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Have Meaningful Engagements with Youth

How do we make meaning of our lives? Lancaster Theological Seminary professor Anabel C. Proffitt, who teaches youth ministry, argues that consumerism is a metastory, offering meaning and purpose for human life. Quoting Katherine Turpin, author of Branded: Adolescents Converting from Consumer Faith, Proffitt claims that consumer culture "offers the story that the key to a good life lies in acquiring enough money to obtain the goods that offer happiness, status, protection, and comfort." That message contravenes any effort to teach youth to critically evaluate consumerism on the basis of biblical values, because "what has to be transformed is not our understanding of consumer culture, but our faith in it" (Turpin, ital. original). Today, both religion and secularism have been overtaken by consumerism. That consumerism, Proffitt says, shows up in "a model of commodifying youth as desirable products for congregations to attract in order to show them off to prove their 'vitality'." Commodification is rampant, she writes, and is not limited to youth. In an interpretive review of literature archived on Resourcing American Christianity, a website that helps Christian community leaders better understand the trends and trajectories of U.S. Christianity, Proffitt follows the thesis through several youth researchers and scholars, and offers perspective from other scholars on how to effectively counteract the consumerist mindset with alternatives that engage youth at the meaning-making level. The challenge, she says, quoting Peter Phan, "lies in devising ways, different in every case, to turn the personal crisis of an individual young man or woman experiencing dehumanization in the American marketplace into a 'teaching moment' for the rediscovery of religion as an alternative conception of self and society to the one the market imposes." The article explores how that kind of engagement can take place. For more on teenage spirituality, read our feature article "Teenage Religiosity, Widely Practiced, Poorly Understood." Also see, "Take Action: Include Children in Your Worship Service," and "Best Resources on Youth and Youth Programming for Congregations."

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