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Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

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The Bible is clear that there are two God-designed institutions that share the same God-ordained purpose. Both the local church and the Christian home are responsible to guide young people toward a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity. Once our kids come to Christ, because we are intentional about sharing the life-changing Good News with them (see Romans 10:17), it is the Biblical responsibility of both the church and the family to help the next generation grow in spiritual maturity. (See Ephesians 4:11-16 and Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Certainly, the Bible teaches that parents are the ones ultimately responsible to raise their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), but likewise the church is responsible to equip or train “the saints for the work of ministry” so that the next generation “are no longer children” and that they may “grow up in all things” in Christ.

Our kids’ spiritual growth is the imperative mission of both institutions.

Christian parents must raise their kids to follow Christ. Likewise, the basic mission of the church is to make disciples for a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity.

What is the ideal relationship between these two God-designed institutions?

Of course, the ideal scenario would be if most Christian parents loved the Lord and were committed and deliberate about raising their kids to grow up to go on for God. It would be fantastic if these Godly parents saw the importance of the local church in Scripture and were enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the church’s youth and children’s ministries.

But look around. Is that what we are seeing today?

If your community is anything like what is happening with national trends – that’s not the norm.

Is this happening today?

According to several sources (by the way, I will cite these sources in my upcoming webinar with the same title as this article – see the graphic above), here are 4 current trends that will definitely impact the way many churches handle their ministries to families:

  • Young adults are dropping out of church.

We have all heard the statistics. Almost 70% of young adults who were once actively involved in church youth ministry walk away from God and the church following high school graduation. That trend is troubling enough on face value, but that departure has been true now for at least 3 generations (Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z) – and the long-term ramification of this exodus from spiritual things is that both Generation X and Millennials are now parents, and many of them are raising their kids without consistent involvement in the church and the work of God in the world today.

  • No religious loyalty.

Recent church history has coined a new term, the “nones”, to describe the most prevalent religious trend in today’s American culture. Today’s pastors and other church leaders are seeing this firsthand. Long gone are the days when the typical household in this country made church attendance and participation a top priority in their lives and schedules. One leading Christian research organization recently reported that a large number of people who claim to be believers habitually go to church services only one weekend per month – and yet claim that they are “regular” attenders.

  • A post-Christian mindset.

There is definitely a dominant post-Christian philosophy in our world. Christianity is no longer the majority religious position in this country. History has taught us that the United States was founded with a Judeo-Christian ethic with a basic belief in Jesus Christ. However, most of today’s youth workers and other church leaders are not seeing this to be true today. Post-modern secular thought is today’s most prevalent philosophic trend. Most Christian leaders will admit that they are not seeing a pro-Christian and pro-church attitude in today’s households. This mindset tends to govern how people look at the role of the church in contemporary culture. For example, many, many parents would rather their kids strive for a college degree that will lead to a well-paying job than they would have their kids sacrifice their schedules to attend church youth group functions.

  • A changing household structure.

The authors of “Generation Z: A Century in the Making” have observed the following in this country’s households: a rapidly decreasing number of children living with two married parents; an increasing number of single-parent homes; an increasing number of cohabiting, non-married parents; a growing number of households with single mothers; a growing number of same-sex households with children, and an increasing number of roommate households. In fact, some communities in this country are no longer to referring to families and parents, but are instead using the terms “households” and “guardians or care-givers.”

Pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders are seeing these four significant cultural trends and are realizing that many of the people in their communities are no longer making church, church functions, and church programming a priority. Parents pick sports and other extra-curricular activities over church attendance, and they push their kids to save money for college or other goals instead of encouraging them to commit to church or youth group.  

It would be great if most Christian parents were committed to discipling their own kids toward lasting spiritual maturity, and it would be amazing if the majority of Christian parents demonstrated a loyalty to the local church. But these are not the current trends – and the way churches reach out to today’s households must change as a result.

Please understand that I am not advocating a departure from the Scriptures in how church ministries should operate. Just the opposite. I believe the church must “be the church” to reach people in today’s post-Christian and post-church culture.

Can the church go it alone?

