Monday, June 27, 2016

The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

Smith, C., & Denton, M. (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

It is becoming apparent that our students, even in a Christian school, often struggle with what we as parents and educators believe is important for the Christian lifestyle. They often seem to miss the easy stuff, and it is really not surprising considering the messages that we hear from culture. Soul Searching is a book that seems to have nailed down the importance for parents (I am included) to get the message right that we are attempting to deliver to our children.

When listening to religious pundits and even scholars in our own Southern Baptist tradition, our American youth are on the precipice that seemingly is leading to a tumultuous fall into heartache and pain. Is this view warranted? Have our youth fallen into a miry trap that has a future of gloom promised? Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton delve into a comprehensive, sociological study of youth and their views on religion and how it might relate to future outcomes in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Smith and Denton attempt to answer questions about American youth in regards to their character, the extent of their spiritual seeking, and more specifically how religion affects adolescent moral reasoning and risk behaviors for the future. I suggest this book to you as we continue to try and raise decidely Christian youth who are able to engage with culture in a positive way.

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. Co-author Melinda Lundquist Denton researches the intersection of religion and family life in the United States, with a current focus on the religious lives of adolescents. Dr. Denton’s primary work is with the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal mixed-method study of youth and young adults in the United States based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Notre Dame University.

Smith develops a unique and engaging blend of technical analysis of data with personal anecdotal support for clear imagery of American youth. This study included a national representative sample including teens from 45 states. The research for this book came out of the National Study of Youth and Religion from July 2002 to March 2003. focusing on teenagers, age 13-17. In addition, a parent in each household was interviewed. In the spring and summer of 2003, 267 in-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted.  The authors believe that this is the “largest, most comprehensive and detailed study of American teenage religion and spirituality conducted to date.” By the author’s own admissions, the findings in the survey provided important and fairly comprehensive starting point for deeper analysis.

Data included surveying individuals in the immediate context to determine their viewpoint and posed similar questions posed to parents. In other words, parents and adults in congregations were surveyed on the same items to determine if there is a correlation in their perception of the same items. The goal of the study was to catch the big picture of the religious beliefs of teens at the national level. Most importantly, the generalizations from the data seemed to point out that there is a significant correlation between those that had a serious faith and better outcomes in life and to discover and theorize why this is so. There were many not so surprising findings in the study which included the following:
  • Most teens could not articulate their own belief.
  • Most teens had not had a serious adult who was interested in their beliefs.
  • Most teens are moralistic therapeutic deist (this is a belief that God does exist but He only wants them to be happy and satisfied in life). 
  • Most teens held a belief that was pluralistic (that a variety of religious views are acceptable).
  • A minority of teens have a real faith that includes a good understanding of their belief.
  • The one factor that seemed to glaringly rise up in their data was that the parents’ faith was the most significant factor in the faith of the teens and in later outcomes in life.

The authors were able to successfully tease out the value of the role for parents in the religious lives of teens. In most media outlets, the anecdotal evidence seems to portray teens as a lost individualized generation seemingly at odds with parents. Generally, positive relationships (particularly with parents) leads to a positive understanding of religious practices and better outcomes in life. The outcomes included grades, addictions, and future family structures. This study is a warning shot across the bow for churches, schools, and youth leaders today. The authors dug deeper into the evidence suggesting that greater religiosity is significantly associated with more positive adolescent life outcomes and seek to reflect theoretically why and how this is so.

The authors generalized that if there is indeed a significant number of American teens who are serious about their faith, there is also a much larger number who are unable to articulate their beliefs on religion and their faith. The authors believe that this faith could be characterized as bland or a mush faith. Although faith may be a language that they speak, it is a second language at best. They are simply not practicing their faith and unable to speak about it well.

As the head of a Christian school, any study that seeks to analyze how successful we are as a school at fulfilling our vision is useful. Christian schools often seek to help students develop their faith by helping them to know Christ and then to make Him known to the world. Although, there are a number of groups surveyed in the group that are not relevant to our context, there are several groups that seem to fit our school makeup. Many of the teens in this book have a similar faith disposition and the information that they share is insightful and potentially helpful in analyzing our own educational situation. 

