Relationships with caregivers is the foundation for moral/spiritual development. The frequency of positive caregiving influences the brain’s assessment of how many neural pathways should be preserved for positive emotions in later life The ratio of positive to negative interactions influences the Internal Working Model (IWM) of relationships. IWM is a set of partially conscious, partially unconscious expectations for how something works IWM is directly related to Attachment theory
Limited Working Memory Can only hold one or two things in their mind at once Focus on one aspect of the story that captures their attention Have trouble ordering several events in a story Have trouble with cause and effect Want to organize the world into rigid, mutually exclusive categories Difficulty understanding others’ intentions or perspectives Although children begin to ascribe intentions to people’s actions around the ages of 4/5, ascribing intentions/emotions to God (who is abstract) doesn’t begin until around age 7.
Advances in logical reasoning within the boundary of concrete reality allow an elementary student to construct a STORY-BASED THEOLOGY based on literal, concrete, mechanistic cause and effect.
Good and evil are balanced by a God who is bound by natural law of justice, impartiality, and reciprocity The strict preschool definition of good and evil has become more nuanced. People can do both good and bad, God keeps track and rewards/punishes accordingly. The child trusts God to be completely fair, but still not someone the child feels close to.
The kid who can memorize all of the arguments against drunk driving gets into a car with a drunk driver or the teen who understands all the dangers of drugs is smoking marijuana a year later. During the tween years, myelination is particularly occurring in the frontal lobe of the brain - the section of the brain that begins just behind the forehead. Myelination of the frontal lobe aids tweens&apos; cognitive development. In particular, it enables them to have better &quot;executive functioning,&quot; which includes planning, reasoning and decision making skills. It also helps tweens inhibit their impulses more efficiently and to demonstrate greater self-discipline.
Moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) is a term that was first introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. The term is used to describe what they consider to be the common religious beliefs among American (wikipedia)
Group 1--Retains the faith of early adolescence, fully trusting church authorities to provide “whole package” of beliefs. Typically: Close to parents Have limited education Little exposure to other belief systems Group 2--Life experiences prompt critical reflection on what religious community has taught. Doubts rise, mentors model faith that acknowledges that truth is NOT simple, modeling faith. Youth develop faith system based largely on what has been taught with some self-reasoned components Group 3 Life experiences prompt critical reflection on what religious community has taught. Doubts arise, mentors FAIL to acknowledge the uncertainty of faith. Teens view mentor as naïve, outgrow them, and leave the faith.
Faith Formation for Youth at Oakdale Park Church
Faith Formation in
I Corinthians 13:11
• When I was a child, I spoke, thought, and reasoned in childlike ways as we all
do. But when I became a man, I left my childish ways behind.
• Listen, Israel! The Eternal is our True God—He alone. You should love Him,
your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength.
Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to
your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and
when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk
about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning.
Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a
reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time, such as on the
doorpost where you cross the threshold or on the city gate. (The Voice)
Why Faith Formation?
• Barna Study 2011
59% of all teens over the age of 15 leave the church, either permanently or
for a significant period of time.
1) Churches seem overprotective
2) Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
3) Churches come across as antagonistic to science
4) They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
5) Young Christians’ church experience related to sexuality are often simplistic &
6) The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
• Relationships with caregivers is the foundation for moral/spiritual
(Especially primary caregiver)
View of self as worthy or
Not worthy of love
View of God as able to love or
not love me
How Attachment Theory
What Does this Mean?
1) Faith is rooted in a sub-conscious openness or wariness toward God.
2) Attachment theory suggests that a person’s God concept is an extension
of his/her own identity.
•Babies need to experience fellow-humans as loving, themselves as lovable
or they will likely ALWAYS have difficulty experiencing God as loving or
able to extend grace.
Young children’s understanding of faith is in keeping with their
general cognitive capacity.
• Limited Working Memory
• Difficulty understanding others’ intentions or perspectives
• Unfettered imagination and intense emotions
What Does this Mean?
•Focus on one or two SIMPLE themes
•Review the order of a Bible story SEVERAL times.
•EXPLICITLY state causes and effects
•GENTLY encourage children to acknowledge sin.
•AVOID scare tactics (an unfettered imagination may amplify statements)
• An Elementary student is able to construct a STORY-BASED
THEOLOGY based on literal, concrete, mechanistic cause and effect.
