Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Youth Group Question

This is my response to JenIG question about youth group.

Our church youth group is having a sleepover / lock in tonight. Can we go? Kristin asked me last Friday night.

"Absolutely!" I replied.

"Yeah, the Braun youth group is having a lock in. Everybody go to bed!" Jason shouted.

That conversation just took place in our home! We don't participate in youth group. Our family is our youth group.

When our children were young, they stayed with us during the church service. When someone asked my husband "why?" he stated,

"I'm not keeping them out of the sanctuary for the first 18 years and then praying for the next 18 that they come back in. I'm letting them participate from the beginning."

That has been our attitude all along. Children do not need a special place to go unique to themselves on Sunday or any other day. And as our children have gotten older that included youth group. Our decsion did not just factor in what the youth group might do to our children but what our children might do to youth group (my children are not perfect!), or the youth pastor's attitudes towards us. We also examined the purpose of youth groups and the effect on our children.

Youth group mixes two distinct efforts. Evangelism and discipleship. They are two totally different ideas. Evangelism assumes that the children are in need of a Savior. Discipleship involves teaching one who already recognizes their need for a Savior and desires to grow in their faith. To mix them together creates a dilemma for the pastor and the youth group. Who is saved and who is not? How do you teach them? Wrong assumptions (especially among the youth) creates friendships that are hazardous. Bad company corrupts good morals. (1 Cor 15:33) Also, he who walks with the wise becomes wiser still but the companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Youth group creates a dilemma for the father. As my children have discovered from the conversation above, God designed the family as the unit to for the foundation for society and that includes the church. I have seen many youth tire of family life and desire to be with their friends. The heart of the child should be to do the will of their father. Most youth groups do not encourage that type of thinking. The father is usually not even involved in the process. Unfortuantely, most churches don't exhort the father to lead so they have to "fill the gap" with youth group and youth pastor. This becomes a vicious cycle for the heart of the child. A youth group designed to "help" actually becomes a hinderance to biblical restoration in the family.

There is no such thing in the bible as the teen years. Scripture says, "When I was a child I spoke as a child but when I begame a man I put childish things away." (1 Cor 13:11) Scripturally, we move from child to adulthood. There was no pergatory called the teen years to "find yourself". Our culture has created this period and the church has bought right into it. Interestingly, I was speaking with my Muslim neighbor (he's from Lebanon) and in their culture the youth are looked at far differently than they are here. The youth are considered men and workers to contribute to the family's well being. He was amazed at how coddled the teens are here for no apparent reason.

Youth group is self-focused. People tell me they go on missions trips and do outreaches but those are occassional trips. The weekly meeting is centered around the youth. Their "unique" needs make it necessary to separate them from the general congregation to address them specifically. But what is so unique about the teenage years that is any more unique than any other time in life? (Now a momma with 6 children at 40 that's unique! Maybe I need my own group too!) And the idea of youth group is to make it "fun" so they will want to come back.

Girls were made to blush. Most youth groups mix the guys and gals together. This should not be. Our culture actively breaks down the barrier between men and women. And most marriages today are suffering the effects of this. Relationships should be fostered between our young people in an environment of guidance from mom and dad. But youth group removes that requirement and the youth are free to form friendships and beyond without parental guidance and protection.

Brother and sister relationships are hindered. And along those same lines, brother/sister relationships are also worn down. One wise mother told me that be careful what you let the older ones participate in because the younger are watching and imitating. If the older have "fun" activities designed just for them, the younger will want their own. And soon life becomes a rush to the next activity with no time for the building family relationships.

Evangelism and ministry is happening. My family does ministry and outreach. The assumption made by many when we tell them we don't participate in youth is that my children are being "sheltered" from life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't need to go into all the ways in which this happening but we are called to be a witness where we are. That is the attitude my children have adopted as well. The church is designed to train the believer to do the work of the ministry. Not the ministry that does all the work for the believer. (See Ephesians 4)

That's in a nutshell our thinking toward youth groups. It is not based on fear of what the youth group might do to my children.

Sally Carkston said in a conference I attended, "In the absence of biblical conviction you will go the way of culture."

It is incumbent upon every mom and dad to study the scripture and decide for themselves the reasoning for any activity they allow their children to participate in including youth group.

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