“Personal, Relational, and Extraordinary”: Learning from the Spiritual Language of Gen Z


This paper explores the crucial role of language in understanding the spiritual lives of young people today, commonly known as “Gen Z.” Though significant disaffiliation rates among young people often cause alarm within faith communities, this paper argues that listening carefully to the language of young people provides a more nuanced, in-depth picture that statistics on religious affiliation do not capture, which is critical in developing effective pastoral care for young adults. This paper opens with a sociocultural approach to Gen Z, drawing upon generational analysis and sociological data to demonstrate how different types of research yield varied results in their findings on young people’s spiritual lives. The exploration section is followed by a Christian perspective on finding faith in unexpected voices through exegesis of Matthew 15:21-28. This portion of the paper argues that, when we encounter people whose worldview differs from our own, language is integral to challenging and transforming our viewpoint. As a response to this matter of taking young people’s spiritual language seriously, the final part of this paper proposes a listening session for teens and their families in the context of a high school Confirmation program. Ultimately, the goal of this paper is to emphasize the rich interior lives that are already active in young people, even if on paper they may describe themselves as unaffiliated, and that the best way to become part of those ongoing spiritual journeys is through a pastoral ministry that is grounded in accompaniment and listening

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This paper was published in Loyola Marymount University.

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