Christian Smith’s groundbreaking National Study on Youth and Religion surveyed 3,290 teens – kids exactly like the ones living in your homes and attending your youth groups – and found only 8 percent could truly be classified as “devoted” to Jesus. The majority of youth in the United States are at best fuzzy about God and at worst completely uninterested in a genuine life-transforming faith relationship with God’s Only Son. (Read his full interview on p14.)
Thankfully, the research also uncovered the common ingredients that help produce committed disciples – the “MORF” process, if you will. The list isn’t groundbreaking rocket science, only clear-eyed sociological statistical fact: parents, adults, prayer, Scripture, value, beliefs and experiences. We’ve adapted the list into a user-friendly version to aid you in nurturing teens.
• Parents, youth ministers and youth workers – Hands down, you are the most powerful engines for propelling teens toward lifelong devotion to Christ.
• Bible study – What appears to be a daunting task should become a daily activity for all who follow Jesus.
• Prayer – This simple, foundational connection with God often leaves people confused or embarrassed. How do I really pray?
• Christian community – The local church plays a huge role in spiritual growth, along with accountability groups, parachurch ministries… really any time focused Christians gather together.
• Influence – Our life and actions influence others whether we intentionally “lead” or not. Christian influence can include sharing faith by direct word and deed or merely through a positive life example.
• Essential Biblical Truths – The bedrock doctrines of the Christian life that all denominations across all ages hold dear. Far too many Christians have no grasp of basic Biblical doctrine, theology or history.
• Service – Whether inside the church or out in the community, across state lines or overseas, working up a sweat or sitting and listening, service puts hands and feet to the heart of God – spreading His love tangibly while molding our own souls.
Research shows that acting upon this list causes a Christian to MORF as expressed in “transformation” verses like:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
The MORF list transformed Paul. Before becoming a letter-writing church planter, Paul made it his life mission to kill Christians. That’s right. The Apostle to the Gentiles originally preferred his Christians dead. After the scales literally fell off his eyes (an especially poetic touch), Paul’s “MORF” experience involved three years of intense spiritual formation in Arabia before his formal introduction to Peter and the other Apostles (who were understandably reluctant to meet the reformed hit man). Paul reminds that even if Jesus personally knocks you out of the saddle onto your tookus, nobody arrives a fully formed Christ-follower. Everybody must MORF.
Paul replicated the process with his protégé Timothy. He actively discipled this passionate but naïve teen because enthusiasm and desire alone can’t magically bridge broad gaps in spiritual knowledge or actual missional experience. The teenagers within your sphere of influence are just like Timothy – young people with an unformed faith who need guidance and encouragement along the path to becoming devoted followers of Christ. Parents have 18 years – youth leaders get six tops – to preach the transformative ways of the Christian faith.
We want to help equip you for this task with a FREE magazine focused completely on spiritual formation.
You read that right. Free. Gratis. Absolutely no strings attached. This is our free gift to you.
Anyone in the world can sign up to read the magazine online at www.MORFmagazine.com. (You can even go there and give your friends, family and neighbors their own free subscriptions!) Every article will dive into an ingredient of spiritual growth through the power of story. These incredible tales of life-change will inspire, challenge and encourage you. Personal stories from people serving with their churches in the aftermath of devastating tornados (p48), or how Hollywood screenwriter Scott Reynolds relies on the faith foundation built while in youth group (p44), and how John and Stasi Eldredge protect their marriage (p18).
MORF Magazine will also have practical columns for your own personal refreshment – Bible studies (p54), guided prayers (p57), theology (p58) – because the best ministry comes out of the overflow from our personal relationship with God. (There’s also some funny stuff to remind us Jesus loved a gut-buster – we’ve all seen the picture of Him laughing. Probably a Zebedee zinger.)
Our genuine prayer is for every reader to leave MORF Magazine refreshed and excited about helping their teens transform into devoted Christ-followers.
One final note: NONE of the writers in MORF Magazine are infallible experts speaking down from on high. All are fellow seekers and workers in the field (who happen to have practical experience) on a missional journey alongside you as peers. We WANT your insight and input because we’re all working toward building the same eternal Kingdom and we’re all passionate about seeing teenagers MORF through a vibrant relationship with Almighty God. These magazine articles should kickstart conversations that will continue online. Tell us what you like or disagree with. Point us in the direction of powerful stories or neglected topics at www.MORFmagazine.com.
Together, we can discover how to better expand God’s kingdom and hopefully be able to echo Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
BRYAN BELKNAP joined Student Life as creative director after 15 years in Los Angeles selling scripts (that never got made) and authoring eight books (that did get published). He was GROUP magazine's media editor for nine years and recently served as director of small gatherings, children and youth at Ecclesia Hollywood. He loves his family, Johnny Cash and the Dallas Mavericks.