Practical Points for Parents who are Looking for a Youth Group

The Long View — Spiritual, Not Physical — Magnifying God, Not Kids — Church, Not Youth Group — A Biblical Group, Not a Perfect Group — God-Called Preacher — The Temptation to Leave — Harmony between Youth Pastor and Pastor — Getting Kids Interested — Fighting the Good Fight

Taking The Long View: When They Are Old

Proverbs 22:6

6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Many exasperated parents read this verse and object, “But I trained up my kids properly, why didn’t they turn out right?” The answer is twofold. First, we must understand that this proverb is not a promise; it is a principle. A promise of God is something that will come to pass no matter what. Examples of promises in the Bible include, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” and, “My God shall supply all your need…” There are no exceptions to promises. A principle, however, is a general truth. This is something that is fundamentally accepted and is true, but something that can have exceptions.

The general truth is that children will not depart from the ways in which they are raised. If we raise children to lie (“tell them I’m not home!”), then they will, generally, struggle with being liars when they are older. If we raise them to be hard workers, they’ll probably turn out to be hard workers when they’re older. Frugal parents usually make frugal kids. If we raise them to follow Christ, they will generally follow Christ when they are older. But this is only a principle, remember; it is not a promise. We may raise our kids exactly the right way, only to have them rebel from this upbringing on their own.

The crux of the problem in today’s society is that kids are not raised solely by their parents anymore. A recent survey concluded that parents spend an average of less than one hour per day with their teenaged children (Daily Mail). The rest of their time is spent at school, at jobs, with friends, and in recreation. If we are honest, kids are being raised for a significant amount of time by their teachers, coaches, friends, celebrities, and musicians.

So when we look at our kids and wonder why they are turning out the way they are, we can apply this Biblical principle. They are turning out exactly how they are being raised. We must look around and come to the conclusion that our kids are not being raised only by Christians. They are not being raised only as disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are being raised also as evolutionists by their teachers at school. They are being raised to question authority, God, the Bible, and their moral standards by the musicians they listen to and the celebrities they follow. They are being raised by the philosophies of their coaches and friends.

With this in mind, parents can be helped greatly by getting their kids in church and in a youth group as much as possible. Kids can benefit greatly by faithfully attending Sunday school, Sunday morning church, Sunday night church, Wednesday night Bible study, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and special youth activities. This may seem like a hectic, full schedule only reserved for religious zealots, but, by adding up the hours, we’ll discover that if teens participated in all the activities above every week, they’d only spend six hours per week being influenced by their pastor, youth pastor, and Christian friends.

Keep in mind, though, that parents are still the main influence in a child’s life. There is no substitute, and parents can’t throw up their hands and think they have no effect or responsibility. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Dunquist Denton, in their thorough study on spirituality and today’s teens, Soul Searching, come to this conclusion:

Some observers suggest that American teenagers have outgrown the influence of their parents and other adults, are shaped primarily by their peers, and, in the name of independence, are best set free of adult oversight and support to find their own individual ways. Such views, our observation suggests, are badly misguided. Adults inescapably exercise immense influence in the lives of teens — positive and negative, passive and active. The question therefore is not whether adults exert influence, but what kinds of influence they exert. (28)

Looking for Spiritual Food, Not Physical

When parents look for a church for their kids, it can be easy to be wowed by all the activities, games, fun facilities, and socializing that modern youth groups offer. We like the idea of our kids getting a safe place to experience all these things. However, when we look for a church, our goal should be to find spiritual, not physical, substance for our kids.

It used to be that churches were the centers of the community and all the activity of a family revolved around it. However, Sunday morning was still a time for worship, and no matter what other activities happened there during the week, families still came to church on Sunday expecting to put the games aside and worship God. In the 1990s, churches saw that families wanted activities, so they started building community centers and hosting all kinds of functions as a means of attracting their neighbors. Sunday morning services became less important. The services got more casual, the music was emphasized, and the preaching became barely noticeable.

