jonathan stone's blog

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diabetes of the teenage soul

The epidemic of adolescent obesity in the USA has been increasingly documented in recent years. Recent statistics indicate that 32 percent, or nearly 1 out of every 3 children in the USA is overweight. Alongside the rise of the average weight has been a surge of Type 2 diabetes in adolescents and pre-adolescents. Overeating causes the pancreas to produce extra insulin, which helps break down sugar from foods. Over time this overexposure to insulin causes the body to become less responsive to insulin, resulting in diabetes. While overeating in general can cause this to happen, the intake of food with high sugar content certainly exacerbates the process.

Against the backdrop of this crisis of the teenager’s physical health I wish to raise questions about the possibility of a crisis of the teenager’s spiritual health. Have we as youth ministers been feeding our students the wrong types of food in the wrong quantities? Have we exacerbated the problem by topping off large portions with sugary treats? If so, what might be the proper treatment for spiritual diabetes of the teenage soul?

Young Americans today come to our churches in the midst of fast-paced lives. Even if those young persons are not busy with sports, academics, clubs, and programs they are still surrounded by flashing images on TV, instant communication with friends, immediate access to information from the Internet, and food that can be prepared in 2-3 minutes. The variety of things to choose from for an American teenager seems infinite, and so the tastes from one teen to another might vary greatly. Nonetheless, there is a good chance that whatever it is that a teen prefers to do, or to have, or to be, s/he likes it in large portions. This has led many youth ministers to serve up an eclectic mix of offerings in their youth programs, and to do so in big amounts. Often a youth ministry will brand itself with a name that reflects its attempt to super-size the service. Identities like Extreme, High-Impact, Energy, Radical, and Explosion are common (though I see no problem with such names in-and-of themselves). Whatever strategies beyond entertainment and fun that might be intended are not always clear. It is even less clear whether or not these approaches are shaping the teenage soul in a healthy way.

What constitutes healthy spiritual food for the teenage soul?

10 comments on “diabetes of the teenage soul

  1. michael mcmullin
    September 3, 2008

    I like the analogy.

    I think this can be carried beyond just youth groups. I have found that some singles or couples ministries were setup just like youth groups. There may not have been the same energy drink marketing strategy but the “providing everything you want until you say uncle” mentality was there (my own fault).

    People expect certain sweet services and sugary programs. These high sugar diets produce spiritual obesity . . . or “growth” if you like.

  2. Don Warrington
    September 3, 2008

    Ideal physical food for growing children and adolescents is what contributes to their growing into healthy adults.

    It’s the same with whatever spiritual food they get in a youth group. IMHO, reason #1 why youth bail out of church after high school is that they’ve been catered to (I hate to use the word entertained, but that’s what it amounts to in some cases) in a “youth ghetto.” When they get out of high school, they look around and see a church that has nothing to do with where they’ve been and which they are totally unprepared to participate in, thus they leave.

    We’d serve the church (and the youth) by using the high school years to make them adults in church. That includes discipleship, both taught and experienced through service in the life of the church. We need to challenge them at all levels–intellectual, spiritual, people skills, you name it.

    Come to think of it, perhaps we need to treat our adults in this fashion…

  3. gregjohnson
    September 3, 2008

    Are we prepared for numbers going down?

  4. michael mcmullin
    September 4, 2008

    I’m prepared for it.

    I look forward to it.

    We’re fat and need to lose weight.

  5. Jonathan Stone
    September 4, 2008

    I agree. In fact, some churches are set up with that mentality across the board. Perhaps it would be interesting to discuss what might be identified as spiritual meat and what might be identified as spiritual candy.

    Great point about the youth who graduate and know not what to do with the church, having been reared in the “youth ghetto.” One thing that is ironic about that is that we set up many of our youth programs with a “small church model.” We utilize the young people to serve church programs by learning how to be on the worship team, how to run multimedia, how to serve on the leadership team, etc. Yet, the disconnect you mentioned is still there because all of those things were still done in isolation from the life and activity of the rest of the local church.

    It’s a tough question. I’d like to think with Mike that I am ready for it, that I’m tired of being “out of shape and overweight” spiritually. However, I also have to admit that every time that I have made a New Year’s resolution I went into convinced that I was really ready, really going to follow-through this time. Yet, while I have had various levels of success on those resolutions, none of them have completely worked out to date.

