Wendell E. Miller
Q. We see young people who were brought up in the church drift away when they become teenagers. What can we do to keep teens in the church?
A. From one viewpoint, this is one of the largest problems, if not the primary problem, facing the local church.
If teens do stay in the church, grow into mature Christians, and then have children who grow into mature Christians, Christianity will be strong in the coming generations.
But if the teens of today do not develop into mature Christians whose children will propagate the faith, then each new generation must, in a sense, be evangelized all over again.
So a program for keeping teens in the local church might be seen as a top priority of the local church.
However, from another view-point, if the overall program of the church is biblically balanced, then the largest possible number of teens will stay in the church and will become mature Christians.
God has ordained that the family be the basic unit of society (Gen. 1:27,28; 1 Tim. 31:2). So one of the primary objectives of the church should be strengthening families.
Children and teens are affected immensely by the things that are modelled for them. Jesus taught that when someone is fully trained, he tends to be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). Also, godly parental modelling is a pre-requisite to parental teaching (Deut. 6:5-7). Parents are to model their love (devotion) for God and then teach their children what God says.
So another primary objective of the local church should be helping parents develop into Christians who will be good models for their children and teens.
Further, God has ordained that childrearing be the responsibility of parents (Eph. 6:4), so a third primary objective of the local church should be teaching and helping (counseling) parents to "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
So it is a mistake to depend upon the Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and youth group to "keep teens in the church."
When teens do not stay in the church, it may not be because of a faulty youth program. It is more likely that the battle for their minds and their lives has been lost before their teen years.
Therefore, to put emphasis on "keeping teens in the church" is somewhat like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.
Of course, teens do need a good peer group in the church, their social needs should be met in the church with Christian friends, and their youth group can help teens develop toward Christian maturity.
But parents and other concerned Christians should not expect the youth group to overcome poor modelling or poor home teaching of pre-teen years. And parents must not abdicate their God-given responsibilities to the youth group.
Emphasis should not be placed on teen ministries that in any way decrease or replace an emphasis on teaching and helping parents to model Christian living, and on helping parents "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Within the family, God has established an order. We can illustrate this order with an inner circle and an outer circle that are drawn around the same center. Godly parents--a father and a mother--are to be in the inner circle, and the children are to be in the outer circle.
(Christ is to be the center of the family and of each family member, but remember that the circles here represent human relationships, not God-to-person relationships.)
The local church is represented by a third circle that is beside the concentric circles that represent the family.
The home is to be parent centered, not child centered. The home is not to revolve around the children--their desires, their activities and so on. Children (and teens) are to be respectful and obedient learners and helpers in the home.
Parents should not allow the children to come into the inner circle as if they were equal voting members of a democracy. Single parents especially need to be careful to preserve the parent-child relationship, and not to allow a child to come into the inner circle to fill the void left by an absent mate.
We know that the home is to be parent centered and parent controlled because: 1) God has ordained that marriage last for life (Matt. 19:6); whereas 2) He has ordained that the parent-child relationship be temporary (Matt. 19:5); 3) He has commanded that children be respectful and obedient in the home (Eph. 6:1,2); and 4) He has ordained parents (Eph. 6:4)--not the local church--as the ones responsible for child rearing.
The responsibilities of the local church with regard to the family include: 1) helping parents develop into mature Christians and to model Christian living, biblical roles, and so on; 2) helping couples build strong marriages; 3) teaching parents how to nurture their children biblically; 4) helping parents solve problems in child rearing that they encounter from time to time; and 5) promoting biblical family relationships in the family.
The church, including the youth group, should help promote biblical family relationships. No one in the church should attempt to replace the parents, or attempt to promote confidences with the youth that exclude the parents.
Instead, the local church should have the godly goals of turning the hearts of the fathers toward the children, and turning the hearts of the children toward the fathers (Mal. 4:6).
If "keeping teens in the church" is seen as a paramount objective of the church, it may be tempting to use methods, or to develop programs, that actually harm the youth in their development toward Christian adulthood.
If a youth program is exciting, with the result that many youth are in the program. it may appear on the surface that the program is a great success.
But if excitement and entertainment are used to attract and "keep the youth in the church," the youth may tend to develop into adults who are pleasure seeking and irresponsible. But God wants them to be challenged to serve Him, no matter what the cost.
If entertainment and activities, above meeting reasonable social needs, are used to "keep the youth," it may interfere with the youths' 1) being a real part of their families, 2) learning to serve others, 3) learning responsibility, 4) obtaining part-time jobs, 5) learning to be good stewards of time and finances including tithing, and/or 6) saving for their education.
If emphasis to excess is put on the youth program, it can interfere with God's order for the family, replacing the parents with the local church in the inner circle, putting the youth in the outer circle, and leaving the parents outside.
Parents can be relegated to serving the youth program, paying the cost of youth activities, and taking over their children's home responsibilities while the youth participate in a multitude of activities--activities that would be good if they were in biblical balance.
A biblically balanced youth program will provide leadership and training in service opportunities that are as numerous as "fun" activities.
Also, a biblically balanced youth program will avoid intimidating the youth to "be loyal" to "the program," interchurch competition, and so on (see "How Can I Teach Contentment?"). This helps parents to determine freely which youth activities best complement the family program for biblically nurturing their children.
If the local church is to "keep the youth in the church," and if these youth are to grow into mature Christians who will bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," then the battle must be fought in accordance with biblical principles: 1) biblical modelling by parents, and 2) parental child rearing that is biblical.
A program for developing parents who can fulfill their God- given roles successfully should include an almost continuous cycle of classes, and continuous availability of biblical counseling, in the areas of: 1) Christian courtship, 2) marriage, 3) child rearing, 4) solving personal problems, and 5) solving problems in interpersonal relationships.
Caution! Secular error is coming into the church in the guise of biblical principles for marriage, child rearing, and counseling. Search the Scriptures to be sure that all that is being taught is actually biblical (Acts 17:11).
A program for developing parents who can fulfill their God- given role should be the responsibility of the counseling pastor, or the senior pastor if the local church has only one pastor.
Your counseling pastor is ideally suited, or should be, for teaching parents to do a biblical job of parenting, and for coming alongside to counsel them as they encounter difficulties in child rearing along the way.
Caution! Get help! Do not try to "wish away" child-rearing problems by calling problems "a phase they are going through."
God's plan for keeping teens in the church is a family-oriented society, with godly parents in the inner circle, with their children and youth in the circle around the parents, and with the church helping the parents fulfill their God-given responsibilities.
Do not expect any other plan to be successful in developing children into youth who will stay in the church through teen years, who will stay in the church after marriage, and who will rear children who will also stay in the church and rear godly children.
Copyright 1987 by Wendell E. Miller
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