We need to get back to a place where church is for the worship of God, not for activities and community building. There is no better time for this than the present. As parents we have countless places for our kids to be entertained. There are plenty of great sports programs, music instruction groups, and safe places for kids to hang out with their friends. Let those places fill those needs. If your child needs a place to hang out and have fun, they can do that at a friend’s house or at the mall or the high school football game. When there are adults around, these places can provide safe, clean ways for teens to relax and socialize. We don’t need the church to compete with these forms of entertainment.

Let the church be the church. The church should be the place where kids go to meet God, not play games. They cannot get lessons about God at the football game or the mall. They don’t sing hymns and have prayer meetings at the go-kart track. Let’s not bring the games, then, to the church. The church should be the place where kids get preaching to encourage their spiritual growth. It should be a place of prayer, a place to learn the Bible, and a place to further their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. A preacher once said that “worship is a time where we bring the gods we have made unto the God who has made us.” This is crucially important for teens, and this happens best on the day and the place God has dedicated for worship.

You may be tempted to think that the walls should be broken down. “Why can’t we worship at a football game and watch the Super Bowl at church?” some might ask. Because when you do that, you don’t get full worship at either. You’ve removed the place and the time where you are dedicating your attention wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ. Just like distracted driving will lead to accidents, distracted church services will lead to spiritual wrecks.

When you are looking for a church, then, ask yourself what kind of spiritual help it is giving your children.

Look for good Biblical preaching first of all. The most important part of church is preaching. It is the method that God has chosen to speak to his church as a congregation. There is nothing better for kids than to sit down, turn off their phones, open their Bibles, and listen to a preacher deliver a pointed, prayerful, and prepared message that God has laid on his heart for that young person to hear. It may look like your teen isn’t listening, but it’s the best opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick their heart, convict them of sin, exhort them to keep going in the faith, and stir them to revival when they are straying.

Also, look for a church with sound hymn singing. Old hymns don’t appeal to the flesh; they stir the spirit. They cause the singer to think about the deep meaning in the lyrics, and instead of being shallow and vague, they dig down and break up calloused hearts and cold, hard souls. Instead of a place where the youth group is singing modern pop songs, your teen’s favorite song could be:

Come, Thou fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace,

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

While the hope of endless glory

Fills my heart with joy and love,

Teach me ever to adore Thee,

May I still Thy goodness prove.

Here I raise my Ebenezer,

Hither by Thy help I’ve come,

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God,

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be,

Let that grace now like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

If your church sings these old hymns with enthusiasm, teens will be moved by it.

Look for a church where the youth group has special activities focused around the Bible. Youth Bible question and answer services, youth camps and Bible retreats, and mission conferences are great places for teens to dig deeper into the things they are learning in preaching services and in personal devotions.

Look for a church that challenges your teen to spend time with the Lord throughout the week, not just on Sunday. This doesn’t mean they should have lots of homework from their Sunday school class, but they should be encouraged to read their Bible, memorize scripture, and pray for their friends, loved ones, and the lost. They may not read the entire Bible every year, but their youth pastor should be goading them into getting into their Bible as much as possible and starting their own personal walk with the Lord.

Seeking a Group That Magnifies God, Not Kids

In spite of all my greatest efforts, my daughter became a soccer player. I don’t have anything against it, I just didn’t know the first thing about the sport when she started. After a while, I learned some of the rules (I still don’t understand how they determine the “offside” rulings) and began to enjoy watching the games. Now a rush of pride hits me when she makes a great save as a goalkeeper or scores a goal herself. “That’s my girl!” I want to stand up and shout. And when she makes a mistake, I feel a tinge of hurt, as if I made the error myself.

As parents, it’s hard to fight off the feeling that our kids are extensions of ourselves. We get pride out of seeing them do well, and we have to constantly keep that feeling in check and let them be their own people. I know that you know this, and I’m not trying to be preachy. I do want to warn readers, however, that some groups are geared towards lifting up and magnifying the talents of our kids, and this is a deceptively alluring attraction for parents. Modern groups know that parents want to see their kids do well, so they form all kinds of opportunities for the kids to sing in church, perform in plays, and get in the spotlight on Sunday morning.

