Parents, what’s your greatest desire for your teenager when he/she graduates from High School? Whenever I ask this question to Christian parents I encounter two common answers: “That they attend a good college,” and “That they would have a strong faith in Jesus.”
The Tragedy & The Reality
How many teenagers who attend church/youth group keep their faith after high school? There have been a ton of studies that have tried to answer that question. The more conservative studies claim 64% will walk away from the Christian faith while the more extreme surveys say it’s an alarming 94%. I simply don’t have the time or space to write too much about those numbers, except to point out that even the more conservative numbers (roughly 2/3 of youth in our churches!) is a total tragedy! Imagine lining up the teenagers in our church and counting out “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3” and 2/3 of those students are being sent out of the church for good… if that doesn’t make you upset and disturbed then I don’t know what will.
As I have read more about this trend over the past few years, it’s become apparent that most teenagers are “lost” well before graduation. For many, they never intended to drift from faith… it just happened (hence, the image of “drifting” comes to mind, rather than an intentional running away). Students are often so busy with other demands on their time that they don’t prioritize their relationship with Christ and fail to pursue opportunities to serve with their spiritual gifts. Many of the students who do make it a priority to get involved in ministries in their churches are the ones who stay connected to a local church (and, more importantly, their faith continues to mature).
The Best Solution I See: PARENTS
Time and time again, parents are always listed as the number one influence on their children. Parents are indeed the primary influence in their teenager’s life… UNLESS the parents choose to distance themselves or push their son/daughter away. I know this could sound like I’m being harsh on parents, and in some ways I am, but in the midst of such pervasive family breakdown in our culture today, more and more teenagers have distant and conflict-laden relationships with their parents.
As the National Study on Youth and Religion concluded, “We get what we are.” If we take our kids to church on Sunday and then are over-scheduled and live as if our worth comes from work, school, and sports, then how are we teaching our kids to find their identity through Christ? If we talk about Grace on Sunday mornings but don’t show any during the week when we mess up or when our kids let us down, then aren’t we teaching them that Grace is a good idea but it doesn’t “work in the real world?” BUT, if Christian parents prayerfully and faithful set Christ at the center of their homes and guard their time (which means mom, dad, and children will all have to say “No” to some good and fun things they’ll want to do!), and talk together about Scripture and life and pray together – then the family will be a driving force the world could not compete against!
Discipleship is the Family’s Responsibility
In Deuteronomy 5 Moses gives Israel the Ten Commandments (technically, God gives Moses the Commandments to give to Israel). Immediately after Moses gives them the Law, we read this in Deuteronomy 6:4-7
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Moses doesn’t tell parents to send their kids to the priests to be taught about the LORD, he tells parents to teach their kids about God. One of the things I love about this passage is that it doesn’t simply say, “Have a family Bible Study!” I think that’s assumed, but parents are instructed to teach their children about God and what faithfulness to God looks like throughout the day. Parents are commanded to both formally and informally instruct their children in the Word of God.
It’s not my job as a Youth Pastor to replace their parents. I don’t want to… I can’t! I want to come alongside parents, and help them. I want to be another voice to repeat what’s already been taught at home, and maybe because of my formal education I can help teenagers think a little bit deeper about their faith than their parents are able.
Youth Ministry is the Church’s Ministry
In the years after Moses’ death, God raised up Joshua to lead Israel. Joshua famously declared, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Joshua 2:7-11 notes that while Joshua was faithful to the LORD and the other Elders were also faithful, a generation soon grew up who had never been taught about the LORD or what He had done for Israel.
Can you imagine being one of those Israelites who survived the “conquest” under Joshua’s leadership, overtaking city after city because God has so obviously given it to you… and then you don’t talk about it with your children and your grandchildren! Teenagers today need Elders (not formal Elders in the church, but men and women who are older and wiser and have really lived life) to invest in them and to share their wisdom. Teenagers should not be allowed to be completely age-segregated from other generations.
Churches and Parents need to work together.
My Thesis’ Big Picture: Forging a Partnership Between the Local Church and Parents for Parent-Teen Discipleship
Healthy and biblical Youth Ministry doesn’t seek to build teenage disciples… it seeks to build disciples! If the teens in my ministry are “devoted” during their teen years and then walk away from their faith for good once they graduate, then I’ve failed even if I built a large and vibrant ministry of teenagers. Youth Ministry MUST re-focus on partnering with parents for discipling teenager to life-long faith.
The church should also serve as a “surrogate family” for those teens whose parents are either not Christians or are neglecting their responsibility to lead in their spiritual duties at home. I can think of a number of students who have benefitted greatly from EBC and families who attend EBC as filling the spiritual void they experience at home.
Effective Communication is…
I wrote about this in a blog post HERE. Parents, we need to understand ourselves, our teenagers, and what it is we’re actually trying to communicate to them.
Example: Mom says, “Honey, your dungarees are too tight and I’m not comfortable with you showing your figure off so much to everyone, please go put on some different pants.” Teenager daughter thinks, “Wow, mom, ‘dungarees”… really? You’re so out of touch, no one calls them that. They’re called jeans, and I’m not changing. This is how everyone dresses today.”
In the above example, the mom “lost” because she called them “dungarees,” and the daughter took that as an example that her mom is so out of touch that her warning about immodesty wasn’t worth even considering. We need to communicate in such a way that teenagers will actually hear what we’re trying to say.
Project 1 (last year): Helping Parents Understand the Formative Influences on their Teenager
Last year’s “Project” for my D.Min. was focused on the “Understand Your Audience” part of Effective Communication. This took shape through three seminars that were designed for parents of teenagers:
- Parental Influence & Other Influences on Your Teen
- Not a Kid, Not Yet an Adult (Adolescent Development)
- Culture Shift: From Modern to Postmodern
This is also where the Faith at Home Forum developed. Be on the lookout for another round of the Faith at Home Forum coming this Spring!
Project 2 (this year’s emphasis): Partnering with Parents for Teenage Discipleship
This year I’m looking to partner with parents for a 5‐8 week season of intentional discipleship of their teenagers. I will provide them with a resource to use with their teenager(s) at least once each week. (Probably twice each week, which will be easier for families who are starting or re-starting family devotions than if the expectation was for 4+ times each week.)
I will also meet with the parents for at least two sessions prior to their use of the prepared resource, in order that I might walk them through the resource’s contents and work with them in order to discern the best discipleship method for them to implement with their teenager(s) at home.
I will also integrate the same material into either a small group I will lead with those teens whose families are participating in this partnership or integrate the material as a series that will be taught at weekly Youth Group meetings in order to reinforce what is being taught at home.
Parents of Teens: If you’re interested in participating in this partnership, please contact me ASAP.
What This Means For Emmanuel:
First, this means that ministry to children & youth is everyone’s responsibility.
Second, we become a “surrogate family” for those whose parents are either unbelievers or negligent in discipleship.
Third, each student should have five adults investing (formally or informally) in him/her. Use the Youth Page in your bulletin each week and pray for that student. Get to know two students’ names and ask them how you can be praying for them… then follow up with them. Sure, the student will probably say, “Uh, I have a test on Wednesday.” Well… pray for them to do well on their test, and then find him/her on Sunday and ask how the test went and assure him/her that you prayed. Eventually you’ll build up trust to get some “real” prayer requests!
Fourth, EBC will provide more opportunities for parents to be equipped and supported to lead in discipleship at home. It’s one thing to know you should disciple your kids, but it’s another thing to know how to do that.
I’d LOVE to hear from you! Please to HERE to leave me your feedback on this presentation.