• At this stage, a child can:
• easily grasp a story in correct sequence
• extract the main point
• apply it to their lives
• generate their own stories to explain theological mysteries
HOWEVER, although children can grasp a discrete Bible story, they have a difficult
time understanding how all the Bible stories work together.
• Advances in the understanding of how human relationships
work help children to make sense of why God does what he does
• Qualities that define good human relationships (fairness and
reciprocity) are not just described to God, but become the reason for
What Does this Mean?
•Particularly distressed/reluctant to acknowledge that bad things happen
to good people
•Susceptible to a works-righteousness theology
•Provide interpersonally complex Bible stories in which good people do
bad things and vice-versa
•Provide intentionally GRACE-FOCUSED instruction.
Early Adolescence (middle School)
The Paradoxical Adolescent Brain (PAB):
This is the idea that the kid who can memorize all the arguments against
drunk driving gets into a car with a drunk driver OR the kid who
understands the dangers of drugs is smoking marijuana a year later.
This is explained by puberty-related developments in the brain
•Myelination in the academic areas of the brain
•Deconstruction/reconstruction of the frontal lobe (executive functioning)
Healthy Faith in Early Adolescence
Will generally include:
•Intense, emotional relationship with God
•Ability to tell the “meta-story” of their
•Ability to articulate basic doctrines of
•Ability to articulate what God requires of
Christians personally and corporately
•Complete trust and uncritical acceptance
of traditions “whole package”
•Values/Beliefs are deeply felt rather than
•Difficulty understanding how one’s
upbringing influences what one believes
Is Typically manifest as:
•Already not trusting the religious
community (because it has failed them)
•Being unable to articulate their
– Often the result of never being
required to formally articulate the
tenets of the faith
Moral Therapeutic Deism
This term is used to desCribe the common religious beliefs among American Teens
Five Tenets of MTD:
1) God exists, created, and watches
over the world.
2) God wants people to be good,
fair, and nice.
3) The goal of life is happiness and
4) God is (mostly) for times of need.
5) Good people go to heaven.
Missing from what teens
believed were references to:
Being a sinner
Working for Social Justice
What does This Mean?
• Teens are still inclined to embrace EVERYTHING their mentors tell
• Youth have an EMOTIONAL relationship with God that is primarily
• Teens begin to have the ability to wrestle with complicated doctrine.
• Ask young teens to ARTICULATE doctrine
• NOT skimp on training in doctrine/catechism
Middle & Late Adolescence
(high school & college years)
Group 1 Group 3GROUP 2
Three different developmental Trajectories
• Life experiences prompt
critical reflection on what
the religious community
• Doubts arise, mentors
FAIL to acknowledge the
uncertainty of faith.
Teens then view mentor as
naïve, outgrown them and
leave the faith.
Retains the faith of early
adolescence, fully trusting
church authorities to provide
the “whole package” of beliefs.
• close to parents
• have limited education
• little exposure to other
Life experiences prompt
critical reflection on what
religious community has
Doubts arise, mentors model
faith that acknowledges that
truth is NOT simple.
Youth develop faith system
based largely on what has
been taught with some self-
A healthy faith in late adolescence should include:
•A more reasoned, less emotion dependent faith
•An awareness of how one’s upbringing has shaped one’s faith
•An understanding of religious beliefs as faith, not indisputable facts
•Appropriate balance between uncritical acceptance and one’s own critical
•Manifest evidence of one’s belief in one’s behavior
•Explicit/overt commitment to religious community
High School & Beyond: What Does
• Healthy teens begin to critically evaluate what they’ve been taught (in all
domains) in approximately 9th
• Pro-actively encourage youth with an inclination towards faith to
ENGAGE in a public commitment rite during adolescence.
• Mentors NEED to respond to critical reflection by acknowledging the
uncertainty of faith and avoiding the temptation to give simplistic
Take-Aways for Parents
• Be ENCOURAGED
• Be FAITHFUL
• Be INTENTIONAL
• Be SUPPORTIVE
• Be a FRIEND
Take-Aways for the Church
• Be ENCOURAGERS
• Be MENTORS
• Be PRAYERS
• In what ways are you intentional with your children? Would you share that with us?
• What has been a discouraging part of this faith journey with your child?
• What excites you about the faith that you have seen in them?