point, I'm thinking that Bergler is offering a nice follow-up to Christian Smith's Soul-Searching.

Here's a little interview clip with Bergler that will give you a taste of what the book is all about. If you can't bear to sit through the entire 15 minutes of the interview your impatience might just prove Bergler's point! Church, youth ministry world, and fellow juvenile Christians. . . meet Thomas Bergler. . . a royal pain in the butt whose arrival is timely and even long overdue! . . .

8 comments:

Shawn said...

Seems similar to what Michael Horton talks about in his trilogy: "Christless Christianity, The Gospel Driven Life, & The Gospel Commission."

jamiejoy said...

Interesting interview. I look forward to reading the book. His quote about culture glorifying the process of searching but never finding stood out to me. We encounter that mentality a lot in our youth ministry but I had never really put 2 and 2 together that the youth are picking up that approach from culture's glorification of "seeking".

Daniel said...

Here's something I would like to see happen. What if adults and youth ministers started expecting MORE out of the teenagers? What if teens really are capable of processing, digesting, and understanding the deeper aspects of faith? What if teens don't need more concerts, theme parks, and game nights? What if they really need (and actually want) adults to believe in them, to challenge them, and to model this mature spirituality for them?

Walt Mueller said...

Daniel. . . I'm with you! I heard a youth min expert say that what we need is more throwing of wet noodles at each other in youth ministry. . . . as in more fun. There's nothing wrong with fun. We all need more of it in our lives. But what we really need is depth. . . starting with the youth worker.

Rob Culler said...

Very interesting, Walt, especially after watching "The Amish" on PBS last night. I was struck by the fact that 90% of Amish young people choose the church when they are old enough to do so. As a pastor, I'm looking forward to reading this when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

Haha, yes, JamieJoy! My parents still attend the "Seekers" Sunday school class, and they're the youngest ones at 53 and 55. Hasn't anyone "found" something yet???

(It's the adult class that is between the really old adult class and the post-high class)

Lonnie Welch said...

Wow, can't wait to read this! it brings attention to a very serious problem within the Body of Christ. Just yesterday a friend shared with me a link to a related film - "Divided." Go here to watch this documentary for free: http://www.dividedthemovie.com/.
I pray that God will send bold, innovative workers who have His vision and strength in order bring the needed restoration.

Robert Starling said...

Lonnie wrote:
"I pray that God will send bold, innovative workers who have His vision and strength in order bring the needed restoration."
I find it fascinating that someone in "traditional" or "orthodox" Christianity finally "gets it" the way Amy Grant did in her fabulous song "Fat Baby" that describes so many Christians today.
Paul wrote that the same thing was happening in his day - that those he had already taught the Gospel had been "juvenilized" so that they were babies and had to be taught again the "milk" because they were not mature enough for the "meat".
The Bible also says that in the last days (are we there yet?) believers would "not endure sound doctrine" because they had "itching ears" and wanted "another gospel" that was easier to live.
Lonnie, your prayer for the "needed restoration" was answered in 1830 when Christ himself restored in vision his NT church to a "bold innovative" modern day prophet named Joseph Smith.
If you're ready for the "meat" and some Christian maturity go to www.mormon.org with an open mind and you'll find it.
God bless you.