This past Sunday we had a family with five children join the church. They mom and dad told me how excited they were that we didn’t split their family up as soon as they hit the doors of the church. They were so pleased that we worship as a “family.” We don’t split out the children, youth or anyone for that matter. Yet, people hear this and they say, “That’s great! But what do you do about the teenager who come to church who has no parents with him. What do you do for him?” Or they’ll say, “Hey, it’s great you have families in your church and dad’s who lead their homes well, but there are some dead-beat dads out their today, so what are we supposed to do with the kids of those kinds of dads?”
Well, most churches have asked that question and have come to the conclusion that they must be a substitute where the dads are not getting the job done. Thus, before we realized it, the Church was handling the training for all dads, Christian and non-Christian alike. But, this is a problem. For the past 30-35 years, the Church has undertaken a role that was never intended for the Church to do in the first place. Instead of getting our hands dirty in the hard work of teaching and training, we often want to take the easy way out and hire someone (a youth pastor) to do it for us.
It seems the Church has stepped in to do what we don’t have time for or the appetite to do ourselves. But what do we do when there is a father in the picture who is not a believer or is unengaged spiritually? What about the young adults who have no family in the church? What do we do about them? To answer these questions, we must turn to the teaching of Scripture. We can simply “adopt” these young people into our families. We can mentor them. This means inviting them to sit with of our family during service and making them feel they are accepted and belong. Problem is…in many churches today, the youth are never in the service with the “adults.” This is tragic! Paul instructed Titus to teach the elders in Titus 2 that the old should teach, mentor, the young. How can we do this if they are never with us?
Through the years, Pam and I have “adopted” several young adults into our family. One of which is now our son-in-law. We have tried to model and exhibit what a biblical family is to look like. We plug them in to our family life and we try to show them what a Christian family looks like. The most important part of this process is simply to show them love.
Christopher Schlect, in his book, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry, says it this way:
“Ministering to children of unbelievers need not be as difficult as it seems. These children should be drawn to associate with Christian families that will take them in and mentor them while at church, thereby showing those children the family model as illustrated in the Word of God. Invite them over for dinner, where the Biblical model of the family can be exhibited.”
I believe it is time to get young people out of our game rooms and get them plugged into our churches and get them on the mission field of life. We need to see our young adults as capable of “being about the Father’s business.” We need to expect them to step up to the level of a teenage apostle or Timothy or David.
Does offering more concerts, camps, lock-ins, pizza blasts, zip-lines, ski trips, and the like stand to give us spiritually mature young adults? No, not if that’s all we give them. A steady diet of activities and fun is not what they need or want. Our society’s youth orientation has bred little more than young adults hyped up on the junk food of entertainment and fun, yet they are starving to death and dying for answers to the difficult and tough questions of the day. Our young people sit in our churches week after week and we see them, but are they really there? Are they really engaged? Do they want to be at church or are they just coming because they have to or because they’ve been lured by the fun and games? Doesn’t our focus need to change?
If you think about it, of all the programs in churches which one is most commonly the largest and well funded? The answer: youth programs. It seems that evangelical churches, and many mainline churches, began breaking out the youth in their congregations about 30-40 years ago. In fact, there is a feeling in Christendom that you aren’t doing too well as a church if you can’t fund and hire at least a part-time youth minister of some sort. But, what do youth ministries do? Many of these programs, if not managed carefully, can breed immaturity because they hinder younger people from associating with and learning from their elders. Paul told young Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). Yet, it is common to take the young adults on an outing at night and we have to station chaperones throughout the church bus to make sure everyone is being nice. Is that something we should have to be doing with adults in the church? There should never be a youth function in a church in which everyone, young and old alike, cannot participate. When we go skiing at our church, anyone can come along. When we go ride bikes, any member of the body can and should be allowed to attend. We do mission work as a church family…we never take “youth mission trips.” We do the work as a “church family,” young and old alike.
Here’s one of “family” mission teams from last summer…
The entire Brooks family went on the mission trip…
When we totally separate our young adults from the rest of the church body, we are setting them up for an identity crisis. They don’t know who they are apart from their friends and buddies in the youth group. They know nothing of the functioning of the church, as a whole, outside of their youth room. After all, they have their own culture and music, geared to their own tastes. So, by the time they are 18 and we tell them they must leave our youth groups, they are sent to the grown up church where, in some cases many have never been. It is culture shock to say the least!
Despite all of this, some may think that we are trying to take the fun out of the lives of our young adults. Some say, “They’ve got to be kids. Let them have a little fun.” Please understand, I am not against anyone having fun, but is this the role of the church? Are we supposed to set up our churches to be centers for having fun? Somehow we think teenagers are entitled to more fun than anybody else in the church. We feel we must put something fun on the calendar every week or two, certainly monthly, so they can have a good time. Do we owe any group in the church a good time? Many youth ministries seem to be run like a cruise ship. We hear things like, “When’s the next event? What are we eating, pizza or hotdogs?” No wonder we have such a high turnover rate with youth ministers. It is easy to burn out after two or three years of this kind of activity planning.
