Believing in Youth Ministry

I first fell in love with CUAA and all of its associated splendor when foot met asphalt on a summer visit to the campus. My parents are unbelievers to this day. How could I know I’m meant to go to a school when all I’ve seen is its parking lot? In that moment, I didn’t fully understand the power of what I was about to get into.

After my first few weeks at CUAA, I soon realized Bob Richards was part of the whole CUAA package. A man who manages to serve as both a Gandalf look-alike—minus the beard—and CUAA’s campus chaplain, Bob leads the campus in worship daily and goes out of his way to have one-on-one interactions with students whenever he can. By the end of my freshman year—his first year as well—it had become common to hear people say “Oh Bob…” with an amused smile on their face around campus. He was CUAA’s own loveable wizard, sharing the love and compassion of Christ one campus member at a time.

Bob first found me when I joined the ranks of New Crew, another best kept secret of CUAA. Our annual middle school and high school youth rallies—dubbed “Tool Time” events—are what some college students wait for all year, complete with student speakers, a Bible-based annual theme, student small group leaders, and student praise and worship band. At least 50 students volunteer to fill all of these positions.

I ended up on the student New Crew board, a group who meets weekly to put together food, housing, rally schedules, small groups, bible studies, team building activities…and so much more. Bob signed on as our faculty representative, staying past 9:00pm most nights to sit through the sometimes grueling meetings with us. Throughout the meetings, Bob would tap his pencil constantly on the table, fidget like an excited teen boy, and alternate between sincerely listening and sincerely putting his two cents in. Later in my college career, I would work as Bob’s office assistant, and through my years of interaction with him, I never tired of his 18-year-old soul trapped in an older man’s body.

Bob’s unwavering commitment to New Crew and spiritual life at CUAA as a whole taught me a vital lesson of faith as well. He would tell you even now that it is his involvement in youth ministry that keeps him young, but I know the truth is far deeper. A moment of purposeful ministry is never lost on Bob, even if it means taking 25 minutes to grab a piece of paper from the copy machine five minutes down the hall. Bob reminds me of 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18, where Paul reminds us to not lose heart in our faith: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” May we all be inspired to commit to ministry as much as Bob and Paul challenge us.

I certainly didn’t know the depth of what I was doing when I chose CUAA that summer day years ago, but people like Bob remind me today that God certainly knew what He was doing.

Education and Religious Beliefs


Witness, Mercy, Life TogetherThe Aug. 4 USA Today contains the results of an interesting survey of 1,800 American adults conducted by sociology professor Philip Schwadel of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The survey studied the impact of the amount of education people receive upon religious views they hold. The old adage was “the more educated a person is, the less religious they are likely to be.”

This survey discredits the old adage. In fact, the survey concluded that “For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade, Americans are:

•15% more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.

•14% more likely to say they believe in a “higher power” than in a personal God. “More than 90% believe in some sort of divinity,” Schwadel says.

•13% more likely to switch to a mainline Protestant denomination that is ‘less strict, less likely to impose rules of behavior on your daily life’ than their childhood religion.

•13% less likely to say the Bible is the ‘actual word of God.’ The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the ‘inspired word’ of God, Schwadel says.”

So, we might conclude that education does not tend to drive Americans away from religious convictions and practice, just toward more liberal religious convictions and practice.

What does this mean for a conservative, confessional church body such as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod? Several thoughts come to mind:

1.       The importance and necessity of substantive catechesis at all levels within our congregations. Many teens and adults have a hunger for a more in-depth study of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. In addition to equipping them for discussions with peers, substantive study such as this also demonstrates the intellectual integrity of biblically conservative, confessional theology.

2.       The blessing of our ten Concordia University System schools that demonstrate on a daily basis that higher education and the Christian faith are wonderfully compatible.

3.       The need for added emphasis upon “living the Christian life in relation to the Word of God.”

4.       The need to reiterate the “ministerial” use of reason as opposed to the “magisterial” use of reason in the Christian faith.

What are your thoughts? Do your observations of educated Americans confirm the survey’s results? What would you suggest for a biblically conservative, confessional church such as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as it seeks to do the work of the Kingdom in the United States?