Mark Bezanson is recently married and continues to live a life seeking to encourage others to grow in Christ. He is the leader of the Renewal Fellowship's Youth Pastors' Network. This article is intended to spur your prayers for youth workers and youth in our churches so they will be blessed and be a blessing to the youth in our communities.
During my recent trip to England, I asked an experienced friend a question that has been nagging me for some time. Why are there such gaps between expressions of faith among young adults and their ability to live out their faith?
About 48% of young adults in Canada hold to a conventional Christian faith perspective. Here are some of the core expressions of this faith, which seems close to evangelical faith (Bibby, 2004, pp.195-197).
1. Young adults believe in God, Jesus, and life after death.
2. Young adults believe the practices of church attendance and prayer are important.
3. Young adults want to experience a relationship with God, and God Himself as a resource for peace and joy.
4. Young adults want to know God with both an inner awareness and an outward awareness.
5. Young adults want to be good Christians and help others.
Actual church attendance and spiritual life practices (such as prayer) are the lowest among young adults, but are decreasing really in all age groups, if the research is accurate. Only ten percent of all age groups, including young adults, affirm regular practices of church attendance and prayer (Bibby, 2004, pp. 195-197) My friend in England suggested that many young adults in the United Kingdom are moving into believing without belonging, holding onto the memories of faith without connecting to a local church community (Davie, 1994). Certainly, keeping believing, behaving, and belonging closely linked in our Christian lives is not easy.
Perhaps at Christmas time, we experience a window of spiritual connection where behaving, believing, and belonging all come together around the worship of the Christ Child. The celebration of the birth of this Child was such a miracle with so many vivid stories full of meaning, wonder, and strong emotional connections. It is only natural that people would bring whatever dimensions of believing, belonging, and behaviour together, just for this time of year. The fruit of the Spirit is more evident in Christians and the wider culture. The act of giving gifts seems to connect strongly with God's gift of Christ to the world. So our culture rejoices best when behaviours of worship, belief in Christ, and belonging through giving and worship come together. Christmas calls for authentic experiences that integrate faith in Christ alone for salvation with obedient practices and worship guided relationships.
In contrast to us, the Muslim culture seems to go to the other extreme in behaving, believing, and belonging. The wearing of the Hajib is viewed by some Muslims as a command of Allah, and therefore a requirement, regardless of local secular law. For them, behaviour, belief, and belonging are fused together. Break one aspect, and you have broken them all. Since we easily separate one part of life from another, our Western minds cannot grasp this at all.
However, Christians may want to consider the costs of the growing separation of elements of faith, before we quickly criticize the apparent blindness of others. Perhaps keeping behaviour, belief, and belonging connected is good. Perhaps we need to move toward stronger links of faith, reasons, actions, and relationship, and see the damage of disconnecting one from the other. We do not want to fuse these together as some Islamic friends do, and we stand against the violence and male domination that sometimes appears in extremes of faith. Still, the gaping holes and very thin connections between belief, behaviour, and belonging may be doing serious damage to us all that is not visible to our Western eyes.
Christmas and New Years are great opportunities for renewal and reconnecting our faith. I pray that our young adults home from university will find the time to connect with many in our congregations, and find support and enjoyment in sharing how they are growing. Short term Mission trips are often occasions where we find the ability to strengthen the connections in belief, behaviour and belonging, not just for the trip, but more deeply for the rest of our lives. I hope all the readers will have a good Christmas and a New Year full of closely connected and growing faith.
Bibby, R. W. (2004) Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada. Toronto: Novalis.
Davie, G. (1994). Religion in Britain Since 1945: Believing without Belonging. Oxford: Blackwell.