In reaction to the challenges posed by a 21stcentury postmodern cultural context, religious communities are grappling with how to provide effective spiritual education for youth. The goal of these activities is to provide a firm foundation of childhood spiritual experience so that youth may subsequently take their place as committed adult members of the religious community.
Some methods employed are traditional in nature, while others evidence a willingness to experiment. These include cultivating knowledge and awareness of foundational sacred texts, modeling the faith for youth to observe it in action, encouraging youth to practice spiritual disciplines, including youth in religious ceremonies and services, and involving youth in mission and other cross-cultural experiences.
CULTIVATION OF AWARENESS OF FOUNDATIONAL SACRED TEXTS
Foundational sacred texts serve to ground youth in the spiritual beliefs, traditions, and ethical norms of the religious community. In Judaism, the tradition of passing on knowledge of God's law is as ancient as the religion itself (see Deuteronomy 6). Since the 19th century, Protestant Christianity has emphasized the importance of youthful study of the Bible through the now ubiquitous Sunday school program. Islam stresses the need for children to learn both the Qu'ran and Hadith. Beginning in 1988, the Gita Society embarked on an ambitious campaign to produce ageappropriate children's materials on the teachings of Hinduism's foundational text, the Bhagavad Gita. Often, the teaching of a language accompanies the study of the sacred text. Examples of this practice include the study of Hebrew by Jewish children, Sanskrit by Hindu children, and Arabic by Muslim students.
ADULTS MODELING SPIRITUALITY FOR YOUTH
The interaction between youth and adults is a key component to spiritual development. In ancient Confucian philosophy, the subordination of youth to their elders exemplified this connection. Similarly, in contemporary practice of spiritual formation children and youth begins with the adults in their lives taking responsibility for living what they teach. Accordingly, adult leaders are expected to practice the religion's spiritual disciplines and model faithfulness to the precepts and values of their religious community.
For example, in the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project coordinated by the San Francisco Seminary, adult leaders of local church youth ministries form a small supportive community dedicated to cultivating a contemplative life. Each member is asked to practice disciplines of lectio divina (a form of spiritual reading of Scripture) or silent contemplative prayer for at least 10 minutes a day, enter into a spiritual direction relationship in order to promote accountability, and engage in a monthly reflection exercise with other leaders to discover how God is moving in and through their ministry with youth. The leaders' lives communicate spirituality by example instead of by mere assertion.
This spirituality based model of youth education is notable for two features-a lack of dependence on a single paid professional youth pastor and the intentional inclusion of youth into the faith community's journey. Layperson teams that are accountable to pastoral staff often serve as their spiritual directors. The interaction between these lay leaders and children symbolizes the acceptance, caring and love of youth by the larger adult faith community. Wisdom and nurture are meant to flow through intergenerational interaction. Instead of segregating youth, this model encourages youth to interact with other generations as equal partners.
ENCOURAGING YOUTH TO PRACTICE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Youth are yearning for direct spiritual encounters of the divine presence and authentic practices which will facilitate such experience. As a result, they are very open to learning about and experimenting with classical spiritual disciplines. In Taiwan, for example, Chinese Buddhists are emulating Christian Protestants by sponsoring youth religious camps. Children gain experience in Buddhist meditation, chanting, and singing, and also receive instruction in the Four Noble Truths. In the United States, the Hindu community has initiated a youth meeting program called Bal Gokulam, which features prayer recitation, readings from Hindu texts, and opportunities for socialization with other Hindu youth.