There’s nothing wrong with kids singing in church and being part of services. That’s actually a great thing. But we must be careful to look for a group that is teaching kids that they are doing these things for God’s glory and not for their own. I have seen, and you probably have as well, too many kids who weren’t very spiritual but who were talented in music or acting or some other spotlight-worthy position and were paraded across the platform in church as much as possible.

This kind of act makes the youth pastor look good, like he is accomplishing something great in the youth group. It also makes the parents feel great, but it is ultimately dangerous and hurtful to the teen. It teaches the teens, not just the ones who are involved but also the ones who are watching it all unfold, that their spiritual life doesn’t matter. It tells the kids that church is a performance. It shows them that it’s all a facade and a shallow talent show. Worst of all, it teaches the kids involved to look for personal glorification and adoration, instead of to seek to glorify and magnify the Lord Jesus Christ. The kids who are spiritual and working at their walk with the Lord — not the kids who are talented — should be partaking in roles of spiritual leadership.

Dr. Gipp addresses youth pastors about this in his book How to Minister to Youth.

When you exalt young people who have musical ability you spiritualize the carnal. We take a young person with legitimate musical talent and tell them they are “spiritual” or “right with God” because they sing. Even if they couldn’t care less about things of the Lord… you have just told the carnal kids in your singing group that as long as they can “use their talent for Jesus” they are good. You have also told every young person in your youth group who truly loves the Lord but can’t sing that they aren’t as important as the carnal ones who can sing. You have destroyed the lives of every young person involved! (60)

Kids need to participate in church, but they need to know it’s not all about them. They need to learn that it’s about the Lord. The emphasis should be on glorifying and magnifying him, not the teen. The group you should be looking for is one where your child participates, and you see them humbled and excited to service the Lord, not being puffed up about their own talent show.

Seeking a Church, Not a Youth Group

Many times the first thing parents ask when they visit a new church is: “What do they have for the young people?” This comes from a good place. Parents think of their kids first, and this is a great, Biblical way for parents to think. If there was only enough food in the pantry for the kids, the parents would go hungry. But when the attitude of looking out for the kids first is carried into the search for a church, there are a couple things that can go wrong.

First, youth groups are not a necessity in a church, but a luxury. That means that not every church will even have a youth program, and that’s okay. Youth can get everything they need by attending church with their parents, studying the Bible in the main Sunday school class, praying with the grown-ups, and hanging out with us old fogeys during the fellowships.

Second, the church with the best youth group might not be the one God wants you to attend, for reasons we can’t even understand. Choosing a church is something that happens directly from the leadership of the Holy Ghost in accordance with the words of God. It may be that there’s a fine church in the center of town, but God wants you to attend a tiny church on the outskirts of the city. What if God is going to raise you up to be a youth director there? What if God has a missionary coming by in a few years who will preach a message that he’ll use to call your teen to the mission field? What if the big, comfy church has trouble brewing beneath the surface, which only God knows about, and he is saving you from being part of a church split in a few years?

We simply don’t know God’s plans, and we can’t make this decision on outside circumstances alone. If you have determined that there seems to be two good, Bible-believing churches to choose from, don’t make that decision based on outside circumstances, such as which one is closer, which church has better music, or which one has better donuts (although if one church has hot Krispy Kremes, while the other only has stale Dunkin’ Donuts, the Lord has obviously made the decision clear).

The key here is that is needs to be Biblical. The Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict himself. If you are feeling led to attend a church that is clearly unbiblical, you may want to check the gauges on your heart. There may be some affection that is influencing your decision and clouding guidance from the Lord.

Pray about the church God intends for your family. Attend the right church that God has picked for you, not the cool church with the youth group that your kids are most excited about attending.

Seeking a Biblical Group, Not a Perfect Group

When you look at the assessment of modern youth ministries, it’s easy to have a critical spirit. We are living in the last days, and good youth groups are getting rarer and rarer. It’s important not to have too keen an eye on perfection, however. Just as with schools, if you look closely enough you will see flaws. However, you can probably find a good enough youth group within driving distance if you keep trying. You may have to drive a long way — there have always been folks at our church who drive over an hour each way to attend — but God will bless the sacrifice.

