A STRONG word to Parents

Much has been said concerning this generation of students exiting church. So how do we address this issue? For many the answer is bigger programs that strive to capture students’ hearts and direct them to the heart of God, but this tends to lead to “spiritual highs” that quickly fade – has “Acquire the Fire” solved this issued in their years of existence? For others the answer is to teach moral purity, but that hasn’t worked either – new statistics show that only twelve percent of students who pledged “True Love Waits” remained pure until marriage*. Others say teach the word, but if students do not see the word lived out, then why would they follow the teaching?

In twelve years of student ministry, I have observed a consistent pattern – though I must admit this observation remains undocumented and a few exceptions exist – students who are passionately in love with Jesus Christ and live to love others have parents who are passionately in love with Jesus and live to love others. It is also my observation that these students seldom exit the church upon graduation – instead they continue to grow in loving God and loving others as active leaders in the church and community.

This raises the question: can a student, whose parents lack spiritual maturity and leadership, passionately love God and love others? Yes. But not likely. The spiritual maturity and leadership of a student will seldom exceed that of their parents during their adolescent and college years. Though, by the grace of God, they might surpass their parents later in life – yet, this is still unlikely.

As long as parents continue being pathetic spiritual examples of loving God and loving others, our students will continue to walk away from the church. But then again, this is no surprise. Deuteronomy 11:18-20 reads: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

God gives the primary responsibility of spiritual formation of children to parents – not the church!Now this does not mean that the church cannot have a role in the discipleship process, but the primary source is to be parents. Children learn from watching their parents; they mimic their parents’ attitudes and beliefs. Perhaps if parents started being the church, students would capture a passionate love for God and others – maybe then the church would begin to grow.

For George Barna’s thoughts on this topic click here.

* The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, by Ron Sider, pg 23. A research study based out of Columbia University and
Yale University.


11 Responses

  1. Aaron Klabunde said…
    Good stuff, Ron. You got my wheels spinning and now I’m really late for work! Here’s what thoughts I have……..

    Power packed programs usually prove powerless. Teaching moral purity assigns negative verbs to instinctual (fallen) behavior, but does nothing to change the spirit within the heart. As Scripture confirms:

    “…’Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” Zechariah 4:6b

    “The Law was added so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more… Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Jesus Christ the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” Romans 5:20, 8:1-3

    Programs fail, not because they can’t be used by God, but because they are often done in the puny power and strength of man, rather than by men and women with the the potently prayerful, humbled, and shepherding hearts that God desires to use as vehicles for his Holy Spirit. Simply put, programs have replaced (by distraction) the genuine Spirit of God in reaching this generation.

    Teaching moral purity has failed, not because it isn’t an important part of holiness, but because the law only exposes sin and cannot, by itself, heal the heart that leads us to sin. The instinctual desires/needs of mankind can only be replaced by a new life filled with the true love and true passion of and for Jesus Christ. This is what we fail to teach our kids. Why? Because Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit are perhaps two of the least popular subjects in the Church today, due to an attempt at appeasing and making comfortable the un-spiritual “seeker.”

    The Christ serving family unit is, by Gods design, the single best way to raise young people to be devoted to their Saviour. You pointed out the scripture which confirms this. And there are a plethora of Christian parachurch organizations, and church programs, designed to strengthen and encourage the family. In fact, it’s enough to make the single 28 year old who desires to commit to Christ in Pauline fashion feel a bit like an outcast! Many churches have becomes family centered, more than Christ centered. Overemphasis is nothing new to the church. We have “missions” churches, “Bible” churches, “worship” churches, “seeker” churches, “gen x” churches, and the list goes on.

    As individuals or family units, we are all called to have some kind of personal ministry to the world and/or to other believers. But God also designed us to have a corporate ministry to the world and to each other. My recent experience has been that “Family” churches often overlook the value of corporate ministry. They forget that disciples, teachers, and evangelists in the New Testament virtually always traveled in pairs or groups. (Except for Stephen, and he was stoned!).

    Additionally, our ministry in the world is not simply to perfect the children of saints (as encouraging as that would be!). We have a responsibility to follow Christ in seeking and saving the lost. We have a responsibility to pound as many kids with the truth of Christ as possible, even if only a few are saved in all. Our success rate won’t look good, but Jesus Christ was rejected by the majority of his audience, too. Just be glad your audience is not likely to crucify you!

    So how can the personal success of the Christ-centered family and the Spirit-led purpose of the contemporary youth ministry co-exist?

    The first step is to deprogram the ministry. Programs, though not negative in and of themselves, have become such an enormous distraction in the church that most other elements of true ministry have been lost. Youth program leadership is corrupted into a “well-oiled machine,” as cutthroat as worldly corporations. Relationships have been replaced with task-oriented structures of authority (most of which stem from a complete abuse of scripture). Volunteers need neither calling nor passion for Jesus and youth, just a willingness to “submit” to those with a paycheck and title from the church. Passionate, spirit-led people seldom last long, because the “spirit of God” within them is a threat to “spirit of the world” alive in so many church leaderships today.

    True leaders need to drop their titles, tasks and meetings, are start what I call “group face-plants.” Three thousand were saved at Pentecost, not because of Powerpoint, tunes, apostolic hierarchy, and fancy words, but because they face-planted for days, crying to God for a Spirit who changes hearts and lives. Likewise, by exposing our hearts in open format, extended prayer, the God-given gifts and abilities and heart motives will come to the surface. Personal yielding and submission to God’s Holy Spirit will humble and break the leadership, creating a heart of servitude rather than position and power. True leadership will then be recognized for what God intended it to be, as modeled in Jesus –service and sacrifice.

