In the secular world, teachers notice a difference between kids whose parents are active in the education of their children and kids who have parents who assume no role in that arena. The teacher can be brilliant in their understanding of the material, exceptionally gifted at communicating information to their given audience, and highly motivated to ensure the students learn but still not be able to get some kids to be active in their studies. The parents of any given child are the primary influence on the child’s education. And that’s how it should be.
I spent a few days last fall at a conference centered around apologetics. It was an edifying few days for sure. I even ran into TAU’s own Justin Bullington at this conference. Among the recurring themes of the conference was the notion that youth pastors have failed to properly equip teenagers to engage the skepticism they’ll inevitably encounter at college. Perhaps youth pastors have failed in this area or at least could be better. I’m not sure how true that is but let’s say, for sake of argument, that zero youth pastors addressed any basic apologetic content over the last four years. Who is more responsible for the teenagers being taught how to defend the faith: the parents of the children or the youth pastor?
If you answered that the youth pastor is more responsible than the parents then you answered incorrectly.
Youth ministry is a tool that can be utilized by parents. It can serve as a place for their children to form healthy relationships with peers in similar stages of life. It can be a place where children are given additional spiritual instruction in a context or setting that’s less formal and perhaps better suited to their learning style. It creates a relatively safe environment for them to simply have fun. It is an opportunity for them to do service projects with people their own age. It remains, at its best, an optional tool for parents to take advantage of. There is no biblical requirement for parents to send their kids to youth group. There is no biblical command that says parents can only attend churches that have good youth programs.
Just as a secular teacher can only do so much as far as getting his or her students to learn a youth pastor can only do so much to disciple the youths he’s shepherding. If your teenager gets drunk on the weekend, that is NOT your youth pastor’s fault. If your teenager is dating a non-believer, that is NOT your youth pastor’s fault.
Your child has some agency over his or her own decisions. They make the choice to drink or date. So don’t be too hard on yourself—yet don’t let yourself off the hook too easily. You are still the primary influence over your child. They are your responsibility. When it comes to youth ministry and who to blame for all the youths who walk away from the church once they’re adults try to remember these key concepts:
- Consider the Cost
- Luke 14:28-30 (NASB)
28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
- Steve Camp has said many interesting things recently but in the 90’s he wrote an excellent song about this (see below)
- People who say they’re going to follow Christ but then later fall away are those who did not consider the cost of what it means to live a life of repentance. Christ rebukes, not the parents of said individuals, but the individuals themselves.
- Luke 14:28-30 (NASB)
- Don’t Outsource Your Work
- Your children are your work. Raise them in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord. Teach them to fear God. If you’re concerned about their spiritual well-being then do the work necessary to help them be self-feeders. Your pastor can’t live your life for you any more than your youth pastor or you yourself can live your child’s life. Equip them to be mature in the faith.
- Remember the Purpose of Youth Ministry
- It is not there to take responsibility from you.
- It exists to facilitate healthy relationships in a healthy environment.
- It is not meant to replace “big church.”
- It is not a guarantee of spiritual growth.
I write this under the assumption we’re talking about Christian parents at a Bible-believing church. Obviously, I’m not saying non-Christian parents can disciple Christian teens. And I’m not issuing a blanket defense of every single youth group in the world. I’m writing as a Christian parent to other Christian parents. As I conclude reflect on these words that Paul wrote to Timothy. They are quite fitting in this discussion about influential teachers:
2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NASB)
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.