Working in the Youth Ministry environment, my job gives me a perspective into the choices of parents that is almost as clear as sneaking a peak at their diary… and I don’t always like what I see. Often, when asking how their children are (because they haven’t been seen in a while) pastors are given the following type of answer:
“well, my teen really hasn’t been able to connect. They just haven’t made any friends here and they think the time together is awkward and don’t enjoy it. I keep asking them if they want to come but they just can’t seem to fit in.”
It is surprising how many parents think that their teen’s feelings of uncomfortably or inability to remain interested is reason enough to give them the all-clear to jettison church (or at least involvement within church) all-together.
Discussing this topic the other day, I expressed my frustration with this type of back-boneless parent. To my surprise, everyone else seemed astonished at my feelings. I was quickly reminded that “the teens may become bitter at church or their parents if they are forced to stay active” and that “Parents can’t force their teens to do these things.”
Hogwash, they can’t.
Now before I get going, I’d like to point out that I am simply exploring the topic, and actually welcome any type of discussion contrary to my points. All the input I can get on this matter will better serve me in my future. I don’t pretend that my ideas on the issue are universally correct, nor do I think they are anything novel. I am sure there is a whole book on the issue out there somewhere and hope that someone points it out to me (and possibly send me as free copy). Also, I realize that, not having any children myself, my perspective may seem to be ignorantly assumed. But I am quite sure that, having just finished being a teen myself, I am equally qualified to speak on the issue. Indeed, I might be more qualified this way. Engage with me and we’ll both learn.
Here’s the deal from where I can see it. Many, many born again teens are allowed to withdraw from action within the church body after expressing frustration, uncomfortably, boredom, or disinterest to their parents. Their parents sometimes feel helpless to do anything about the situation: their teens just can’t be controlled. Some parents back-up their child’s decision: they just can’t connect; who can blame them.
Here’s my beef. Jesus didn’t leave room for a bum bride. The Holy Spirit made it so very clear to and through the Apostles that each and every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play and the requirement to play it. Further, Jesus didn’t seem to say that this activity was conditioned on the effectiveness and health of the local gathering of believers. I doubt Jesus cares if your church is the worst local assembly that ever existed, I bet He’d expect any believer there to step up and perform their role (which would probably include some fiery words of reproach in that case, followed by a expelling of spiritual siblings who refused to repent… which might put the church back on track… even if it consisted of just the one member!). My point is, God didn’t put the “effective, interesting and exciting” condition on a believer’s involvement. So I wonder why so many parents do?
I suspect the reason stems from one of two directions. First, it may be that parents do not understand the way Jesus wants us to be his Bride. Second, it may be that parents simply do not know how to be good parents.
I’ll go with number one first because, I actually hope, this is the real reason (if parents don’t know how to parent… we’re in trouble). In addition to all of the “not forsaking the assembling together-ness,” Christians are to contribute to the Body of Christ as if their own maturity depends on it (funny, it actually does.) Ephesians 4 climaxes with this thought about the whole body of believers “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Evidently God thinks every part is an important piece. Maybe we should listen.
Now I want to be clear: involved and participating means so much more than attends all the events. Do not think I mean to say that if a teen does not attend all the services at church, does not stay involved with the youth group, etc, that they are not living up to the Bible’s expectation. God wants so much more than that. God’s plan for church is that every believer is a participating member… supplying vital services and filling important needs. So any believer (not just teens) who nominally attends (walks in, doesn’t sleep, walks out) is actually failing. So I don’t think that you have to get your teen to attend youth group to get your job done. Attendance at Word delivering, service achieving, impact making, God praising, fellowship having functions is probably a very good sign… but not ultimate proof. Your teen can be functioning in the Body as God wants and not come to youth group (though I find that is the exception).
Reason number two that parents might allow their children to become uninvolved in church (for any variety of reasons) is that they don’t know how to parent. I’m sure that most parents today are obsessed with being their child’s friend. They don’t want the fight, they want their kids to like them, they hope they can be hip… and many other humorous similarities. The problem here is that it is not a parent’s job to do any of these things. It is a parents job to be a parent. To teach their child (teen) who otherwise would make foolish choices. It is the unfortunate truth that most parents become a jellyfish as soon as their child turns 13 and starts arguing back with (logical) force. Unsure what to do, many parents find it best to sit back and hope for the best. After all, you wouldn’t want them to become “bitter” would you? True. Your teen may hate you, hate church, hate God and hate the world, but it is your job to point them (with the force God gave you positionally) to the things which you know are best. It should be your highest priority to get them sitting under the teaching of the Word, fellowship of believers, and in the service of God’s cause (whether they want to, or not).
There are many things which can make this process much simpler. First of all, you as a parent should be doing the same things yourself. If your child (teen) knows that you take every chance you have to hear God’s Word, serve God’s people, and participate in the Body of Christ (and take the whole family with you) then your child (teen) will learn that this is an unquestionable value. For the most part, it is families who “choose” every week whether or not they will 1) go to church 2) volunteer to serve with such and such and 3)do things that I don’t feel like doing, that produce children who “rebel” and choose to stop doing any of them at all! Secondly, you could structure your family’s life. When you eat a meal, everyone eats (together), when you discuss a problem, everyone discusses with you (with the TV off) and so forth. This builds up a disciplined habit that silently teaches your children that “what our family does, we do together.”
I know, I don’t have any kids of my own. But I speak of these things as that rebellious child who was shaped by them. I hated so many of the things my parents made me do; especially in service to the church. In my early teen years, I have memories of fighting, screaming, and crying about what my parents would make me do in regards to church meetings, service, and involvement. They were awkward, uncomfortable, required work, required me to stop doing what I wanted, and forced me to do things I didn’t want to do. I hated my parents in those moments. But I am so eternally grateful that they had a backbone; that they didn’t care if I hated them. They knew that their job was to parent the childishness out of me- not enforce it by allowing my feelings to nullify my God required roles.
Some have said that my parents were “lucky.” That most kids would have rebelled even more, that most kids would have run away, gotten bitter, or never come back to the church. Its funny how we are such pansies in regards to spiritual matters. I never hear folks talking about how “we shouldn’t force our kids to go to school when they don’t want to… they might start hating education! They might refuse to read anymore!” The same parents who won’t force their believing child’s involvement in church, DO force their child to follow through with sports commitments, school attendance, homework completion, and so much more. What we have, are teens who are sinners and childish (all of us/them) and parents are either a) uninformed of the Biblical mandate for ministering or b) scared into striving for their child’s friendship instead of God-centered maturity.
I’m not going to lie. Most churches have environments/activities/roles that are awkward, lame, dull, uncomfortable, and even scary. I believe two things. One: that God has called believers to be ministers that work for the maturity of the group as a whole and that each part is equally important. Two: that the body of Christ is dynamic and diverse; if the local assembly of believers where you are serving is that bad that God is calling you to move with your family so that you CAN serve… then its ok to move!
One way of another… prayerfully make it happen. Your kids depend on you… they just don’t know it yet!
What are your thoughts?