Yes, it is time for the church to be the church. It’s time for churches to recommit to God’s mission of reaching the world for Christ (Acts 1:8), of making disciples who live by God’s instruction (Matthew 28:19-20), and of equipping God’s people to serve Him (Ephesians 4:11-16).

God can and will continue to use His church to make a lasting difference in the world for eternity (Revelation 7:9). The church is God’s idea, and it is His plan (Matthew 16:18).

It’d be great if all Christian parents were absolutely committed to raising their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), and made the church and church functions a top priority for their kids. But most likely that is not what today’s youth pastors are seeing.

I’ll post some specific ideas soon of what churches can do about these trends. Plus, I will share some key thoughts about these trends and what the church can do about them in my webinar on, “Family Ministry (As We Know It) Must Change.”

May the Lord bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity.

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

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Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church ministries – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.

The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.

I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.

The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.

Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.

Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.

Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.

Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.

My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.

I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

Children IN Church: The Value of Keeping Our Kids in Church Worship Services

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My wife and I made the decision to keep our kids with us during our church’s worship services very early on in our ministry.

(For the record, Peggy and I have 3 children – all of whom were born during my first full-time ministry as a youth pastor. It’s also important to note that I am a big fan of peer ministry. I absolutely believe in “kids’ min” and youth ministry, but I also see the incredible value of balancing age-segregated ministries with inter-generational ministries. In fact, I wrote a book about that. See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. I believe that churches need to intentionally balance ministries where younger generations learn at their own levels of understanding and do so in a peer environment. Simply put, kids need other kids.

By the way, now that I am “old and gray-headed” – to quote the Psalmist in Ps. 71:18 – our kids are now all grown, and all three of them serve in full-time vocational ministry. We now have 9 grandchildren – and currently I serve as a youth pastor in a church where our oldest son is the lead pastor. Plus, six of our grandchildren are a part of our church as well. And, due to COVID-19, our church does not offer children’s church at the present time.)

Now back to my point. I believe it is greatly beneficial for parents to keep their kids with them during the church’s worship service.

I understand the issues. Kids can be disruptive (yep, even my kids). My wife often carried this burden on her own because, as a pastor I was actively involved in the programming of our services. Other parents sometimes confronted us about our practice of keeping our kids in the service – and I was sometimes accused of not supporting the church’s children’s ministry because our kids didn’t go to Children’s Church – although they did regularly attend and participate in our church’s age-appropriate Sunday School classes.

The reasons for parents keeping their kids in the church worship services are different today due to our practicing of social distancing. Many churches are not offering child care right now, so parents are left with the choices of keeping their kids with them, taking them to another location in the church building and staying with them there, or not attending church services with your children.

After reading Kirsten Black’s article “Prioritize Church, Even When There’s No Childcare”, (see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prioritize-worship-no-childcare/), here are some of my thoughts and ideas on this subject:

  • We utilized the church nursery when they were babies. Frankly, my wife appreciated the break and our nursery workers were loving and trained caregivers. But when our kids got old enough to “shut up and sit down” we kept them with us in the church services.
  • There is a great burden on the parents (maybe especially moms) to practice discipline and to “control” their kids during the service. This is not easy; I get that. But, let’s get rid of our pride and embarrassment and realize that everyone needs to discipline their kids – and to help our children grow up learning the value of participating in church services.
  • As a pastor, but also as an itinerant speaker, I knew how important it was for our kids to learn the practice of sitting “still” during the services – especially when I was speaking. (“Smirk.”) In fact, as they got older, I would often take one of our kids with me when I traveled to camps, youth events, and conferences. I loved this one-on-one time with my kids. Now our kids are basically all in their forties – and all serve the Lord in church ministries as communicators of God’s Word. They learned the value of church worship services and the life-changing importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
  • We brought stuff for our kids to “do” during the services. Sometimes that included Cheerios or other simple snacks, but mostly this meant crayons, then pencils or pens and paper so that they could learn the practice of writing on paper. When our kids got older, it was a “rule” in our house that we all had to take notes during the services – even simple sentences or words were fine. It’s really interesting that now that our kids are all adults, they still take notes during the services. It became a habit.
  • It’s really good for our kids to worship with us – and to worship alongside of other Godly adults. This practice helped me gain an appreciation for inter-generational worship too. I know that different ages have different musical tastes, but there is something powerful about church services when people of all ages worship the Lord together.
  • I am not advocating that churches do away with Children’s Church for the long haul. More and more, our churches must realize the importance of reaching and ministering to people from broken, hurting, and dysfunctional households and offering a ministry for children, where kids can learn at their own level, and where they can learn the importance of fellowship with peers. It will also be imperative for churches to be intentional about equipping parents and other older adults to “adopt” the growing number of “spiritual orphans” (those kids your church reaches for Christ who have no Godly adults in their lives) who come to your church.
  • I absolutely agree with how Kirsten Black ended her article. “Parents, it can be done… It’s hard. It’s arduous. It’s tedious. And yes, it’s often distracting. But it can be done, and it’s worth it. Don’t let the absence of the church nursery, and the added inconvenience of meeting during a pandemic, keep you from gathering safely with your church family to worship the Lord. Church services may not look and sound the way they used to, but that’s okay. There’s so much grace. Bring the little children. Raise them up to worship Jesus.”