  6. Kindra Green
    September 8, 2008

    It seems, to me, that we put an inordinate amount of responsibility on the young these days.

    I just think that children will generally turn out much like their family unit. If you feed your kid MacDonald’s and Baskin Robbins–your kid will grow up eating it and may just develop diabetes.

    Likewise, if our churches are serving the watered down Word and American-Jesus well our kids are gonna grow up with a taste for it. I remember Dr. Cross once ripping on Winterfest during our Ecclesiology course–his point was something like, “Do you really need a disco ball to experience Jesus?” Of course I piped up and said that it was funny/ironic that, to me, Winterfest seems just one breath away from General Assembly–with its market place mentality, “big-name” speakers, pomp and circumstance and hype.

    I guess that I wonder is it merely the teenage soul we need to think of–or is this a systemic problem? Does the seriousness of disease of the soul not rest heavily upon all our shoulders? And most certainly, as mothers and fathers of the faith are we eating all the spiritual veggies we expect the young to eat?

  7. Don Warrington
    September 9, 2008

    Kindra: Veggies? How about this:

    “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillfull in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

    This passage points out another problem: delayed adulthood. From this, those of “full age” are those who can “discern both good and evil.” Teenagers can, even though they frequently don’t. And that certainly applies to adults.

  8. Kindra Green
    September 11, 2008

    Don: yeah, I agree. Most of the people of faith can discern (young and old) even though they don’t. Seems that we also spend a ridiculous amount of time focusing on minor things (sex, drugs and rock-n-roll) and too little time talking about integrity, faithfulness, discipline and just full on love of God.

    Also, I find that teaching in my community is difficult. There seems to often be this sense that anything remotely theological is too much for them to know. I get that we mainly need to know Jesus saved us and we don’t have to figure it ALL out. However, I think, that most of the immaturity I see (in the young and old) is that we don’t truly understand what it means to be saved and redeemed—that He makes ALL things new. Wow, if we could really get that all the way down into our souls—much of the need for ‘milk’ and sugary crap would go out the window—I think. I know some will learn this in other ways but it seems teaching is still valid.

    Also, don’t you think there is something to be said for not just discerning the evil and the good but what exactly does the author mean by “exercising”? What is the next step once a person has discerned?

  9. Don Warrington
    September 12, 2008

    Kindra: A couple of years ago, I went to my first “No Man Left Behind” conference put on by Man in the Mirror. I got a five minute chance to overview what we at DOLM were doing for men’s ministry. One of those things was our LifeBuilders Essentials course. After I was done, one of the participants remarked to me that they were glad to see this because, among other things, men needed to be intellectually challenged in the church.

    I think that’s true for just about everybody. Problem is, Evangelical churches hate to do that, as you note. It’s not an accident that five Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholic, and one of the reasons I joined the RCC is because it did intellectually challenge me. But our churches have a primal fear of the question “why?” And I think that stands in the way of spiritual maturity, although there are many who would disagree.

    I have to admit it: I was amused at your remark that the church spends too much time on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. I wrote an entire book centred around the subject, right around the time I went to that MITM conference!

  10. darrellbjr
    September 19, 2008


    As I have watched the posts for this topic I thought I probably didn’t have anything to contribute. But, after praying with our new youth pastors and refining our shared vision, the Lord took me to Matthew 23:37-39.

    Jerusalem who killed the prophets and stoned the apostles would be left desolate because they would not allow their children to be gathered to Christ. The cure would be getting to the place of blessing those/Him who come/comes in the name of the Lord.

    The problem was not the way they treated the prophets and the apostles, but was the fact that they refused to allow their children to be gathered to Christ!

    If 82% of all conversions are currently happening in the lives of those under 13 years of age, and the churches are not retaining those between 13 and 30, then we see the desolation already setting in.

    So, to me, the cure is raising a generation to identify the presence of the Lord and then releasing them to be intimately drawn nearer to Christ without distracting them with a lot of good things that might not be God things.

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2008 by in crisis, intergenerational, issues, sustainability, trends and tagged , , , , , , .
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