What Youth Pastors Would Like to Tell Parents: It Takes a Village
Growing up, I was an active member in one of the largest youth ministries in my area. I took part in life changing mission trips and summer camps, and I was blessed with wonderful friendships through church as a teenager. I am still close with many of those people today – especially the one I get to call my husband!
Throughout college, less and less of those friends regularly attended church when home for Christmas or summer breaks. This puzzled me at the time, but now I am aware of the research that speaks to the epidemic of teens leaving the church after high school graduation. I realize that I was watching the data form before my eyes.
This research is, of course, upsetting to Christian parents, pastors, youth workers and the church as a whole. In May of 2014, Christianity Today shared a post that looked at new data suggesting that teens may not ultimately leave the church; but they often take a hiatus beginning sometime around ages 16-18. Although this article may use different language, it is still referring to the larger issue of approximately 70% of students disengaging with the larger church as they transition out of high school. Although these statistics may alarm parents, they should not paralyze them.
More than Youth Ministry
As a youth ministry director, it probably goes without saying that I am an advocate for youth ministry. I believe that it is important for teens to make connections with Christians their age who are walking through similar struggles and joys. But, that is not where teens should find their ultimate identity within the church. Similarly, I believe that adult Bible studies are important, but they should not be only place adults are connected and involved in the church.
Ultimately our calling as Christians is lived out in one church family, not within generational divisions. When parents only involve their sons or daughters in the life of the youth ministry and not in the broader church, they are doing their teens a great disservice. Their students become content in that ministry and lost in the greater church. When the six or seven years of youth group are completed, teens often have no idea how they fit into the Christian community.
When looking back to high school, I can pick out a handful of adults that really invested in me and my faith journey. These adults took time to talk, pray, and do everyday life with me. I’m not sure I knew the impact of what they were doing at the time. But looking back, I see how those relationships empowered and encouraged me in major ways.
Intergenerational relationships encourage students to connect to the larger church, engage in conversation, and gain wisdom from adults who aren’t related to them (as sometimes teens just can’t hear truth when it’s spoken from their parents). Having another adult invest and speak truth into the life of their teen is in no way a reflection of some failure on a parent’s part. Parental wisdom and influence in no way diminish when their teen meets and prays with other adults. In fact, the opposite may be true.
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 specifically speaks about the responsibility a parent has to teach God’s Word to their children and apply it to their lives and situations. There is truly no such thing as too many trusted, Christian adults in a teenager’s life! As teens phase out of the youth ministry in their church community and begin to navigate the confusing paths of young adulthood, they will more likely feel at home in the greater church body if they already have relationships with adults who have walked through their middle and high school years with them.
As a parent, you may think it sounds great to have other adults investing in the life of your teenager but have no idea how to see that practically lived out in everyday life. I encourage you to start small. Start by thinking about the fellowship circles in which you are already connected. Who are your family friends? Is there anyone within that group that you feel your son or daughter could have a friendship with? The next time you get together with them, make it an intergenerational event.
I also encourage you to prayerfully consider inviting a couple or individual from your church to share a meal in your home, as that could provide a connection with your teen. Whether it is a similar passion for an activity, or someone that may have graduated from the college your son or daughter is interested in attending, facilitate those connections for your teen and see how the Lord blesses those relationships. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, and it will certainly mean creating time in schedules that are already very busy, but it is so worth it!
The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” gives the church an opportunity to be an example of what it means to rally around students and their families – to be a place full of support and prayerful mentoring. Let us help students to see that they play an essential role within the body of Christ and invite them to both participate and to share their much-needed voices.