Partnering with Parents for Teenage Discipleship

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:

  1. Parental Influence & Other Influences on Your Teen
  2. Not a Kid, Not Yet an Adult (Adolescent Development)
  3. 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.

You Just Don’t Get Me, Do You?

Have you ever heard that from a teenager?  If you’re a parent, I’m sure you have!  I think we can all remember saying that to mom or dad at some point.  I can still think of some people who I could say that to!

A friend of mine on Facebook posted the chart below today and it got me thinking about how important it is to really understand each other.  For example: It took me a year (ask my wife, I’m a slow learner) to realize when my Senior Pastor says, “Mike, staff meeting in five minutes” what he really means is, “Mike, I’m ready for staff meeting now, but I don’t want to be rude and demand your presence immediately.”  While I’m still usually the straggler of the three of us, I now realize that I should finish up what I’m doing and head in to his office as soon as I can wrap things up.

What are some of your sayings that seem to mean one thing while you really mean something else?  What are some things your son/daughter/friend says that seems to mean something different?

Understanding each other is hard work, but it is possible.

Parents – Are you taking studying your teenager to learn what they care about?
Teenagers – Are you studying your parents to figure out what makes them tick?

PS: Much to my wife’s delight, I think this chart means I should move to England immediately, because I pretty much fall in line with what the middle column.

Are You Coming to Camp Berea’s “Deep Freeze 2012”

You haven’t signed up for Camp Berea’s Deep Freeze 2012 yet?  What are you waiting for!

What: The best winter camp you’ll ever attend!  Jesus, Music, Food, Carpetball, Tubing Hill, Paintball (costs extra), Volleyball Tournament, Basketball Tournament, Board Games, and tons more.
Where: Camp Berea, Hebron New Hampshire
When: March 16-18, 2012.  Meet at EBC Friday at 5:00pm sharp (bus leaves the parking lot at 5:15 with or without you); Return to EBC around 3:30pm Sunday.
Cost: $130 total ($60 deposit due Sunday, Jan. 29th, remaining $70 due Sunday, March 4th).  Financial assistance is available upon request, please call Pastor Mike at the EBC Office for details.

The permission form below must be fully completed and turned in to Pastor Mike or another Youth Leader along with the remaining $70 payment on Sunday, March 4th.

Berea 2012 Student Forms(paintball form included)

What Should I Bring (and what should I leave home)?

Deep Freeze Invitation– Want to invite some friends to come?  Print these bad boys out and watch your friends just beg to come… ok, maybe not, but they have all the information they need to make be informed.

Got some questions that you can’t find the answers to?  Call or Email Pastor Mike in the EBC office.

As if you need more convincing that you should come (or send your teen), here’s the video Berea put together to promote last year’s Deep Freeze:

Communication is…

The last two weeks I’ve been at GCTS for a Doctor of Ministry program learning all about “Culture & Ministry.”  Walt Mueller, Duffy Robbins, & Adonis Vidu have been guiding our cohort into a deeper understanding of what culture is, how it works and changes, how Christians should relate to culture, and how to effectively and biblically communicate across cultures.  If you’re a youth worker and you want to be blessed and stretched, check out the GCTS D.Min. in Ministry to Emerging Generations (a new cohort starts in June!).

When was the last time you heard something that simultaneously made you think “Duh!” and “Wow, that’s brilliant!”  I’ve had a ton of those moments this week, let me share just one:

Duffy clarified that it’s only “Communication” when the intended message is what your audience actually comprehends.  Duh, right?  Brilliant… right!

