Unification News for December 2001

Will They Have Faith: Raising Faithful Teens

Kathy Winings, EdD
December, 2001

Dr. Winings specializes in children’s and youth education and ministry.

In The Way for Young People, True Father states that "the adolescent period is very beautiful. . ." and that the "young ones are standing at the turning point of good and evil; therefore, if you make one wrong step, you will fall into a steep and deep hollow." I am sure that at times, it does seem like our teens are on the verge of falling into a very deep hollow from which they cannot climb out. Yet, at other times, we may feel that our children and teens are simply awe-inspiring when we hear them speak up for purity, act unselfishly, and pray with never-ending tears to our Father in Heaven. Modern culture being what it is, all of us worry whether or not our children will survive the myriad temptations that confront them in a daily basis. All of us ask: Will our children be faithful? Will they mature to become men and women who will liberate God’s heart and lead their generation to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Today’s youth are facing tremendous obstacles, challenges and temptations. Making the right decisions are not as easy as they once may have been. Walt Mueller offers an excellent resource for a concerned parent or dedicated youth worker in his book, Understanding Today’s Youth Culture. He has also created a newsletter—YouthCulture2000—that provides an informed view of day-to-day fads, music, books, and trends. There are also other resources that provide important analysis of the culture that surrounds our children and teens.

What can we say about the world in which our children and teens live? Standards of right and wrong, questions of morals, values and ethics—all of this seems to be more than confusing for today’s youth. For example, it seems that anything goes in dress and style. One is free to have their own viewpoint which only serves to create a dizzying array of influences and options that bombard our youth. Youth are surrounded by friends and peers who are either self-centered or self-absorbed, narrowly focusing on their own personal world. In our consumer-oriented world, youth are given the message that identity and worth are shaped by what they wear, own or drive. More and more youth are relationally impoverished because one third of them are the product of divorce or blended families and others live isolated and lonely lives.

In addition, life is fast-paced and filled with tremendous stress. With the increase in youth-initiated violence, children and teens often go to school with a real fear for their safety. Youth seem to mature much faster than previous generations yet they have fewer responsibilities. Decisions concerning drug and alcohol use, sexual intimacy, anorexia, and other forms of self-destruction are a daily reality.

On the other hand, technological advances and electronic consciousness have enabled our youth to do things we only dreamed about in our youth. The world of our youth is indeed much smaller and closer to home. The religious and cultural diversity of our schools and neighborhoods have enabled our children to be more tolerant of others and to recognize the gifts that other cultures offer. The opportunities and blessings that today’s generation faces in many parts of the world are awesome.

These are just a few of the many ways that we might describe the world that our children and teens are experiencing today. Yet, the question remains: Will our children become faithful men and women of God? How can we help them face the good and the bad that surrounds them with a clear heart and mind? How can we as parents, teachers and community members ensure that our teens will become the men and women of God that they were destined to be?

I believe the answer lies in a three-fold approach to youth work. These three points are: family/community system; peer ministry; and youth ministry. First, what do I mean by family/community system? Traditionally, much of Christian education has been based on a church-centered, family-supported system. In other words, the church was responsible for most of the educational programs and activities. It was felt that the church was in the position to offer the best religious education when compared to the family. Consequently, parents were viewed as secondary teachers or a support for the real teachers—the Sunday School teachers in the church.

But that needs to change. What our youth need is a family-centered and church-supported education system. Rather than the family supporting the church’s programs, the church should be supporting the family as the primary form of education. This includes family camps, family workshops, Sunday classes for each age group—not simply the children and teens—allowing the family can worship together, parenting sessions, and resource offerings that help parents become the primary teachers of their children. Of course, Hoon Dok Hae is our universal tradition but there are ways to strengthen our Hoon Dok Hae time together. This also means publishing home study materials and resources so that parents and children together can have a profound experience with God.

The second level that is vital for true education is peer ministry. This is where our older teens and young adults are important. Children look up to their older brothers and sisters, whether they like to admit it or not. They enjoy being around them, doing things together. This is why having a peer ministry system of older youth is so important. As ministers, teachers and parents, we need to encourage older teens to become involved in children’s ministry and youth ministry. Then we need to continue to support their peer ministry by giving them the skills they need to support the teaching and work of religious education. I have utilized such opportunities in the past as youth minister of Westchester. In addition, Brian Sabourin and I developed a counselor and assistant counselor training program for the summer programs at Camp Sunrise in the past. Such programs allow us to nurture the initial enthusiasm of our peer ministers and at the same time, help them expand their skills and gifts. After all, today’s peer ministers can be the children’s and youth ministers of tomorrow.

Finally, we need a strong and vital children’s ministry and youth ministry system in each church. That means we need to find those adults who feel called to this vocation and then ensure that they receive the training they need to be effective ministers. We often think that as long as we "teach" our youth the concepts and information they need to become mature men and women of God, then they will be fine. Or we think that if we just surround our children and youth with enough peer ministers, they will be fine. But it isn’t enough.

Teaching isn’t the only thing our youth need—they also need to be ministered to as they make they way through the maze of life’s decisions. That is why peer ministers are not enough. They don’t have the skills, tools, wisdom and training necessary to handle the hard questions and issues our youth face. Our children and youth need ministers around them who understand children and youth issues, developmental needs, and who can provide wise counsel. This becomes even more important when we read studies that have shown that when teens have at least 4 significant adults in their life, other than their parents, they are more likely to become mature and faithful adults themselves. Ideally, the training of these ministers would include a seminary education with a specialty in either children’s ministry or youth ministry.

When we put this together, our youth will be surrounded by peers and adults who create a dynamic support system for them. Parents and family, older peers, and caring ministers form a trinity system around the youth that can teach, guide, and nurture in the truest sense of the word. This is true religious education at work: a family-centered church-supported system in which parents are supported in being the central educator of God’s heart and ideal with a secondary system that includes peer ministers and trained ministers. Each circle of religious education can then make use of diverse ways to teach our children and youth, whether it be creative and inspired teaching methods, experiential learning, or service and living for the sake of others.

Will our children have faith? I believe the answer is "yes." But we will have to take this responsibility seriously. As True Father has said, "If you miss the time, you must know that the era will pass by without you even noticing, leaving behind han in history." This is true for our children’s and youth ministries—this is the opportune time for us to develop a strong and vibrant ministry to youth before this era passes us by and, more importantly, passes our youth by.

Dr. Winings is Dean, UTS-NYC; President, Educare; Vice President, IRFF.

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