How often have you heard this assessment of a small congregation: “But there’s nothing here for my children!” I beg to differ on that, and so does Kenda Creasy Dean, Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Dean uses the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD) to describe the lukewarm form of Christianity that is rampant in our culture. To put it simply, MTD is a non-demanding, non-transformational form of religion that is not about being a growing disciple of Jesus. Rather, MTD says that the goal of life is to be happy and successful, feel good about oneself, be a good person, and do good to others. However, you can do that without Jesus. Dean didn’t invent this term, but she speaks extensively about it in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of American Teenagers is Telling the Church.
On her own blog Dean responds to a post by UMC pastor John Meunier who asks, “Will slow, patient, and steady preaching, teaching, and invitations to true discipleship wean people away from MTD? Or does it require shock therapy — the kind that shakes congregations and shatters them?”
Dean responds: “After spending nearly a decade of my life immersed in the research that led to the term “moralistic therapeutic deism,” I still don’t know how to fix it short of divine intervention (which may be what God is going for). In answer to John’s question, I’m inclined to say: “Both.”
“But then I remember where I go, week after week, to draw life: a 37-member congregation, not counting the young adults who stop by for a month, or a year (or three or four) while they’re students. You might call Kingston United Methodist Church a “raw” church, unprocessed and unpredictable. The pastor is a PhD student who will be moving on in June. The financials are, frankly, unsustainable. The century-old building has three creaky, leaky rooms and a really scary basement.
“It’s the best church I’ve ever been part of.”
Read on for a portrait of the Dean family’s experience of life in a small church that does call people of all ages to faith in Jesus Christ and active discipleship.
- Kenda Creasy Dean responds (johnmeunier.wordpress.com)