The key term here is “good enough.” Bible believers can have the unfortunate tendency to become so scriptural that they become unscriptural. I have seen church members — who agree on a thousand other doctrinal points — leave good churches because of tiny, perceived problems. Sometimes they’ll go to other churches with much bigger doctrinal problems; many times they just stay home. If you’re considering giving up the search, ask yourself, “By staying home and not going to church at all, am I straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel?” Which is worse: the small issues you have with the best church you can find, or not going to church altogether? Another way to ask is from your teen’s perspective. “When they graduate high school and leave home, will they be better off if we went to this church with the imperfect youth group, or if we don’t go to church at all?”

By no means would I write this whole book, only to unravel it all at the end and say it is not important. These issues I have written about are of major importance. I am not advocating for parents to go to these modern youth ministries and look the other way. I am saying that there is most likely a church in your community that doesn’t do these things, that preaches the Bible, and that keeps the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though they may not be perfect, it could be that they are better than the alternative of staying home.

The bottom line is this: when you’re looking for a youth group for your kids, don’t just think about finding a perfect group, where the teens in the group are all kind and nice and the youth pastor is the perfect blend of not too old and not too young. Look for a Biblical group first. The church that God has placed in your hometown may not be exactly what you feel it should look like, but if it is holding to the Bible, it is doing very well.

Looking for a God-Called Preacher

Modern youth ministries are run by youth pastors who are looking for books, conferences, and successful programs to give them a blueprint to live by. They are looking for results in numbers. They are looking for excitement. Seminary training is more about structure than Bible. They leave seminary trained in how to build and run a church, but they are not trained in the scriptures. They use the scriptures; they don’t study them.

A youth ministry should be led by a pastor who is called of God to preach his words and care for the flock. The preacher should be led by God, not by organizational structure. He should have no concern for modern trends or for pragmatism. He should be concerned only with whether or not he is following God and feeding the sheep. A well-fed and cared-for flock will become everything God wants it to become, instead of becoming a cookie-cutter religious organization.

Modern churches say that the method is not important as long as the message stays the same. As we’ve shown, the methods are very important. God has given us the method he wants to use in our churches. What is God’s method? Men.

“Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” (Bounds, web)

God calls a man to lead a church, then guides that shepherd within the parameters of the Bible to lead a movement of followers. Notice what Proverbs says about how to change a country.

Proverbs 28:2

2 For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.

It sounds simple because it is simple. Modern churches look to the big, successful mega-churches for methods of doing ministry, instead of looking for guidance from God. They try to mimic the programs that worked to get people in the big churches. But God’s ways are much simpler; he uses preachers. Warren Wiersbe said the secret to ministry is to preach and pray and plug away. The old preacher Herbert Noe once said:

All we can do is get up and say you must be born again, and people get saved. It’s a good thing we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, because we are pretty dumb. We think we are smart but we can’t do anything without God. God isn’t going to bless programs. He’s going to bless people. People who are on their face before God. The church has turned from God’s power to plans and programs and promotions. That’s humanism. Where’s God in it? Humanism is saying I can do it. I don’t need God. One preacher said, “If the Holy Ghost left a service they wouldn’t miss him.”

Watching for the Temptation to Leave

If God has placed you in a great, Biblical church, then you are probably facing all kinds of opposition from the devil. An old preacher was fond of saying that the closer you get to God, the closer you get to Satan. Haven’t you found in your own Christian life that the devil seems to pay more attention to you when you’re trying to live for God than when you aren’t?

With that in mind, one of the ways the devil will work on Christians is by trying to get them out of a good, Bible believing church and into a modern, lukewarm church. It’s amazing how many reasons the devil will give you to leave for greener pastures. You might disagree with the preacher on political views, or you might not like his style of preaching, or you might struggle with the friendliness of the folks in the church. You may not get along with the youth pastor’s wife or the pastor’s wife or the deacon’s wife or the nursery leader. Maybe there are a few families in the church who simply rub you the wrong way, who cause your Sunday mornings to be a bit of a struggle.