How often have we left a sermon or youth group and asked, “What was the sermon/lesson about?” only to hear a very different summary than we would give?  Here are three cultural issues we need to work through in order for Communication to happen:

  1. Understand your own Culture – How are you a “product” of your own culture (ethnicity, education, geography, financial status, religion, family of origin, language, dress style, etc.).  If you don’t understand your own biases and preferences, you’ll tend to communicate as if everyone should be like you.
  2. Understand your Message – I mean REALLY understand your message.  What are you trying to say?  What does the Scripture actually say and mean (without jumping right into application, just understand what the passage actually says and means).  What do you want people to hear and understand and remember?
  3. Understand your Audience – Who are you speaking to?  What is their culture (all the same things listed above)?  What do they already believe about life, faith, eternity, etc.  How will they best hear and understand the Message you’re trying to communicate?

It’s not what you say… it’s what they hear.

When we do these three things, Communicate is more likely to happen.  Which of these comes most naturally to you?  Which of these is the most difficult for you?  I’d love to hear from you…

D.Min. Update & A Passion for Parent-Teen Discipleship

The following was written in as part of a letter to the Pastors and Deacons at EBC as an update on my Doctor of Ministry program before I leave for the second Residency next week.  I’m posting it here because I think my blog readers would recognize that many of these themes have been popping up in recent posts (and can anticipate similar themes being further developing in forthcoming posts).  

Dear Leaders of Emmanuel,

As I continue to prepare for my upcoming Doctor of Ministry residency at GCTS, I’m filled with a number of emotions.  I’m thankful and overwhelmed by my family’s sacrifice and support, making this opportunity even possible.  I’m anxious to finish remaining class work and to make sure I’m well prepared.  I’m excited to discuss what I’ve been learning and challenged by with my fellow students and program mentors.  I’m greatly blessed by how I have been stretched and challenged to continue growing in ministry.  Here is the description from the syllabus for this year’s residency:

The two-week residency will focus on the cultural context of ministry to the emerging generations including children, youth, and college students/young adults. Week one will focus on developing a Christian theology of culture, including examination of the definitions of culture and the functions of culture. Cross-cultural mission principle and theory, contextualization, and multicultural issues will be explored. Week two will focus on the role culture plays in shaping the worldviews, experiences and lives of the emerging generations. In addition you will learn principles of cultural exegesis and analysis. (The third residency will focus on ministry praxis.) 

As I study and read (I have at least read 22 books, totaling over 5000 pages this year, in addition to writing many papers), I am constantly wrestling through the impact my studies could have on my ministry at Emmanuel.  In addition to the required readings for class I have done research regarding the “Formative Influences” that shape and mold adolescents: Physical and hormonal changes, Postmodernism, the Role of Media, Peers, Family systems, and others.  Alongside my reading and studies I have provided three seminars for parents to attend as well as launching the Faith at Home Forum as a way to integrate what I’m learning into the ministry at EBC.  I have also done a fair amount of reading on the practice of Catechesis, which has largely been abandoned by Baptists and is considered a “Catholic” or “Presbyterian” thing to do.  I am more and more convinced that developing a biblical and contextual Catechesis program would disciple both parents and their families.

My “Project 1” paper is entitled “Foundations for Parent-Teen Discipleship: Helping Parents Understand the Formative Influences on their Teenager,” which focuses on laying a Biblical/Theological Foundation for my final thesis.  I am currently anticipating a final thesis which will seek to develop a strategy whereby churches can grow more obedient to their calling in discipling parents to disciple their children, particularly their teenagers. This thesis would integrate parental responsibility and the church’s duty in discipling the next generation.  This would be done through: first, understanding our biblical calling to disciple the next generation; second, understanding today’s adolescents; and third, by understanding what is most important for adolescents to be taught regarding the Gospel and how parents and churches can partner together to effectively hold out the Gospel to the next generation.

During the Christian Education hour (9:30-10:30am) on Sunday, January 29th I will be presenting an overview of what I’ve been studying and how I see that impacting Emmanuel Baptist Church’s ministry to children and teenagers.  I hope you can attend, I look forward to receiving your input on how to move forward with this vision for partnering with parents for the sake of discipling the next generation!

In Christ,
Pastor Mike