Recently, I received a comment from 'Unknown' who is a youth ministry leader.
I too appreciate the thought you have put into considering the spiritual health of your children.
As a youth ministry leader, I would like to offer some food for thought: As parents we often become overly protective of our children - and rightfully so at times. Your points on the environment within youth ministries is a painful reality. But three points I'd like to voice for consideration:
1. Children's ministries allow for youth to connect with God on a youth level. The communication methods used in most children's churches are tailored so that kids can meet with God at their own development level. What seems like foolish games for us, actually has a method behind it for learning retention and psychological well-being. Putting a child into an adult setting can often become great family time, but highly ritualistic for the child and can lead to a sense of spirituality without full understanding because the "language" used to explain the theology shared is not the "language" children speak (as it is tailored to a more mature adult audience).
2. There is power in multiple perspectives and techniques. You know what your children need on a certain level, but as parents, we are not perfect either. Sometimes we need to allow our children to be exposed to other Christian viewpoints. Not to woo them away from the Truth, but help balance them in light of our own spiritual misunderstanding, strongholds, and shortcomings.
3. No church ministry is perfect. Segregation does not help progress within a learning environment, but stifles it. If you are finding the problems you mentioned going on in your local church - I would suggest you engage, not segregate your children. Be the voice of reason. Become involved. Lend your voice of wisdom from God to help other leaders focus the children. The more leadership for children, the better, and most children's church leaders would be thrilled to find someone who is not just a parent who wishes to engage the well-being of their own kids, but also the well-being of others children whose parents are not discerning the same issues you are.
The Enemy divides! The Lord multiplies! Believe me, it will be more than worth it.
Also, before you read my response I want to clear the air about what exactly my concerns about the middle school youth program were. Just in case you did not read the prior article, here is an excerpt,
"It's not that I don't trust that my church youth group leaders are fully committed to the Lord and to serving our youth. It's just that, I remember middle school. I remember that kids were catty. They were obsessed with boy-girl relationships. They were mean. Let's face it, I was one of those kids in middle school. I realized that a large portion of my child's Sunday morning church experience was going to be "socializing" among this peer group. And I'm not trying to sound judgmental...please hear my heart...but let's face it, we all know that a large portion of youth group is also geared towards fun and games. They're kids. They like to have fun. I get it, really I do. It's an outreach tool. But what I couldn't seem to reconcile with myself, was if it was all worth it. I knew that there was nothing that even loving, caring youth workers could do about eliminating the negative influences that would undoubtedly be presented to my kids by their peers. "
I also followed this up later in the article to let you know how our thoughts on the matter had progressed through prayer and study...
" I want you to know that this conviction of mine to bring my children into church worship with me is no longer so much about being concerned about the negative influence that they may receive from peers. It is much more about a call from the Omniscient God directed to my husband and me to bring up our children "in the training and instruction of the Lord"(Eph. 6:4). Consider this quote from the book (Children in Church):
"We knew we could probably do an adequate job of teaching our children about the faith if we kept them at arm's length. However, to pursue the divine mission of nurturing and training the next generation, we needed to be willing to live out before them, moment by moment, our prayerfully faithful though oft imperfect desire to love and serve the living God." "
Finally, my response...
First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read my article and to post your thoughts on the matter. I would also like to say that every point that you brought up are not new thoughts to us. We prayed for nearly a year about our decision to let our children participate in the middle school youth group on Sunday mornings. We fully considered every argument in order to decide what we felt was best for our family.
Now, I'd like to respond to your comments. You hinted at first that we were being "overly protective" (Presumably by not allowing our children to participate in the middle school youth program). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that "overly protective" by definition means that one is protective of someone or something when there really is no danger or threat. However, in your very next sentence you admit, "Your points on the environment within youth ministries is a painful reality." That's just it. Having not grown up within the church myself and having not volunteered with the middle school youth program, I was very concerned that I was being overly protective. So I sought out counsel from many Christian friends, both of whom had grown up in youth group and those who have and currently volunteer there. I went looking for someone to tell me that my concerns weren't warranted. I couldn't find one. Every person, even those volunteering there and those with their children in the program confirmed that I had reason to be concerned. So I concluded that I wasn't, in fact being "overly protective"...I was simply being protective, which is my job as a parent to do.
As to your point that "Children's ministries allow for youth to connect with God on a youth level"... I think that it is presumptuous to assume that a youth leader (who sees my child only 1-2 hours a week) or a program director (who doesn't even know my child) knows better than I, his mother and primary teacher, how my child learns. Each of my children thrive with different learning styles and personalities and I am very aware of each of them. My husband and I believe that we, the parents, are mandated by Scripture to disciple our children. We don't just drag our kids into church kicking and screaming and expect them to "be quiet and listen". We look for ways to engage them before, during, and after the service. The book I reviewed, Children in Church, is very helpful in offering practical ways for the parents to help their children become engaged during the sermon including preparing their hearts for worship, helping them to draw (when they are very young)and take notes during the sermon, and discussing it as a family afterwards. Also, discipling our children doesn't just happen on Sunday mornings...it happens daily as we have family worship, devotionals, and prayer time...as we discuss spiritual matters as we go about our day and study God's word within our school curricula.