Can youth groups be a negative influence on our young people? Yes, unfortunately, I believe, (certainly without meaning to), they can. You see, we place our young people in these peer-driven groups where the spiritual maturity is usually very low and yet we desire for them to grow spiritually. How? How can they grow spiritually in these environments? Most of the time, youth pastors are trying to administrate some sort of crowd control versus being able to really teach. Unfortunately, our young people tend to find their identity in their friends or what they wear, drive or have. Some young people have their entire identity wrapped up in the type of clothes they wear, cell phone they carry and who they are dating. This same mentality often transfers into our youth groups and can even be fed within the youth group.
Through the years, I’ve become more and more dismayed that we no longer mix our young people with our adults in our churches in any way. We keep our youth in their own rooms, as far away from everyone else in the church as possible, in case they get too loud or rowdy. We let them paint the walls tie-dyed…
…put up posters of Christian musicians, many of whom honestly look like leftovers from the 70’s group KISS, and bring in sofas for them to lounge on while they play video games and hang out.
Some youth rooms I’ve seen look more like arcades. Some churches have even given their youth their own building, where they come for an entertainment smorgasbord anytime they want. Is this the structural model we really believe is going to grow mature, solid, faith-filled, Christ-centered, young adults? We must stop kidding ourselves. The numbers, the surveys, and the statistical data do not lie. Many of our young adults continue to abandon their faith and will continue to do so unless we change our strategy and return to a Biblical model.
I believe we have forgotten something in our churches today that once was a powerful tool and still can be: mentorship. For years, even in our secular culture, one had to become an apprentice before he could work a job as a craftsman within a trade. He had to be trained and equipped by an elder who was seasoned, experienced and knowledgeable. The same is true in the church. Churches should work to promote cross-generational interaction as Paul admonished Titus to teach the elders in Titus 2. In separating the youth from the church body at large, we are in essence saying, “Unlike adults, they can’t handle the weighty things of Scripture.”
It seems okay for us to give them a driver’s license at 16 and put them behind the wheel of a 5,000 pound vehicle and turn them loose on our highways. We expect them to learn algebra, chemistry and calculus. Certainly, they can study and learn Scripture as well. Our young people need to be with adults and be trained older to younger. In fact, they will graduate from high school and college and go to work in environments with people of all ages. Only in our schools and churches are our young adults segregated by age. Remember, Paul mentored young Timothy, who was likely in his teens or early twenties. Paul poured his life into Timothy (See 1 and 2 Timothy) and we should be doing the same for young people in our churches. This practice is much more effective than youth programs at large, which are mostly peer driven.
The power of mentorship and the mentorship process is a fundamental ingredient in the Scriptural model that will have a major impact on training and preparing the next generation to carry forth the teachings of Christ. If we can’t get the gospel to the next generation by properly handing off our faith in Chris, then the Church will become impotent and useless. It doesn’t matter what we do with budgets, mission statements, planning committees, and the like. If we don’t transfer our faith in Christ to the next generation, Christianity in America will go the way of Europe, where many of Europe’s beautiful churches have now been turned into pubs, bike shops and municipal buildings.
The Church is to help and partner with the family to grow our young adults in the way of the Lord. We are partners with the family in training our young adults. Again, we don’t do the job for the parents, but partner with them. The church’s vision must shift from a consumer-driven focus regarding our young people, to a partner-driven focus. In other words, the church must stop seeing itself as a vending machine of fun activities to give young people or children something to do to keep them out of trouble. As parents, we must stop seeing the church as a place where we drop off the kids to let the pastors train them or give them a little faith development. This consumer mentality, where we come to church and feed ourselves at the “program” feeding trough, needs to change.
We must return to the Scriptural mandate that the older should teach and train the younger. We must stop thinking the church building and its programs are the conduits through which the gospel is spread. The gospel is spread through people, not programs. What programs existed in the first church? None that I know of with the exception of meeting together to fellowship, break bread, study the gospel and pray (See Acts 2:42-47). Afterwards, they left each other’s homes and went out into their community and shared Jesus. The gospel must travel house by house through the community in the same way it did 2,000 years ago. If we want to have programs, why don’t we set them up to follow the principles outlined in Scripture?
So, for the wonderful family that joined Sunday, YES, they get to worship together and NO, we won’t seperate them as soon as they hit our doors. And no, this is nothing new. This is simply returning to the ancient paths of Scripture (Psalm 78).