In any case, I would encourage you to step back and look at the bigger picture. God has given you a good, Bible-believing church with a pastor who loves the Lord and cares for the spiritual well-being of your family. That’s priceless. It’s something that many, many people in the world don’t have. In spite of petty disagreements and in spite of minor but annoying frustrations, God has given you a gift. I would encourage you to hunker down in the church where God has placed your family. Tell the Lord that you are committed to that church, and listen to the preaching from the pastor and work together to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ in your church, your family, and your city.

Just like our own families, every church has difficulties, but we can’t give up on each other. Fathers, you know you aren’t perfect, and just as you’re going to make mistakes in your own family but you hope your family will give you some grace and allow you to lead anyway, I would encourage you to give your pastor that same grace. He may not be perfect, but if you stand behind him, pray for him, and hold his hands up like Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands, it will be a blessing to you, a stabilizing factor for your family, and a great example of humble submission for your wife and kids.

Mothers, if you have a husband who is trying to get your family in a good strong church that stands on the Bible, thank the Lord! I’m sure you know so many women who are struggling with husbands who don’t have a desire to go to church at all. Your husband needs you to stand behind him and encourage him in his leadership, instead of talking consistently to him about going to another church.

Single parents, my heart and my prayers go out to you. I really do pray especially hard for parents who are bringing kids to church by themselves. I can’t begin to imagine the daily struggle you must face in working and trying to raise kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord by yourself. I pray you get double the rewards at the judgment seat of Christ. For you, getting your kids to church can be especially difficult, but it also can be a special blessing. Follow the leadership God has placed in the church, and you may find that God uses the preaching to be the “second witness” saying “amen” to the instruction you’ve been giving to your teen on your own.

Ensuring the Youth Pastor is in Harmony with the Pastor

A youth group shouldn’t feel like a separate entity from the church, or like a church within the church. When a youth group is separate from the church, it can create a division between the youth and the “big church” and can form a chasm that kids must jump across when they leave the group and enter regular church life.

A subtler and deeper requirement for a Biblical youth group is that the youth pastor and the group should be guided by the senior pastor and in sync with the direction of the church. What are some of the ways you can tell if this is happening, and what are the outcomes of it?

First, the youth pastor should not be teaching anything that isn’t aligned with the doctrinal position of the church. Kids don’t need two different leaders teaching them different things. If the youth pastor doesn’t believe exactly as the pastor, he should have enough wisdom to submit to the pastor and teach the way the pastor does. If it is such a big issue that the youth pastor doesn’t think he can put it aside, then he should leave the church. He should not be setting up the kids with one doctrine, only to have them have to unlearn it and get something else once they enter the church. This will only undermine their trust in the pastor and, ultimately, their belief in the Bible.

Second, the culture and feel of the youth group should follow the pastor’s culture and feel in church. This comes out in many ways. The music style should be similar. The kids shouldn’t have some edgy, borderline worldly music in the youth group when no one is watching. They should be singing the same music that is sung in church. We can see how this will ease in the transition from youth group to church. If the pastor teaches Sunday school in a lecture format, the youth pastor should do the same, and not, for example, lead Sunday school in a discussion, roundtable format. When the culture and feel is different, the pastor will end up getting undue pressure to change from the graduating kids when they enter the life of the church. The kids will not be used to it and won’t feel like they’re fitting in, and they will leave for a place that caters to their style.

Lastly, the youth pastor should not be someone to whom parents and teens can complain about the pastor. If he is the type that listens and relishes in church member complaints about their pastor, he is disloyal and will teach your kids to be the same way. The kids will always be tempted by the devil to complain about a preacher who is preaching against their sin. When the youth pastor gives ear to this, he is feeding into it and doing them a spiritual disservice. They aren’t learning to listen to preaching, they are learning to slough it off and excuse themselves. Have you ever heard the old adage that says that if someone is gossiping to you, they are probably also gossiping about you? Well, it’s also true that if the youth pastor will listen to and sympathize with complaints about the pastor, he’ll listen to and sympathize when the kids complain about you, their parents.

This isn’t blind loyalty or following a man like a cult. It’s simply recognizing that there are more important things at stake than being right about small issues. Church members may even be right that the pastor is too hung up on some issue, but we need to ask ourselves which is more important: this minor issue, or learning to listen to and respect the shepherd God has placed us under?

