Faith Formation In A Secular Age

An Interview With Andrew Root

In This Edition:

  • Faith Formation In A Secular Age: A Conversation with Dr. Andrew Root

  • What’s New on the Avenue?

  • Top Picks: This Week’s Recommended Resources


Faith Formation In A Secular Age: A Conversation with Dr. Andrew Root

Andrew Root is the Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is perhaps best known for his work in youth ministry. But he is an eclectic and prolific writer, writing on a wide range of topics, including congregational ministry, personal relationships, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even a book on dogs. He is most recently the author of a three volume “Ministry in a Secular Age” series with the following titles: The Congregation in a Secular AgeThe Pastor in a Secular Age, and Faith Formation in a Secular AgeI sat down with Dr. Root for episode 13 of the Avenue for Faith podcast.

Q: Andrew, what is this contemporary moment you write about?

It’s really fascinating. This big study just came out: it’s less than 50% of people go to church. So the tipping point of America being a secular society has maybe already happened. Or if people in churches are already worried about that—this shows it. In the last two years they have lost percentage points. So what the books are trying to name is “what does it really mean to be in a secular age?” Secular is a slippery word. Everyone has a definition for it. “Fewer people are going to church” is, I think, a red herring when it comes to people on the ground doing ministry. And what it really means to be in this contemporary moment and live in this kind of secular age is that all belief, and particularly some kind of commitment to a transcendent God who acts and speaks in the world becomes more and more unbelievable to people. It becomes harder for people to recognize—even people who have historical connections to faith. According to Charles Taylor, we now inherent this “immanent frame.” His point is the default setting of our imaginations now—whether we are someone who goes to church or not—our default setting is immanence as opposed to transcendence. It’s this idea that everything is natural and material as opposed to there being a Divine supernatural force that moves within the world, or a God who stands within and outside the world and calls us to something. And so I think this is the real challenge. It’s not just the challenge of the church losing resources; it’s the challenge of how do leaders within the church help people recover an imagination and a vision for a God who lives, and speaks, and moves in their lives.

Q: What are the cultural challenges to youth ministry in this time?

The way the youth group has functioned within Protestant congregational youth ministry—there are some pretty strong cultural forces that stand against it. There is a great temptation to think of how can we program our youth ministries, how do we make them more attractive to people, as opposed to thinking of maybe being about something deeper than just trying to get people connected to the program. For middle class parents, what keeps them up at night is not “will my kids have an experience of a sacrament that will be a big thing? Will they come to have saving knowledge of the mystical universe?” What they really care about is “will my kid get into college? Will they be able to get a good job in a very contracting economy? How do we get them on the varsity basketball team? How do we get test scores up?” Those become what keep them awake at night.

Q: What are some solutions to pivoting in how we approach ministry to youth?

As our moral imagination shifts, so do our forms or even models of ministry. Going back to the 70’s (or even post-war protestant America), the way of parenting was to let kids have free space. If asked “how are our kids doing,” the answer was “they have a lot of free time, and a lot of free space, and we worry they are growing up too fast.” That is pretty much every 1980’s teen movie there is—all these young people racing to grow up faster. So the youth group came along as a way to slow kids down, and give them something to do with all that time they had. But the good parent was the parent who stayed out of their kid’s life.

But that really did flip into the 21st century. The parents who grew up in “fast times” did not think it was a good way to raise their kids, and we have had a completely different kind of moral imagination. We don’t want our kids to have free space. Instead we want to journey with our kids and really open up doors for them, and give them access to a real buffet of things they can be involved in. And those things can accrue resources for them so they can live whatever dream they want in the future; but our job is to really accompany them at all times. And you get helicopter parents or bulldozing parents—these kind of “best friend” parents who are with their kids almost all the time. And so now we are seeing a really radical flip. It’s not that young people are growing up to fast; at least some of the scientific research shows they are actually growing up—compared to earlier generations—much more slow. The forms of youth ministry we have are really built for these “fast times,” built for parents who are permissive and unconnected. Where we are at now is parents who are very much monitoring and very concerned with being with their kids at all times.

So maybe some of our forms of youth ministry have to change. For me, one of the things that means is that maybe the “end” of the youth group; or the youth group becomes not the every week thing, but more the quarterly thing. That maybe we need to think differently about how we cohort young people up. I think what young people need is not a space run by young people, led by basically young people, but they need to be in communities with adults who are testifying to the presence and absence of God in their life, who are wrestling with the Biblical text, who are praying with them and being prayed for by them.

Excerpts from Episode 13 of the Avenue for Faith podcast, titled “Faith Formation In A Secular Age.” Available on all podcast platforms.

Listen to the Podcast


What’s New On The Avenue?

Social Media Presence

Remember that @avenueforfaith can be found on facebook, twitter, and instagram. Follow us to get even more tips and resources, Sherrod Avenue offerings, and sneak peeks at upcoming podcasts and interviews.

Upcoming Zoom Class for Women

Beginning July 12, Janie Walton will be offering another exciting zoom class using the Discovery Bible method. Her class is called “God Still Rocks Our World: A Study of the Book of Ruth.” Janie will be using The Girl’s Still Got It by Liz Curtis Higgs as a supplemental textbook. Janie is an incredible and sought-after teacher. Watch a video preview here on Youtube. You can register for the class here.

In-Person Classes for Everyone

Sherrod Avenue continues to offer in-person adult gatherings for adults to study the story of God, dig deeper into Scripture, and grow closer to God and each other. The learning communities meet from 10:15-11 AM every Sunday morning, and are designed with you in mind.

In the auditorium, our preaching minister Justin Pannell is offering a summer course called “Better Than Heaven.” Have you ever wondered about the afterlife? Do you wonder what the 'big picture' is for all that God has made? What will God's good future look like? What does God have in store for us? Join this adult learning group as Justin leads us in a discussion of what the Bible means by “a new heaven and a new earth,” and explore what awaits God’s creation when He ultimately gets his way. Each lesson is archived and you can view past lessons here.

Three other adult learning communities will be studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are using a fantastic curriculum designed by Josh Kingcade titled “Who’s In? Who’s Out?” Paul writes the book of Galatians to address a church at the crossroads: will the church give in to the loud voices calling for them to shrink back into the old way of life, allowing culture and birthright to determine the pecking order in the kingdom of God? Or will they let the gospel define the circle of those who belong to Jesus Christ, breaking down the dividing wall and uniting Jews and Gentiles in the one body of Christ? Join the young professionals class (with Raymond Voigt), the encouragers class (with Rick Penter), or the faith builders class (with Don Snodgrass), as we seek to walk in step with the Spirit, and to walk in line with the gospel.

Ken Springer continues his extremely popular Ambassadors class exploring Gems from the Bible. Ken has taught this class for decades, and is known for discussing current events with spiritual application, just after cooking up some breakfast for the class. Age typically ranges from 30's to 60's, though all are welcome.

See All Our Class Offerings


Top Picks: This Week’s Recommended Resources

Christian Web Journals & Magazines

Relevant Magazine. A very popular evangelical magazine geared to youth and culture

Christian Century. An online newspaper dedicated to thinking critically and living faithfully.

Personal Blogs & Websites

Craig Keener. Bible background research and commentary.

Gospel in Life. Resources from Tim Keller.

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Avenue For Faith is a publication of the Adult Education Ministry of Sherrod Avenue Church of Christ in Florence, Alabama. My name is Nathan Guy, and I am the Minister of Adult Education. I am happily married to Katie and also serve as President of Mars Hill Bible School. You can find more resources on our website over at avenueforfaith.org. Follow us @avenueforfaith (fb/tw/ig).