What is Your Plan for Youth Ministry Parent Meetings this Fall?

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It was my goal to make my book, Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, both Biblically-based and as practical and life-related as possible.

My prayer is that it can be utilized in your church as a catalyst for a conversation between Christian parents and church leaders (pastors, youth pastors, volunteer youth leaders, teachers, and children’s workers), to help them discuss together the critically-important topic of encouraging the next generation to grow up and go on for God. Isn’t that what both groups want for our kids?

Instead of being frustrated with each other (busy parents seeing the church as too rigid and out of touch; and church leaders seeing parents as too busy and with the wrong priorities), why not get the two groups together to begin a conversation on how to make the premise of this book a reality?

Certainly, both groups will come with predetermined issues and concerns, and each group will probably have strong personal opinions about how to accomplish this purpose. But it is definitely worth the effort to begin an intentional conversation with the goal of getting both groups on the same page.

I am convinced that the vast majority of pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders want emerging generations in their churches to come to Christ and to grow spiritually through childhood, into adolescence, and ultimately to go on for God as adults. But to be honest with you, my own personal observations after visiting scores of different churches confirm that many churches have not developed a comprehensive and complete plan for an entire, church-wide disciple-making process.

If your church has established a life-long equipping strategy that is helping all age groups grow toward becoming fully-devoted followers of Christ, then praise the Lord! I designed the workbook that accompanies this book can help you get the parents in your church to buy into that plan.

I also believe that many Christian parents want the exact same thing. Their goal in raising their children is for their kids to grow up to love the Lord and to live faithfully for Him. However, as I stated in my book, I’m not convinced that they know how to work alongside of the church to adequately accomplish that objective. Some Christian parents believe that they are the only ones who can truly impact their own kids. Other parents seem to entrust church youth workers with their kids’ spiritual growth.

Besides that, current trends in America are not demonstrating the development of strong, healthy families. It is my contention that more and more people today will need the church to be a family. Working through this study guide together will help both God-given institutions (the church and the family) to understand and appreciate the Biblical roles and responsibilities of each.

So please work through the conversations and principles in this book together. Seeing the next generation grow up to be mature and Godly adults is too important not to make this a top priority in our church and in our homes. Thanks!

Order your copies at: www.GoingOnForGod.com. Some group discounts are also available. Contact me for details at: Mel@visionforyouth.com.

NOW WHAT? Practical Thoughts for Aging Youth Workers

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I am a 66-year-old-youth pastor. My hair and beard have been gray for several decades now – and I can’t play the guitar. I don’t have a TikTok account and I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m too old to play tackle football with kids (or with anyone for that matter), and I hate staying up all night. I am enrolled in Medicare and I have my AARP membership card.

However, I can say emphatically that I love kids – and can’t see myself doing anything else except working with emerging generations in a local church setting – for absolutely as long as I can.

I know that I am way too old to play tackle football, but we should never get too old to minister to kids.

Believe me, I get it. My games in youth group can be lame, and my illustrations are sometimes old. I’m not the guy to lead worship for today’s teenagers, and I am certainly not the person to lead all-nighters.

