Yup. I was that parent. My kids had to go to church. They also had to go to youth group.
It had nothing to do with me being a pastor. It had everything to do with me being a Christian father wanting to pass on my values to my children, and having the humility to know I needed help with that.
I suppose if I were a legalist, mean-spirited, or authoritarian, and didn’t have a close relationship with them, it might have backfired. But I’ve never understood why parents who would not dream of allowing their kids to drop out of school, feel they shouldn’t “make” their kids attend church or youth group.
Academics are important. But if we really believe what we say we believe, do academics compare to our relationship with God and his family? What about sports or the other activities that we strongly encourage? More important for life than God’s family?
For a couple of reasons, we had to deal with teenagers who wanted to stop going to youth group. But it wasn’t an option in our family. Just like being a Ziegler meant you were going to stay in school, being a Ziegler meant you were going to stay in church and committed to youth group. Here were our reasons.
- We wanted support and influence of godly young adult leaders who our kids could identify with, be influenced by, and serve as examples for them. This was a big part of our parenting strategy for teens. We did our best to teach them ourselves and to live consistent Christian lives in front of them. But we also understood the nature of those teenage years–a pulling away from parents in order to take ownership of their own faith and values. That’s when we as parents need to make sure they are surrounded by others who will support those same values and inspire them to follow Jesus. Today, our kids are still in communication with some of their former youth leaders who did just that.
- We wanted to teach them commitment to their local church. American evangelicalism is known for it’s shallow consumerism where people shop for the church that best entertains and then as soon as they are disappointed they leave to go shopping for the next one. We criticize that. But when our kids complain about things not going just right, social conflict, or a message that doesn’t amuse, we give them permission to drop out. So what do we expect them to do when they are adults? That consumerism mindset doesn’t just disappear. Linda and I used to say to our kids, “That’s YOUR youth group. It’s not what you get out of it that matters most. It’s what you put into it. There are kids there who need you. And you’ll get the most out of the things that you are committed to.”
- We wanted them to be part of something they could invite their lost friends to. And youth group was that for them. Today they have Christian friends who are involved in local churches who first started going when invited by them.
- We needed a catalyst for positive peer pressure. Not all the kids in any youth group are positive influences at all times. Parents still need to be involved, to know what their kids are doing, talking about, etc. While kids at youth group are also sinners, for the most part, they are our kids. And it’s a great place for them to hang with each other, challenge each other and encourage each other.
In my next post, I’ll give some suggestions on how to involve your middle schoolers and high schoolers in the church in a way that draws them in rather than sending them away.