    The second step is to invite the parents and their students who strive to serve Christ to come a be a part of the new, deprogrammed, un-intimidating, prayer-empowered youth ministry. Commission the parents to extend their abilities in teaching and training to children who are not there own. Ask them to “adopt” the youth in their small group, to develop relationships with them in and out of the church setting, and to do for them what they have done for their own kids. The spiritual deprivation stemming from unbelieving parents will make it a difficult task, and success will not be the same as with raising their own kids (a truth you and I have both observed in believing families who have legally adopted kids). But God has clearly given these parents the two most important attributes in leading youth towards Christ –calling and passion. Unbelieving students will come to see the youth ministry, not as a fun club and hangout, but as the family that they are not getting in their own homes.

    A side effect of this Spirit-led, relationally rich approach will be the “prejudgment winnowing,” that will cut down the number of students in attendance and make focusing on fruitful ministry much easier! You will lose the students who just want what’s comfortable, and gain the seekers who aren’t fooled by the current institutional program. If you lose half the students because they really were only interested in the fluff and never interested in following Jesus, then the success rate of the ministry will effectively double! And I would venture to say, that the new student type that will be attracted to the ministry will be exponentially more likely to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ the the average fluff-loving student.

    Hope these thoughts contribute to the ideas you are developing.

    Your bro, Aaron

    January 15, 2007 3:48 PM

  2. Amen to this post!! God blessed me with parents that were faithful to his call on their lives and the difference is so obvious in my life compared with those I grew up with whose parents were not as committed. As a youth minister now it is my seemingly constant struggle to try to find a way to connect with kids and connect them with Christ in a way that will last.

    Parents must be a HUGE (and if AT ALL POSSIBLE the PRIMARY) source for the spiritual development and training of their children.

    Programs won’t get it done. Presentations, challenges, covenants, slamming the Book down their throats, retreats, camps, devotionals, classes, and the list could go on and on are usually (there ARE exceptions thank God) not enough to keep our kids faithful throughout their lifetime.

    The possibly more tragic thing to me is that we lose both them and their children!!! What a loss for the Kingdom of God!

    May God help us as ministers to find a way to empower and embolden parents to be what God has called them to be. May he also strengthen us in our attempt to share with these kids our love for God.

    Thanks for the post! God bless you and your ministry.

  3. Michael,

    Thanks for the great feedback bro. It is good to know that their are other student ministries pastors who share the desire to help parents (and the church) get it. Imagine how different youth ministry would be if parents where to step up to their role of disciple and disciple maker.

    Keep pressing in.

  4. I had a great opportunity yesterday to preach about this to our church. I talked about “laying it all on the line” for our kids, our community, and for each other. I looked at Mark 12:38-44 with the Pharisees, those who gave to the Temple out of their wealth and the widow who laid it all on the line and expected God to provide. How awesome it would be if we would lay it all on the line for our kids!! God help us to do it!!

  5. No kidding! Great word. You may also be encouraged by the blog I just posted titled “Just preach the word?”. For a great read on the topic – The BIG IDEA by Dave Ferguson.

  6. Right on, brother! Over my 10+ years of youth ministry and teaching high school here’s what I’ve come up with thus far about reaching our youth:

    What we need in order to minister to youth today isn’t programming, as I believe people are starting to realize. It’s not even the coolest, hippest, best-public-speaker-in-the-world, craziest, most-on-fire-for-God youth pastor. What we need is church of believers who see “youth ministry” as not just a job for the youth pastor and the youth ministry volunteers, but as THEIR job. Just as the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” says, it’s going to take a community of believers. As Aaron said, people need to minister to children who aren’t “theirs”. I don’t think this applies simply to those who have students of high school age. I think it applies to people of ALL ages. It takes people realizing that when God said “fear not” that it included fears of being unable to relate to teens today- the fears and excuses that keep the body of Christ from adopting youth ministry as their own ministry. Every believer, regardless of age or experience, needs take ownership of the “children of the village” and step in to fill voids in these kids’ lives that need to be filled. Christ can fill voids, but He also allows people to help Him. Christ can’t be the person sitting in the stands at the student’s game, but a church member can! When, in today’s society, parents are taking less and less of a positive role in students’ lives, the church needs to step in to love on these kids. That’s what they desperately want and need. Love. In human form as well as in spiritual form. And it’s EVERY Christ-follower’s job! If students don’t get wholesome, healthy, life-changing love from the church body, they’ll go find it somewhere else.

    Wow. I just rambled. But Ron, you know me – I can get fired up pretty easily! Lol. But great ideas! Love it!

  7. Kim,

    I love how you turn to the church community to love students who are not loved well by their parents. What’s difficult is when church attending parents don’t love their children. Unfortunately, this seems to be more often than not. Which affirms Jesus statement – the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

    I’m glad that this blog is firing you and others up. I pray it fires parents up too.

  8. You’re right…not all church-going parents demonstrate their love to their children. Those kids still need someone to step in. The body needs to do that for those kids. And as they do, maybe that will “wake up” the parents!

    Keep on keeping on, bro!


  9. […] Radiate Radiate « Self-professing, non-Christian, and non-Disciple A STRONG word to Parents – part 2 April 18th, 2007 I love this quote! You will know why if you read my original blog titled “A STRONG Word to Parents”. […]

  10. […] To read more on the role of parents in the spiritual formation of teenagers click here. […]

  11. […] To read more on the role of parents in the spiritual formation of teenagers click here. […]

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