But, since most of the kids in our church are from dysfunctional, hurting, and broken households, they look at me almost as a grandpa. My wife and I minister to kids who may not have positive relationships with their parents, but they love their grandparents and respect them. Their grandparents are the ones who provide for them, who take care of them, and who encourage them.

So, maybe working with today’s younger generations (like Gen Z and Generation Alpha) makes sense for older youth workers. Maybe it’s time for older youth workers to refocus our ministries, renew our sense of calling, and allow kids (middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even young adults) to reinvigorate our ministries with today’s young people.

Older youth workers can have amazingly effective ministries. Here are some things to think through:

  • Reaffirm your call as you get older.

Has God called you to work with youth? If so, keep on doing it no matter how old you are. I don’t think the call of God is age related.

  • Stay relevant. Do your research. Stay connected.

How can you stay up on today’s students? Maybe older people are inherently out-of-touch, and we’ll have to work harder to learn all we can about today’s youth and youth culture. The best way to learn about kids, by the way, is to spend time with kids!

  • Concentrate on your strengths. You’re not good at everything. Use what God is blessing.

Older youth workers probably are not the best game leaders, and most likely shouldn’t be worship leaders at this stage of life. But they are really good at building inter-personal relationships and they are probably ideal storytellers of what God has done over the years in their lives. And, they probably know the Scriptures and can successfully teach God’s Word to others.

  • Recruit others to help you (and find people to do what is now hard for you to do). Build a team around you.

Yeah, since we’re not all good at everything – why not make a conscious effort to recruit other Godly adults in your church to work alongside of you. Teams built with diversity are probably best suited to connect with the variety of kids in your group.

  • Make much of relationships… with individual kids, with parents, and with others in the church.

Older youth workers should be really good at developing healthy and positive relationships with individual kids. (Of course, churches will need to develop and enforce child protection policies for all adult workers!) Older youth workers also have the credibility to work with parents of teens too. Plus, they are likely to have the respect of other people in the church as well.

Friends, I can’t tell you how thankful I am to still have the opportunity to work kids and their families at this stage of my life. Our youth group doesn’t play crazy games and we don’t entertain kids with the energetic music or creative videos that I have produced, but we love the Lord and we love kids – and we want to see our students grow up to go on for God.  

WHAT SHOULD YOUTH MINISTRY LOOK LIKE AFTER THE PANDEMIC?

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What should our youth ministries look like after our students can return to our church buildings for youth groups? I am wondering if there will be a “new normal”; and if so, what should change from the way we did ministry before COVID-19?

Here are a few of my thoughts about some key categories of what SHOULD change when we can meet physically again with our teenagers:

  • Safety

Youth workers and other church leaders will need to think this through right away. What must we change about our physical buildings, our meeting set-ups, the way we take attendance, and the way we play games during our youth ministry gatherings?

It probably makes sense to ask everyone to wear face masks and to arrange our seating setup to ensure the 6’ distancing guidelines. We probably need to consider if and how we should serve food and drinks for our attendees. Even the way we distribute sheets of paper or ask kids to check-in on a computer kiosk will need to be reconsidered.

Parents of some teenagers may not be too worried about these things, but other families will be! All they have heard for the last several weeks has been to follow the rules of social distancing. So it doesn’t make sense for churches to not heed those directives when our groups can meet again.

We will all need to be careful. It is important to strategize and plan now for our ministries to open again. Things will not be business as normal – especially in the minds and hearts of some of our church people. So, it is very important right now to begin the planning process of what your ministry is going to do when you can open the doors.

Some states will require attendance limits, and I know that some churches are considering offering multiple meetings times to accommodate those limited numbers. (For instance, some states are still discouraging groups of more than 25 people to gather in the same location.) Some churches are also planning to continue using Zoom as well, knowing that some kids will not attend our youth groups in person. That way they will still be able to be involved in some way in our programs.

Making sure that your people are safe will need to be a top priority. Plus, you will need to clearly communicate to all possible attendees what your church has done (like thoroughly clean and disinfect your building’s entry way and meeting rooms) and what you will keep doing from now on for people to feel safe in your building.

