In 2012, Thomas E. Bergler made a splash with his book (and much-discussed CT cover story) The Juvenilization of American Christianity, arguing that well-intentioned efforts to reach young people had contributed to a crisis of spiritual immaturity. Now, in From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity (Eerdmans), he defends his critique of youth ministry and proposes a new way forward. Leadership Journal managing editor Drew Dyck spoke with Bergler, professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University, about guiding the entire church—from the youngest to the oldest members—into the fullness of Christ.
It’s true that youth ministries are often light on substance. But don’t they do a great job of reaching kids?
Many people drawn to youth ministry have a passion for youth evangelism, which is wonderful. But I would like to see an equal passion and creativity for discipleship.
Just talking about evangelism and valuing it has resulted in effective outreach. The same is true with discipleship. The more we talk about it, think about it, and raise it up as good, the more we start doing it.
For years church leaders have scrutinized everything related to outreach, asking, “Is this contributing to or hindering evangelism? How will a newcomer perceive this?” We also need to ask, “If they keep coming back, what’s going to happen? How will they be transformed?”
You write that many Christians don’t desire spiritual maturity. How can we attain what we don’t even want?
We tend to think that maturity means perfection. But the New Testament clearly teaches that spiritual maturity is different from heavenly perfection. Spiritual maturity ...1