Segregation and Youth Groups

by lora on June 30, 2010

I posted this video on my Facebook wall and received a note from a friend who shared why she thought youth groups weren’t all bad. I began writing a response to her, which followed my normal pattern of being quite lengthy. I decided I would make it into a blog post, because I am sure that many people would have the same thoughts and questions.

I understand that many adults today grew up in youth groups and believe them to be the backbone of young people coming to Christ. I was actually saved during a Wednesday night youth Bible study. I would ask you to take a step back and consider what I am writing with an open mind. We can’t judge truth based on our experiences or feelings, we are to only judge based on scripture.

It’s really hard to argue with the statistics, and on this topic they are staggering. In a membership class recently, Voddie shared them with us and I was astounded. Young adults are leaving the churches in droves. The conservative figure is that 75% of young people leave the church by the end of their freshman year of college, and the higher number is up to 88%. If you would like to hear more about these statistics and the issues raised by this video, take the time to listen to Voddie’s sermon, The Centrality of the Home in the Evangelism and Discipleship of the Next Generation.

I know of many parents who ask their youth leaders to intercede with their children because they don’t know how to reach them and the church happily takes on this responsibility. The youth leader will act as a moral compass and try to direct the child, sometimes in the direction the parents desire, sometimes not. Shouldn’t the church be working with the parents to help them be able to communicate with their child as opposed to making the gulf wider by affirming that the parents are unable to reach their children? Many will ask the question, “What about the teen whose parents don’t attend church?” We have this backward idea that the way to win the parents is by first winning the children. Where did we get this? Did it come from Jesus telling the people not to prevent the children from coming to Him? If you really look at that passage, it supports family integration. Jesus was talking to adults and the children wanted to come and be a part, and He said not to forbid them from coming (wonder what He’d say to children’s church, but that’s a whole other post). He was wanting to include them, not save them so that they could in turn try to convert their parents.

We often try to justify what we are doing because we see “fruit”, and we all know that good fruit can’t come from a bad vine, right? So if we are getting results it must be a good thing. One of the problems with this argument is you usually don’t know what type of fruit you are getting immediately. We can read the parable of the sower to see this. If we are to believe the statistics, then what we are seeing when we look at a group of teens who are 15 isn’t representative of what we will have when they are 20. Let me use myself as an example. I began going to church when I was 14. I was in youth group, choir, and I was at church every time the doors were open. Every year at camp I would walk the aisle, burdened by guilt of the worldly lifestyle I was living. I would try to be a “good girl” and do what was expected of me from those at church. As I became a young adult, my worldliness shifted to the activities of a worldly young adult. I was still in church every time the doors opened, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I also would have told you I was saved and that I was living the life of a normal “Christian” teen/young adult. Then one Wednesday night 27 years ago I fell on my face, and was overwhelmed by my sin. I saw who I was, and that God was a holy God, and that apart from His forgiveness and my repentance, His wrath would abide upon me. I became radically different, and my heart was turned toward those in my youth group who may have been walking down the same path that I had been. I was often ridiculed by my peers within the youth group for the choices I was making. Very few were supportive of my changes; most didn’t understand my willingness to put my desires aside and serve others. My concern was that many within that group were in the same state that I had been, unsaved, but blind to that reality.

Our choices bringing about a good result, don’t in turn mean that the choices we made are God’s best or that they are scriptural. Shouldn’t we be striving to do our best in how we put our faith into practice? If in the Bible families worshiped together, with the parents training their children, why should we think we should do it differently? Is it because the Bible is “living & changing” and we need to adapt to the culture or the changing times? I believe that we should to look at ourselves and what we practice, asking ourselves some important questions.

1. Why are we doing this?
2. Does if follow scripture?
3. Are we trying to be “effective” or Biblical?
4. What does the scripture say on this topic?

Family integration isn’t just about families worshiping together as many believe. It is much more than that, it is a lifestyle. We believe that as parents we are the ones who are to instruct our children in righteousness. We are to guide and direct them in their spiritual walk. We don’t believe that responsibility is to be abdicated and placed in the hands of someone else. I think that is where part of the disconnect comes from those who see something like this and want to cite exceptions. The bigger point is that we firmly believe that when you give your child over to a “youth leader” to be discipled, the parent is abdicating their responsibility.

While there may be the rare youth group that is “effective” they are non-normative. For 98% they do not encourage a lifestyle that is mentioned in 1John, they encourage being as much like the world as possible and unashamedly take their cues from the culture. I can’t state how many times I have heard youth ministers, or pastors say that we need to adapt and change to be more hip, or cool, so that the young people will want to come into the church. Statistics show that the church as a whole is getting something drastically wrong. We can choose to keep on the path we have been on for the last 50 years or we can examine what is going on and try to correct our course. Should we ever keep doing things if the best reason we can come up with is, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” or “We don’t know what else to do.”. We need to make fundamental changes in how we as Christians operate as a family and as churches. Our focus should be on Christ and training our children to follow Him.

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