You also said, " the "language" used to explain the theology shared (in church services) is not the "language" children speak". Unfortunately, this is partially true...but also a serious problem. At what age do you think a person should be able to comprehend a sermon spoken from a typical bible-preaching pulpit? If not by middle school, then by high school?? Surely by the time they are an adult and in college? By the time they are married? Then why is it that the "youth" of our church continue to segregate themselves from the majority of the congregation well into adulthood...with high school groups, college age ministries, even "young married" ministries. These ministries aren't just stopping with an after church social or in-home bible study...they are tailor making entire worship services "speaking in their worship style and language". I agree with you that "Segregation does not help progress within a learning environment, but stifles it"! I agree with you that "The Enemy divides! The Lord multiplies!" which is precisely why I do not believe in the age segregation that takes place within the church. My 11 year old has accepted Jesus as His Lord and Savior. The same Holy Spirit that resides within me resides in him. I think he is perfectly able to comprehend preaching from the Word of God. And when he comes to something he is having trouble understanding, thankfully his father and I are right there next to him to help him understand.
You also said, "There is power in multiple perspectives and techniques. You know what your children need on a certain level, but as parents, we are not perfect either. Sometimes we need to allow our children to be exposed to other Christian viewpoints..." Oh, I will definitely agree with you that I am not perfect (in parenting and otherwise!) and I'm afraid, my children are the ones who know that the best! Once again, just because my children aren't participating in church youth group on Sundays doesn't mean that they are not being "exposed to other Christian (or non-Christian) viewpoints". We openly discuss what other people think and believe with our children and ask them what they think. When we made the decision not to participate in middle school youth, we sat down with our son and explained to him why. We gave examples of our concerns, we didn't try to shield him from it, but explained it fully. He understood and agreed with our decision. We participate in a variety of activities with other families (church related and non-church related) including Bible Bowl (a youth program complete with games and candy rewards), homeschool co-ops and field trips, and sports/extra-curricular activities. We are close friends with several families (all with different 'Christian viewpoints') whom we see on a nearly weekly basis. We consider them not only friends, but mentors for ourselves and our children.
Finally, I appreciate the encouragement to volunteer within our church's youth program. And I will say, that we very nearly did. My husband and I prayed specifically about this. We both felt that the only way we would allow our kids to participate in the youth group would be if we were volunteering. We felt that would only be responsible since God gave us, the parents, the responsibility of teaching our children about Him (Deuteronomy 6:7). One day we will stand before him and I don't think "Well, I sent him to Sunday School...I don't really know what was going on there, but that's not my fault," is going to fly. However, instead of convicting us to serve and participate there, my husband and I both felt a strong conviction to 'step it up' in discipling our own children and for us, that included Sunday morning.
We also felt a conviction and a burden to share this with others. Neither of us feel that youth ministry is "wrong". We know families that are doing a fine job of discipling their kids and still participate in all youth groups. But we know so many more who are not discipling their kids and I think this is largely due to the fact that church body is rather silent on the matter. Instead of telling parents to step it up and live out and teach their children about their faith, instead of encouraging dads to man up and lead their families spiritually in the manner of family devotions and worship within the home, the church body is often saying, "Don't worry about it...we got it handled. Just send them to youth group on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights." But that is not enough and it is not Scriptural.
I want to be clear. Even though we choose not to participate in the middle school and up youth program, that does not mean that we don't find value in it. I know that many parents simply won't teach their children about God. And if they won't, someone definitely should. But I do often wish that youth leaders would recognize that the parents should be the first to disciple their children (both because Scripture mandates it and because it makes sense-parents are with them more and know them and love them intimately). I wish that youth leaders would invest as much time into equipping parents to do what Scripture tells them and working with parents as they do in trying to reach kids "in their own language". Parents are the ones who truly know the language of their child's heart. We are the ones who are best fit to reach them when we are fully leaning on God and walking in His way, that's why God gave them to us!
As a youth leader I beg you, stop telling parents, "Back off, I got this!" Please instead encourage parents to step up and do what God designed them to do. If we can get parents to step up, I believe my concerns about church youth group will no longer be valid. It doesn't matter how many loving youth group leaders a church has, there will still be severe issues of sin that is prevalent among our teenagers and preteens today. But if the church can get the fathers to "turn their hearts back to their children" then we will see a real change and growth in our children.
Shanna Pin It Now!