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One Part Science, One Part Youth Ministry

Astute shoppers at our online store have noticed a free resource we’re offering, A Cosmic Adventure Through Science & Faith.

And maybe you’ve wondered, “What’s up with that?

So.. about that.

This curriculum is one of the outcomes of a multi-year, multi-phased grant from the John Templeton Foundation that studied the relationship (or lack thereof) between the sciences and adolescent faith development in youth ministries across the United States.

Here at the Cartel we’ve had a few touch points with the Science for Youth Ministry project though we weren’t technically part of it. (It was lead by Andrew Root, Tony Jones, and Luther Seminary) We hosted some focus groups of teenagers and youth workers in San Diego in the initial stages of their research and most recently I attended their capstone project, a 2-day conference in Minneapolis.

Takeaways

At the conference I had the opportunity to take a bit of a deep dive into a world I found highly interesting but sadly foreign to me. Like many in youth ministry, my scientific explorations ended in high school. My last serious class on the physical sciences came as a high school junior in AP Physics. Sure, my undergrad had a couple general science requirements, but they were more interested in fostering skepticism in science than actual classes that took science seriously. (Both were taught by science teachers from a Christian high school.) So I found it refreshing to hear from actual scientists at the conference who were… to steal a theological phrase… fully Christian, and fully scientists. 

With that said, here’s my key takeaways:

  1. Where my evangelicals at? This was, without a doubt, a decidedly progressive crowd. And sadly so. Paul Douglas, something of a legend in Minneapolis circles, opened up the event with his plenary talk about climate change… as someone who is both a fairly conservative Christian and a Republican. (gasp!) As a person who has traditionally been identified by the aforementioned monikers I was truly encouraged to hear from a seemingly extinct intellectually honest, open, and dare-I-say, humble voice. It was a talk that I needed to hear but it was also a talk that left me wishing more of my fellow evangelical youth workers had taken the time to hear it.
  2. We’re in a race for relevance. As the parent of two high schoolers I am fully aware that for my children’s entire academic career they’ve been told that the future is in STEM. (Sorry humanities, you’re not cool right now.) This was fleshed out in Jen Bradbury’s excellent breakout on helping Christian teenagers explore vocations in the sciences by getting to know scientists in the church as part of a healthy youth ministry. Think about it like this: If teachers are telling the students in your ministry that their best future lies in STEM, everything is pointing in that direction, and you are implicitly or explicitly teaching them that the highlight of the Christian life is full-time church/parachurch ministry… it’s no wonder so many check out, seeing faith in Jesus as incongruent with their future. We can do better, we have to do better, and Jen’s seminar was a breath of fresh air. (Seriously, the best youth ministry seminar I’ve been to in a long, long time.)
  3. Spoiler alert: There a lots of Christian professors of the sciences at public universities. In her plenary talk, Janet Ray shared how she’d come to realize that as a biology professor she, herself a Christian, was the biology professor so much of Christian culture was warning her freshmen biology students about. That’s funny and not funny at the same time, right? In my own little world I live near a major university and have gotten to know professors, some of whom are Christian while others are not, and not one of them is particularly antagonistic about the faith of their students one way or the other. As my kids have wound their way from kindergarten through high school I’ve found the same thing to be true… lots of people in education at every level are Christians who consider their career their Christian vocation… but often feel misunderstood, alienated, or even approached negatively by Christian parents.

What’s the point, McLane?

Here’s what I’m asking you to do. Spend some time this summer thinking about the outcomes of your ministry. Do you want students walking away as science skeptics? Do you want them thinking that if they are interested in a career in the sciences that this will be a test of their faith… maybe they can’t be a Christian at all?

Of course you don’t!

So spend some time this summer thinking about ways you can elevate in your ministry the legitimate pursuit of science as an act of worship, STEM as a reasonable and good vocation for your students, and ways you can functionally prepare your future graduates to approach their college professors with curiosity instead of antagonism.

Oh, and their free video curriculum offered through our store, that might be a pretty good place to start.

One thought on “One Part Science, One Part Youth Ministry

  1. Adam,
    I just finished out our school year weekly program with this curriculum. Several teens said ‘this is exactly my story’ of feeling like they must choose between natural science and faith. I highly recommend these short videos to get conversations started for both teens and adults. This is the first curriculum I’ve seen that is respectful to science and faith. Really appreciate the work done. Grateful for all you do @ Youth Cartel.
    -Sylvia Sullard
    Friday Harbor, WA

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