Childish Faith v. Childlike Faith

Kara Powell | Feb 27, 2012

Everywhere I go, churches and youth ministries are asking good - and hard - questions about discipleship. That’s part of why I’m glad that Duffy Robbins has a new book entitled Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples.

In the midst of the both deep and practical insights that Duffy shares, one of my favorite parts of the book was this table contrasting “childish” and “childlike” faith.

Childish faith says, “Good Christians don’t have pain and disappointments”. Childlike faith realizes, “God uses our pain and disappointment to make us better Christians.”

Childish faith says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Childlike faith admits, “God can only begin to help those who admit their own helplessness.”

Childish faith believes, “God always answers prayer.” Childlike faith realizes, “Sometimes God answers with ‘No’ or ‘Wait’.”

Childish faith believes, “The closer we get to God, the more perfect we become.” Childlike faith understands, “The closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our own sinfulness.”

Childish faith thinks, “Good Christians are always strong.” Childlike faith grasps that “Our strength is found in admitting our weakness.”

I thought of Duffy’s table when I read a quote in his book from my Princeton friend, Kenda Creasy Dean:

What if the blase religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?

Maybe part of the reason our teenagers and our churches have childish faith is because we - their parents and leaders - have modeled and taught this faith to them. I want a childlike faith, and I think Jesus wants that for me. But so often my laziness, my sin, and my willingness to satisfy with Christian platitudes, keep me playing in the ministry and theological crib instead of on a journey of growth. I often tend to want to avoid suffering, seek a comfy life, and miss out on the depth of intimacy I could have through prayer.

Maybe you can relate.

If the teenagers we care about show childish faith, maybe before we try to lecture, teach or have conversations with them, we should look in the mirror.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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