Evangelist and former youth pastor Dr. Samuel Gipp touches on this in his book directed to youth pastors.

Undoubtedly there will be people in the church who, for valid or not so valid reasons, will be disgruntled with the pastor. You may even feel that they are right and that the pastor is wrong in their dispute. Don’t get involved! Murder is a bad habit. If a church member tries to harm one pastor because of a disagreement, they will later hurt another for another disagreement. If you encourage a church member to undermine or fight the pastor, you are forming a character trait in that person that will never change. They will spend their life hurting churches, pastors, and other church members. (37)

This is fantastic advice for youth pastors, and unfortunately it is all too regularly broken. Youth pastors all over the world are undermining their pastors, and, as a result, they are teaching generations of church members to do the same. It is a sad truth that many of the complaining, disgruntled church members were trained to be that way in their youth groups.

So when you’re looking for a youth group, take note of the youth pastor’s relationship with the pastor. Is he getting his direction from the pastor? Does it feel like they are in agreement or fighting each other? Does the youth group seem like a place where the teen won’t have to get used to other doctrines or cultures when they become adults and enter church life? Is the youth pastor making jokes at the pastor’s expense, or subtly throwing out, “Well, you know how the pastor is,” type of lines? These cues will help you to know what the kids are going to be learning in the group, and how they might respond when they graduate out.

Getting Kids Interested in the Right Church

Over the years, I’ve talked to some parents who were very upset about the state of their kids and were heartbroken that they didn’t love God. They wondered what they should do to fix it. Should they force them to come to church if they don’t want to come? Should they let them stay home until they want to come of their own volition? Talk to anyone over fifty, and they might joke that when it came to Sunday mornings when they were young, their parents “drugged” them. They were “drug” to Sunday school. They were “drug” to the main service. Going to church wasn’t a matter of choice back then.

These days, parents are more skeptical of that approach. It’s not that parents aren’t willing to lay down the old, “as long as you’re under my roof, you’ll live by my rules” mantra; it’s that they aren’t sure this approach gets the best results. In the end, they aren’t as concerned about people living in their house obeying their rules as they are that their kids grow in a walk with the Lord. Maybe they’ve tried it and have seen it drive their kids even further away from God.

I promised at the start of this book I would not attempt to tell anyone how to parent their children. So while I can’t and won’t say what parents should do, I will lay out some scripture here that may be beneficial if you’re struggling with your kids not wanting to attend church.

First, think past church attendance. What’s going on in your teen’s life that could be worked on outside of church? Here are a few verses on Biblical parenting that have nothing to do with church attendance.

Ephesians 6:4

4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Not provoking, nurturing, and admonishing give us a picture of slow growth and gentle reproof. This hints at being more involved in the spiritual lives of our teens than simply saying, “Okay, everyone in the van!” on Sunday morning. Think of opportunities throughout the week to nurture their spiritual interest.

This could be as simple as sitting down and reading some Bible stories with them, possibly Proverbs, Psalms, or the gospels. Another idea would be to take note when they’re struggling with something, such as trouble with friends, schoolwork, or family, and kneeling with them on the spot to pray for them. Think about the impact it could have on a teen if, as they are heading out the door to school, their dad or mom hugged them around the neck, bowed their head, and asked God to help them on the big test they’re worried about that day, or to help them with the recent fight they’ve been having with their friends.

Again, I am not trying to give parenting advice, but I am simply looking at how the following verses can give you some ideas on how you can apply “nurture and admonition” to your teen’s spiritual life.

Deuteronomy 6:4–7

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Here’s another great passage that involves parents and their kids. From this, I get that we shouldn’t be quiet about the words of God around our family. Some folks say that their spiritual lives are private so they don’t wear it on their sleeve. Kids aren’t mind readers, though. You may be thinking about God all day, but if your kids only see you watching TV they won’t ever know it.

You can quote scripture, ask them for their favorite Bible verse, and talk about what you’ve been reading in the Bible lately. It’s such a tough conversation and can be so awkward to have with them, but if you push through the difficulty you may open some doors to discussion you didn’t think were possible.