As a school, we must stress the importance to you, our parents of the need for their involvement in the lives of their children. As a church, the study pointed out that religious traditions are being corroded from the inside of the church and not outside the church as it is the church that waters down its own beliefs. As a church, we seek to not be that church. The results of this book seem to point a hopeful picture for those parents that are actively engaged in their lives but conversely paints a bleak picture for those parents that are not unable to articulate their own faith as a model for their children.  I ask that you consider picking up this book this summer to help us all in the educational process of our children.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Number Your Days

In Proverbs 6:6-8, Scripture tells us, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” Here we are in the middle of June and school has been out for two weeks. One would think that school is a lifeless place during this time of year, but you might be surprised at the amount of hard work and activity that is running throughout our campus.

Coaches Pondo, Sanders, and Gaines have enjoyed daily four-hour workouts with hardworking students each day. Many of these same student-athletes walk from the football field and run directly to the gym where they have often been seen there eating lunch before they go into the gym for their second workout of the day in basketball with Coach Rhodes. Both the football and basketball workouts have been well attended each day.

There is an eagerness among coaches and players alike as Coach Rhodes has often started a countdown clock 90 minutes early to signal the start of practice and unbelievably there are already enough players at the gym waiting on practice to start. Many of these players had already completed individual workouts earlier in the morning before coming to the gym. These young men, though, had to wait for the young ladies to finish their morning workouts with Crystal Rhodes. While Mrs. Rhodes is working, Mr. Rhodes has been filling the morning conducting interviews for sports that will not start until four months in the future.

Similarly, in the building other staff are busily preparing for next year. Principal Rhonda Brown has been putting the finishing touches on a summer math remediation program, preparing professional development for new Readers and Writers Workshop and organizing an after school enrichment program (details are forthcoming) for next year. Greg Lineberger has been meeting with students and planning summer remediation and adjusting schedules for students. Adam Hamilton has been planning a full slate of Chapel services for next year based upon a partnership that we have established with Radical which is led by IMB President David Platt. Billy Hutchinson has been developing online courses in our new learning management system for teachers and students that will be ready before the first day of school. Laney Corbett has begun developing lessons to turn her classroom into a blended classroom with a face-to-face environment and online components. The list goes on with countless others who are at home or who are taking well-earned vacations before beginning a work of summer preparation.

Psalm 90:12 says “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Many people do not value each day and likewise do not fill it with the work that God has called them to do. I would not say that this is the case with the students, faculty and staff of Hickory Grove Christian School who have been busy preparing for next year. God calls us all to work heartily as unto the Lord. I encourage you to be about God's work each day this summer and realize that our days are numbered. Let us work hard and serve the Lord faithfully each day. Enjoy your summer!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

End of Year Letter form Mr. Quesinberry

Dear School Family,

Tonight, we will graduate sixty-five seniors from our graduating class. Twenty one of these students have spent their entire educational life here at Hickory Grove Christian School.We will open our doors that are designed to protect them from outside influences and yet allows them to grow into adults that will impact the world. These students will enter the likes of West Point, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill,and UNC Wilmington, Columbia International University, East Carolina, and Western Carolina. They will go to faraway places like Mississippi College, Baylor University,the University of Miami, Georgia Tech, and Towson State. They will begin careers as police officers, teachers, and many yet undecided fields and play sports like soccer, softball and basketball. They have come to Hickory Grove Christian School from Bosnia, China, Vietnam and numerous other far and distant lands and they will return to many of those places different than when they arrived.

It has been a good year--not a perfect year, but a good year. It has displayed moments full of joy and happiness and moments of tears. Some of our students have come to know the Lord, others have decided on careers, and others developed a deep affection for our Lord. But, through it all, God has walked with us. He has led us, disciplined us and grown us--all for His Glory. God's guidance is not ending with the end of school, but it just continues.

The end of school is a bittersweet moment in the lives of students, teachers, and all who are connected with the school. For some, they are leaving Hickory Grove and heading out to a world full of wonder and awe. It is a world that seeks to lure our students and reject our students at the same time. It has always been our desire to prepare our children, our students for a landscape that is remarkably different than the landscape that we left ourselves just a few years ago. And as a faculty, we are different, too.

It is my prayer that we will continually huddle under the umbrella of God as we teach, learn, graduate, and move on to our next destination. Lord, let our footsteps be strong and confident; let our speech be seasoned with compassion; let our focus be upon the goal of an eternal Kingdom that compels us to live with great passion for our Lord. I hope to see you again soon. Have a great summer!

In His Service,

Jimmie Quesinberry
Head of School