You will need to develop a comprehensive checklist of safety items to accomplish before kids show up in your building. Then it is very important to let your people know what you have done to protect the kids.

  • Teaching

Your kids will undoubtedly crave in-person, human connections with their friends and mentors that are a part of your church’s youth ministry. When they can return to your building, the tendency will be to “party”, to have fun, and to renew friendships and to rebuild relationships. Those things are especially important (we’ll talk more about that below), but it may be even more important to make much of God and His Word upon their return to church youth group. Your kids will need to hear you talk about God’s purpose for this crisis, that His work in the world is not thwarted, and that their role in His mission is still in effect. They may crave fellowship, but they will need Biblical answers taught by Godly leaders – and our Lord has put youth leaders in an ideal position right now to direct kids’ minds toward His Word.

  • Fellowship and Human Connections

Several weeks of isolation away from others (friends and classmates, teachers and mentors, youth groups) in a stay-in-place world will probably motivate your teens to crave time with additional people. As I mentioned above, they will certainly want time to reconnect and hang out with their friends in informal, unstructured conversations. I am not saying that doing that is NOT important. It is very important, and wise youth workers will need to plan time when their buildings are open for teenagers to do just that. But, don’t forget – they’ll want to party, but they need to hear from God – so let’s be sure to balance our programming to allow for both to happen.

There is another matter that I need to highlight. There are likely to be many kids that will need some type of emotional, social, or even physical support from the church once this pandemic is over. Being out of school and having extra time at home will not be positive for everyone. There are many dysfunctional, broken, and hurting households out there. Church leaders must be sensitive toward these hurting households and need to have a plan to provide helpful resources for troubled kids and parents.

  • A Break from “Screen Time”

More than ever, today’s kids are living in an online world. The church and many youth groups have moved online, but our kids are already there. They live in a “Fortnite”, contrived-reality world. Their lives are dominated by social media personas, where “likes” carry way too much weight.

My wife and I have 9 grandchildren, with the oldest being only 14 years old. Each of them has had access to an iPad since they were very young. It is not all that strange to them to have school online. Their schools have utilized internet-based educational systems already.

However, the current COVID-19 situation has led to an ever-greater amount of screen time for our kids. This may be difficult to pull-off, but I believe that kids will need a break from their devices. I am not saying that we need to make new youth group rules to limit their use of cell phones. I am saying that meeting in person may take on an even greater significance once the stay-at-home directives are released. Let’s prepare now for how important our youth group meetings will be once we can gather in person.

  • Help for Fear and Anxiety

Younger generations are already struggling with fear and anxiety – and the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate these feelings even more. Everyday they are being told to stay 6 feet away from other people, that they can’t see their friends and relatives, that they have to wear facemasks, and that everyone they meet might be a potential carrier of the virus. We are running out of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and now meat. To make matters worse, almost every news program rehearses the number of casualties of COVID-19. Today’s young people are likely to emerge from this pandemic with even greater levels of debilitating anxiety.

Church youth groups will need to be beacons of hope and comfort to these needy young people and their families. We can offer the Truth of God’s Word to a hurting generation. Caring adult youth workers can have an incredible impact by demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love to parents and kids alike. That is another reason why church leaders, maybe especially youth workers, should plan now to actively consider what their ministries will look like once people can return to church buildings.

Mentoring: Why This Should be a Priority in Your Church

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The concept of “mentoring” most likely originated in Greek mythology. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Mentor was the older gentleman who was entrusted with tutoring Odysseus’ son and providing guidance and instruction in the absence of his father. From what I understand, Odysseus wanted his son to have another male influence in his life during the times when the soldiers were away from home at war.

Perhaps Odysseus was on to something that has turned into a significant opportunity in our current culture. Here’s what I am seeing that is so often happening today:

  • Our culture and our churches tend to isolate various generations from each other into age-distinctive programming.
  • So many families are struggling. Many families are no longer “traditional” (with a strong Dad and Mom) and too many kids are growing up without the positive influences of Godly adults in their lives.
  • I’ve also met several Christian families who attempt to protect their kids from outside influences and actually detach their kids from the larger body of Christ.