Proverbs 23:26

26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.

Do you have your teen’s attention? Do you have their heart? Is there an affection gap between you both? If the space between you is widening, think about ways to close the gap and get the love back in the relationship. The same way you would rekindle a relationship with a spouse through one-on-one dinners, talking, and walks around the block, spending one-on-one time might work to rekindle a relationship between your teen and you.

Our schedules can cause a disconnection among family members as we all go our separate ways each day. Can you think of ways to spend some time to win their heart? They might not want to pray with you if you haven’t talked much in a week, but if you take them to the mall for burgers and mini-golf, they might be open to praying with you by the end of the night. Do this on a Saturday night, and Sunday morning could go more smoothly.

Proverbs 22:6

6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Even when it seems like they don’t care about God or the church at all, the Bible gives us the principle that how we raise them is how they’ll end up. Many people take this verse wrong. They think it’s a promise, then wonder what happened when their kids get away from the Lord. But, as we saw earlier, this verse isn’t a promise, it’s a principle. As a general rule, how you raise your kids is how they’ll end up. You can look at other people’s kids and see that, most of the time, the kids basically act a lot like their parents do. There are exceptions, of course, but this is a general principle.

Our kids are being raised by more than just us, their parents. They have connections through school, teachers, friends, and online that are also, in a way, raising them. As much as we want to put them in a pickle barrel and protect them from the world, it’s just impossible. Some kids don’t turn out bad because their parents raised them bad, but because the world raised them bad. To tell the truth, I am amazed that as many kids turn out as well as they do, since the world is raising them so horribly. Don’t be hard on yourself! It’s heartbreaking to see them do wrong, but parents can’t always place all the guilt on themselves.

There are many more verses. A simple word search in an online Bible will give parents plenty to think about and work on. The answer to the initial question should be clearer, though, upon looking at these verses. Getting kids to go to church on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to be about Sunday morning. It seems to be more about laying the groundwork throughout the week. If you wait until Sunday to spring spirituality on them, you may have a greater chance of having a fight on your hands.

Fighting the Good Fight

Many parents feel like they’re doing well to get their kids excited about going to church — any church! As you’re reading, you may be thinking that it was difficult enough to get them in your current modern church and that you will have a war on your hands if you try to change it. The question is clear: is it better for them to go to a bad youth ministry than none at all?

To answer, I would ask you to consider the implications of the question. If your kids are only interested in going to their current group and are unwilling to change, if they are only interested in going to the group that has all the friends and the games and the concerts, if, when you say it’s time to find a new, more Biblical church, they fight and turn from an angel into a demon, what good is their current group doing for their spiritual lives anyway? You may be seeing a sign from the Lord that the spirituality was only on the surface and that they have not gotten much spiritual maturity from the place they are currently attending.

We also must ask ourselves, if they are not willing to go to a church that doesn’t have all the modern draws of contemporary ministry, then what will happen to them when they graduate out and don’t have those draws anymore? If they don’t have any interest in going to a church that focuses on the Bible and not on games, where will they be if they stay in their current place and graduate out into an adult class, where there are no games?

This should unveil something very eye-opening. We see kids all the time who are dropping out of church when they graduate, and we hope our kids will do better. This may be the Lord showing you the real state of your teen’s spiritual life and warning you that they are much closer to being a dropout than you had hoped.

Talk to them about the reasons you want to move to a Biblical church. The chances are that they may be upset about leaving their friends, but they will probably agree with you on your reasoning. The truth is: kids are very observant. If you are noticing that their youth group is failing them spiritually, they probably notice it as well. They may even be thankful that you are making the move. You may find out that they’ve been praying for spiritual help in their youth group situation at the same time you have been.

Excerpt from Playing Games with God: How to Avoid Shallow Youth Ministries and Find a Biblical Group for Your Kids. Print version is available here.

Copyright © Sam Magdalein 2016.




How to Avoid Shallow Youth Ministries and Find a Biblical Group for Your Kids

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Sam Magdalein

Sam Magdalein

Sam Magdalein has been the Youth Minister at Bible Believers Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2002.

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