The National Study of Youth and Religion (conducted from 2002 to 2005) was the most ambitious study of American teenagers and religion ever conducted. It involved extensive interviews of more than 3,300 American teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. Among the many things the study discovered was this: a minority of American teenagers say religious faith is important and that it makes a difference in their lives. One in twelve (8%) can be described as “highly devoted.” Highly devoted young people are much more compassionate, significantly more likely to say they care about things like racial equality and justice, far less likely to be moral relativists, to lie, cheat, or do things “they hoped their parents would never find out about.”
How then, might today’s graduates grow more and more into people who are like these 8%? Researchers behind the National Study of Youth and Religion asked this very question. Specifically, they asked “What made it possible for some teens to be part of that 8%? What empowered these teens to have a faith that mattered, to be compassionate, justice oriented, and moral and ethical? What set them apart from the other 92% in the study?
Researchers found that there were four items that distinguished these teens. In her book “Almost Christian” Kenda Creasy Dean writes about them. They can be summarized in four words: creed, calling, community, and confidence. The teens that stood apart from others believed strongly in the creed of Scripture, were convicted that they had a calling and contribution to make in the world, relied on others and lived in community, and nurtured hope and confidence about the future.
Here, then, is my encouragement to today’s graduates:
Live by a creed worth dying for. Many today argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe. The Christian faith has historically argued that it matters greatly what a person believes. Many today suggest that deeds are far more important than creeds. The Christian faith, however, argues that both are vital—deeds flow from creeds. What you believe makes all the difference in the world. Therefore, embrace the creed of Scripture. Let God’s story be your story. Let Jesus’ narrative become your narrative. It is the only creed worth living by and dying for.
Embrace your God-given calling. You were made to make a difference in this world. There are things you can do that no one else can do. You have a contribution to make. You have a role to play. Discover that calling and give yourself passionately to it.
Live your life in community. Abandon any thought that says “I don’t need anyone,” or “I can do life by myself.” You were created to live in intimate relationship with others. Find a small group of people whom you trust and do life together.
Have confidence in tomorrow. Be the one person who always believes that the way things are now is not the way things are always going to be. Be a non-anxious presence in a world of worriers and pessimists. Trust that God can bring good out of any set of circumstances. Have faith that God’s in charge even in moments when it seems he’s not. Be the one person always filled with hope and optimism.