Friday, August 20, 2010

Christian Youth

Recent studies have shown that when out on their own for the first time, young Christian men and women are leaving the church in droves.  One recent study says that between 77 and 88 percent of Christians leave the church by their second year of college.  I do not know now scientific or accurate that research is, but it is not a good sign.  How can this be possible when most churches have such vibrant youth groups?  After much prayer and consideration, I believe the problem may actually be in the very existence of large and vibrant youth groups.  I know that may be a radical stance and I know it may not be popular.  I am not saying that any youth group is bad.  In fact it is a good place for young Christians to have fellowship with other young Christians.  The problem is we go too far with youth groups.  I am not talking about children's ministries, which I think are for the most part doing a tremendous job.  I am talking about junior high and high school aged youth.

I have been thinking and praying about this post for a little over a week.  During that time, a sister in the Lord of mine sent me an article about Christian youth not keeping with the faith as they become adults.  I was also reminded of the famous Barna survey from a few years ago that showed that the behavior of Christian youth was not all that much different from the rest.  For the past few days I have been looking through the Bible trying to find what His Word had to say about youth groups or even youth ministry.  It is what I did not find that amazes me.  I did not find anything about youth ministry. 

What does the Bible say about youth?  It all comes back to the parents.  The parents are supposed to teach the faith to their children.  Here are a few examples:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 NKJV
"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. ou shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."  Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NKJV
My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother;
For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck.  Proverbs 1:8-9 NKJV
My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you.
Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 7:1-3 NKJV
I know I have posted on parents and children before, but I can not emphasize it enough.  Parents, it is up to you to raise your children in the Lord.  It is not a youth pastor or youth group.  It can be a supplement, but it can not be a replacement.  It is your God-given job.

And that is where one problem lies.  A youth group too often becomes a replacement for parents in teaching the things of the Lord.  Parents, who may be lazy or who just may feel that they are not qualified, send their children up the youth group once a week or so and think their children are being raised in the Lord.  That is not God's model.  God's model is for you to have that role.  God would not have given you children and called you to raise them if He is not going to equip you to do it.  If your children are only taught in a group setting once a week or even if that is their primary Christian education, you are endangering their Spiritual life.  As I posted previously, it is up to you to live and teach that example.  Youth group should be icing on the cake, not the cake, and certainly not the cake and the icing.  Parents who rely too much on youth groups is the first problem.

Please keep that in mind throughout this post.  Everything will be in the context of parents and their proper role and how it contrasts many youth groups today. 

Another issue with youth groups is that they become the Christian experience for Christian youth.  What I mean is that the plethora of activities become what being a Christian means. Their faith becomes about car washes or retreats or concerts or weekly meetings and hanging with their church friends.   It becomes about activities and not about developing that intimate personal relationship with their Lord.  Once those activities end, they don't what to do with their faith.  And so they fall away. 

Acceptance and being part of a group is also important to the youth.  A youth group is a perfect place to find acceptance as Christians tend to be more welcoming than others.  They can find friends and great fellowship. The problem is that spending so much time in that group and doing so many activities with that group, they tend to associate that group as their family.  I know a church is a family, but people have their church family and their home family.  I am saying they start to associate the youth group as both.  Any why not?  You have a youth pastor who takes the role of parent and you have tons of brothers and sisters who are your friends.  You hang out together, help each other through problems, and go on outings and even trips together. Its easy to make the association.  Once they go off to college and out on their own they are suddenly without their family.  And so they fall away. 

There is also the issue of accountability.  Once they begin to associate the youth as their family, they become more comfortable speaking with their new brothers and sisters than they do their own parents.  The problem with that is that other youth are not the best person to advise your sons and daughters.  They do not have the Spiritual maturity or life experience and they may have their own motives or agenda.  Bad advice can have tragic consequences.  I know of several pregnancies that resulted in a youth group setting.  I know of one that actually occurred on a youth retreat involving a son of a youth pastor.   And just to dispel any chance of rumor or gossip, it was not at any church I was part of. 

And, finally, there is the issue of just how much a youth group can provide.  Youth groups of today are mostly designed for outreach.  They involve many youth pastors who dress as overgrown kids who like rock music and surfing or skate boarding in order to connect with the youth.  While maybe (and I emphasize maybe) valuable for outreach, it is horrible for discipleship.  The youth need to learn to be men and women of God and that involves adults being and acting like adults.  Despite what many believe, you can not be a child forever.   These groups also feature rock worship or Christian rock music or rap and all of it is meant to reach out to youth who may not know the Lord.  Yes many Christians listen to and are edified by this music, but I have doubts as to how it will help one grow in the Lord.  Seeing a lot of the behavior at many Christian rock concerts, I am not convinced it helps one grow.  Furthermore, they are mostly hanging out with people their own age and own level of spiritual maturity.  Children discipling children only begets more children.  It does not help one grow to maturity.  They need a role model, the need a mentor, they need their parents.  They need to learn to become men and women of God and grow into young Christian adults.  Paul said it best:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV
We need to teach our youth to become men and women of God.  Growing up is hard, but necessary, even in your Spiritual life.  As children reach junior high and especially high school they have the ability to fully understand the concept of right and wrong.  It is time to teach them right living. That can only be accomplished by those who spend the most time with them, that being their parents.  Coddling them as innocent children at that age is unrealistic and damaging.  It does not prepare them for the world they will soon face.  No they are not fully adults, but they are not little children either.  They are in that in-between period where parents need to lead them into being adults.  It is a crucial time in their lives. 

So do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?  Is there a chance that youth groups can be reformed?  I do not think that youth groups in their present form can be rehabilitated.  Originally, back around 150 years ago, youth groups began as a place for long-working factory workers could send their young children to learn.  It was designed for unchurched children with the hopes that teaching them to read by using the Bible would spark their interest for Jesus.  They have been through many changes throughout the years until the 1970's and 1980's and especially into the 1990's when they evolved into what we see today, which with its use of technology and more seeker-sensitive teaching and form, it more resembles the Emerging Church than a traditional evangelical church.  The point is that youth ministry as a whole has not been around for very long and an even shorter amount of time in its present form.  The church will survive without it, and I daresay will thrive even more.

I am not saying that there should be zero youth ministry, I am just saying that today's youth ministry is failing the youth.  The emphasis on outreach leads to a constant feeding of milk and with never moving them to the meat of Scripture and they enter the world as Spiritual babies and are consumed.  The proof is in the numbers.  What needs to happen is that they need to be scaled back and de-emphasized.  Youth pastors should send children to their parents when they are having problems or issues.  Meetings should never be held when adult meetings are being held because those youth should be with their parents and with other adults being discipled into being men and women of God themselves.  Activities and even meetings should be drastically scaled back to not compete with parents spending time with their children, especially on weekends when family outings would happen.  Finally, outreach should be separate.  It should not be directly tied to the youth ministry.  I think it would be a great way for youth who are called and who are mature enough to be part of such a ministry, but it should be separate and not part of the whole group. 

None of this is possible if parents do not take on their God-given role.  You need to play your part and be diligent in making sure you are the primary source of your child's Spiritual nourishment.  You need to develop that relationship and be vigilant in what influences you allow in your child's life.  I mean even vigilant enough to remove your child from youth ministry if necessary.  If our young men and women of God are falling away so fast, the fault comes back on us and how we have trained them up.  That brings me back to my original point.  Parents, you are called to train up your child.  That is a great responsibility but done in God's way, it is an even greater blessing. 
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

1 comment:

  1. I too have many concerns about youth groups, and you do a very good job of articulating them. I've been enjoying your blog. Preach on, brother!