I have become more and more convinced that every young person today needs older mentors – and that every mature, older person should be a mentor of younger people.

It’s time to connect the generations – especially in the church.

Like the ancient warrior’s son as described by Homer, our kids today need the influence from other adults in their lives – especially Godly adults who are committed to encouraging them to grow up and go on for God.

Here are 5 quick reasons why mentoring should be a priority in your church:

1. Mentoring is a practical way to connect the generations.

Sure, it makes sense to keep children together with other children, teenagers with other teens, and adults with other adults in many aspects of our church ministries. There are many valid reasons for doing just that. However, the different generations need each other, and mentoring is an ideal way to institute a layer of older-to-younger connections in your church. My own research has revealed that most young people would love to be mentored by significant older adults – and most older adults would be interested in positive relationships with young people. All it takes is a little bit of motivation, organization, and intentionality.

2. Young people want positive relationships with older adults.

I want to expand a little bit on what I just mentioned above. It has been my experience that the current younger generations in the church (such as “Gen. Z’ers” and “Millennials”), usually welcome positive, growing, and healthy relationships with caring and Godly adults. Often, it’s the older adults who feel as if they don’t have the time to develop these relationships. However, the real genius of effective mentoring is that it is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. I tell people all the time that real mentoring is just “doing what you already do, just doing it with somebody younger.” Almost anyone can do that!

3. Mentoring gives older people opportunities to connect with younger people.

For about the last 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit about 30 different churches each year. Most of the older people I’ve met love their church and want to see it continue as Christ tarries. They just don’t know how to hand off ministry and leadership opportunities to upcoming generations. They don’t want their young people to walk away from church, but they are not sure exactly what to do about it either. Friends, mentoring (especially in various aspects of ministry) may be your answer. If older people are willing to develop positive and personal relationships with young people at church (like even in the church foyer), they often find that these young people have a heart for God and would love to live for Him over the long haul. It is amazing to me how encouraging, personal relationships break down the barriers of external trends and fads. Who knows? Maybe the two generations have more in common than they realize.

4. Mentoring provides ways for people to minister to others who have things in common.

That being said, one of the best ways to make mentoring connections is through the things the two generations may have in common. It’s not that hard to identify some areas of commonality: you go to the same church, you live near each other, you have the same interests or hobbies, or the older person has gone through life experiences that the younger person is going through now. I love the story in Acts 11 where Barnabas was sent to the early Antioch church to encourage them spiritually (see Acts 11:23). The greater text in that chapter tells us that one of the reasons Barnabas was sent there was because he had certain things in common with many of the people there. Those background experiences gave him a great opportunity to connect.

5. Mentoring is Biblical.

Take a look at Titus 2:1-5. The Apostle Paul specifically instructed his readers to connect the generations. He believed that older people could be used greatly by God to “admonish” or encourage, train, teach, and challenge the younger people in that church. This pattern is what God intended. He wants older believers to minister to younger people and to encourage them in the things of the Lord. As this passage indicates, the older men and women certainly have the life experience to help younger people in specific areas of life – like in family situations (see verses 4 and 5).

NOTE: For more specific information on how mentoring connections could be developed and implemented in your church, take a look at my new book, Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church. You can purchase a copy on my website at: www.GoingOnForGod.com.

5 Ways Parents Approach Youth Ministry

in Parents/youth ministry by
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Let’s face it, a lot of youth workers sometimes view parents as almost one of the necessary evils of youth ministry. A friend of mine took a survey a few years ago in his network of approximately 400 youth workers. He asked them to name the biggest concerns they faced in local church youth ministry. The most listed answer was “parents of teenagers.”

