“Evangelical churches do a better job than mainline churches in keeping their young people in the faith, probably because they invest more money in youth ministry, says a Duke University professor who studies characteristics of American congregations.”
by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections.
Now that the sunlight of middle age has burned off the haze of teenaged confusion, I see the specter of my past sins and humbly confess but a few of them to a mom and dad who astonishingly chose not to murder me. These are the earnest confessions of a recovering teenager.
CONFESSION: Please forgive the bland indifference with which I listened to stories about your past. I realize now that even the simplest of your recollections were a bequest of familial roots. You were teaching me who I was and where I came from. You were helping me discern my place in the grand design of a sovereign God. How I wish I could hear all those stories again with the inquisitiveness I should have once had; but there is no time for that now—an excuse I suspect will find its way into my “Confessions of a Recovering Middle-Ager” someday.
I ended the last article with a discouraging note about the futility of the steps we often employ to guard against the flesh. Steps like being accountable and placing barriers of activity between ourselves and our temptation actually have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23, ESV). These steps are not worthless, but they have no effect on our true heart’s desire.
Although man-made rules are of no value, something else has power in “stopping the indulgence of the flesh” or “restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23, NIV). This issue is the spectrum of this paper: What causes sanctification? Rules of men or holding fast to Christ?
These rules of men are tempting. Paul says they have the “appearance of wisdom” in promoting religion. The Pharisees (Matt. 23:23-24), the Colossians, and those in Timothy’s future (1 Tim. 4:1-5) all succumbed to this mistake. The rules men set up can provide external, visible, apparent victory in our teens. But those minor victories are short-lived.
As we consider the issues in Part 2, we will try to determine where we want to be on that spectrum. We can focus more on our teens or more on outsiders. In Part 3, I want to say that these choices actually are the same thing. What I mean is that focusing on our teens is incomplete until we get them to share our focus on unbelievers.
When a child goes to college, parental involvement dramatically decreases. College ministries don’t seek permission from parents for activities. Nor do they contact parents before one-on-one counseling. Independence from parents is expected during this time of life.
A Barna Group Survey revealed that “close to nine out of ten parents of children under age 13 (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters.” The vast majority of Christian parents believe they bear primary responsibility for their kids under age thirteen.
My previous article considered the role of parents in youth ministry. Direct Parental Discipleship is the responsibility of each parent. How should we apply that responsibility within a local church youth ministry?
In this series, I am presenting principles and ideas in pairs. Some principles specify approaches to ministry that are somewhat opposed to other approaches. Direct Parental Discipleship is such a principle. Any discipleship effort that isn’t directly performed by the teen’s own parents violates this principle to some extent. The principles in this article do not oppose each other. But they do compete with each other for time and resources.
The first principle is that we should focus our ministry resources on our youth. The parents we serve should strongly desire training for their children.
Proverbs 22:6, ESV
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The simple message here is that good training will lead to a stable adulthood of following after God.
Scripture gives parents great responsibility for the discipleship of their children. Ephesians 6 and Deuteronomy 6 make this fact clear. But Christians are divided on how the parental role should impact the task of youth discipleship. Churches exhibit a range of parental involvement in youth groups. Some refuse to have a youth group altogether, believing the responsibility and task of youth discipleship belong exclusively to parents. At a previous church, a friend of mine asked if he could be involved in youth group with his daughter. He was told that, as a parent, he was not allowed to attend youth group—youth group was for teens.