I am not a parent. I don’t claim to be a parent. I don’t want to be a parent (at least not now).
And yet, you think I should parent your child.
The concept of youth ministry is relatively new in the Church. I would say that the concept of youth ministry has really only been around for the past 60 years…..the idea of targeting adolescences, specific to their needs as a generation. Because of this, however, the Church hasn’t really learned how to fully grasp youth ministry and what it means to the Church family and to the regular familial unit. As a result, many parents and youth ministries have embraced the misguided notion that youth ministry can somehow take the place of the family.
“Parents drop their kids off and expect me to fix them in 90 minutes. They don’t want to help me.”–Scott Martin
Youth Ministry is not (and shouldn’t be) a replacement for parenting.
Yes, Youth Ministry (when done well) can have the potential to impact the lives of its (involved) teenagers, but it should never be the only family unit your child sees. Unfortunately, this can be extremely difficult, especially due to the fact that the landscape of families, or even involved families, is as diverse and unconventional as it gets.
In our youth group we have: married parents, grandparents, single moms, involved parents, non-involved parents, helicopter parents, distant parents, parents who push their kids in the right direction, parents who push their kids in the wrong direction, committed parent, non-committed parents, and every thing in between…..
(And that’s just the parents that I know…..some parents I’ve never even met….)
So, as much as I love your kids and want to be a part of their lives……I believe that the goals of youth ministry are:
- To introduce (or re-emphasis) Youth to the Christian faith: To be a Christian means you must make a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction of where you were going. It’s a commitment of faith, a total commitment of your time, your talents, and your attitude…..not just when you feel like it or when it’s convenient. As a youth leader, I want to introduce youth to that faith–to introduce them to Christ’s radical, boundary-breaking way of peace and justice.
- To help Youth build community: The Christian faith is built on community. It is built on relationships. We, as youth leaders, want to give youth the opportunity to experiment with what a community looks/feels like in a SAFE, LOVING, and OPEN community. Unfortunately, building a community when commitment is not there is HARD!! (But, I’ve talked about that before)…..
- To help Youth uncover their spiritual gifts: Teenagers are bombarded everyday with messages from the secular world that, unfortunately, tell them that their self-worth is tied to the popular crowd, their grades, their looks, and their influences. As a youth leader, I want to help teenagers find their self-worth in Jesus Christ. I’ve talked about it before.
- To awaken Youth to God’s presence: A lot of teenagers have adopted the concept or understanding that God is “up there” and/or “out there” and not personable to them. They find it difficult to really understand how to relate to God on a personal level. Youth leaders can help youth figure out and understand the different ways in which God is (and can be) a part of their everyday lives.
So, I love your kids. I really do. I want to be a part of their lives. I want you to be a part of my life. But, I don’t want to be their parent.
Mark Devries, “Youth ministries, in and of themselves, have limited power to produce lasting change in young people’s lives.”
In a good week, a week that is specifically concentrated on youth ministry (whether its attending basketball games, going out to eat, going to get pedicures, playing games, or watching T.V.), I probably spend, maybe 4-5 hours with students, beyond Sundays and Wednesdays. During other weeks, the only personal interaction I may have with them is at church on Sunday mornings or a text or FB message during the week…..I pray that that time spent with them was valued, blessed, and appreciated, but I know it’s not enough.
Parents, by contrast, spend every day with their children, beyond school activities. For most children, they live with their parents (or parental guardians) for 18 years. They LIVE life with them: waking, eating, sleeping, praying, playing, laughing, crying, arguing, and the list goes on. As a result, parents (should) know their children like no other adult will ever know them (if they parent well).
So, I want to help shape, mold, guide, strengthen and lead your child. But, I am not their parent. Therefore, it is up to you to instill in them the importance of coming to church. Of being involved. Of being committed. Your child(ren) look up to you….they follow your lead.
If you’re late, they’ll be late.
If you’re not committed, they won’t be either.
If you don’t make it a priority, they won’t either.
So, please, understand. I love your kids…..and I pray for them. I pray they would feel love and acceptance from first and foremost, from Jesus Christ, but then, second, from you.
Please, love your kids. Commit to your kids. Value your kids. And, most of all, teach and guide your kids to live a Christian life….molding them and TALKING TO THEM about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
And allow the church (and youth ministry, especially) to be a resource for them (and for you) to further their walk…..
“Youth ministry has a valid and important supporting role to the parents, but it must never become a substitute. Our youth are too important to allow that to happen.” –Scott Korljan