Here are 5 basic ways that parents of teenagers approach youth ministry. It has been my experience that somewhere along the line all youth workers will face parents in each of the following categories:

  1. Protective – Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the phrase “Helicopter Parents” – those parents who “hover over their kids” and are overly-protective of them. A recent survey reported that freshmen in college sometimes send and receive 11 text messages a day from their parents – and those were college students! We noticed during our summer youth missions trips that many of the participating teens used their cell phones to call their parents almost every hour. It’s true; we are ministering to a generation of hovering parents. My advice is to use this as an advantage and take every opportunity you can to communicate clearly and carefully to the parents of the teens involved in your ministry.
  2. Afraid – Some parents are afraid, and they worry about the negative influences facing their kids. These parents look at their kids’ peers as potentially harmful and manipulative. They also tend to see even the church youth ministry as a problem. The roots to this particular approach are often deeper than just surface negativity. There are some parents who seem to be pessimistic and critical about almost everything. Probably the best thing you can do to help these parents is to keep communicating to them the positive virtues and characteristics of the church and youth ministry.
  3. Proud – Akin to the last approach is something I’ve seen growing over the past few years of my ministry. There are some parents who are so proud and arrogant that they feel as if they are the only ones who can have a positive influence in the lives of their kids. I’ve met some parents of teenagers who will not allow their kids to attend youth group or other youth ministry functions because they see those ministries as a problem. This group of parents looks at other Christian youth and even church youth workers as part of the problem, so they do everything they can to keep their kids with them in everything – including school and church activities. Again, I believe that communication is the key to ministering to this group of parents. Show them Biblical examples of the church in action and help them see the advantages of building other Godly people into the lives of their children.
  4. Idealistic – Some other parents are quite idealistic. They think that everything will turn out okay in the end, so why worry about anything. These parents are often somewhat permissive and lenient with their kids. Plus, this group will often prove to be materialistic in getting their kids anything they want. I suspect that in most cases, their motives are good. They want their kids to grow up to be positive and constructive citizens; it’s just that they try to smooth out all the feathers for their kids along the way. I have found that this group of parents may respond well if they see the positive aspects of youth ministry that includes actively serving the Lord and motivating students to enthusiastically share their faith.
  5. Engaged – Praise the Lord for active, engaged parents. These are the parents who stay involved in the lives of their kids as they mature through adolescence and they are the ones who value the church’s youth ministry and realize how important it is for the family and the church to work together to help kids grow in Christ and go on for Him as adults. This is the group of parents you should try to recruit to be a part of your team of youth workers. They will have a positive influence on their own kids and will often help minister to other teens as well. Praise God for engaged parents of teenagers!

5 THINGS PARENTS WANT FROM THE YOUTH MINISTRY

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Youth ministry is really a ministry to parents. As veteran youth worker Dewey Bertolini says, “Our ultimate effectiveness with teenagers may depend upon our concerted effort to gain an influence in the homes of our youth.” Sure, youth workers can have a real impact on the lives of impressionable youth, but our most effective long-term ministry may indeed be our entrance into the lives and hearts of parents.

We understand that God’s Word gives the ultimate responsibility for raising children to parents, and especially fathers (see Ephesians 6:4 for example.) That’s why a main focus of local church youth ministry should be upon equipping parents to be effective in how they raise their kids for the glory of God. However, most youth workers spend the majority of their time ministering to teenagers. The problem is that we sometimes fail to implement even the basic ingredients of an equipping ministry to the people most responsible for the spiritual maturity of our students: their parents.

The Lord has given my wife and me the opportunity to lead several seminars and workshops over the past few years for parents of teenagers and preteens. (This only means that “we’re old”; our kids are grown up and are now adults.) This experience has convinced us that many parents are looking for the following five things from the church: communication, training, fellowship, encouragement & support, and resources. We have talked to hundreds of parents of teenagers and preteens in churches of various sizes all across the country. These interviews give ample credence to our belief that every church should include these five priorities in its ministry to parents.

Communication

Parents want to know what’s going on in the youth ministry. What are you teaching their kids, and what are you doing with their kids? These are the imperative questions for any youth worker. Make sure that the parents know what you are doing. Well-known youth ministry author Doug Fields quotes one parent, “I would rather have over-communication than none at all. It shows leadership and it gives me confidence I know what is going on.”

I encourage all youth workers to regularly communicate in every way possible to parents. Don’t assume that the teens will get the information to their parents. This is your responsibility. Utilize your youth group website, e-mail, texting, newsletters, the church bulletin, announcements, phone calls, mailings, and all other means of communication at your disposal to get the necessary information to parents. I know several youth workers who schedule regular informational meetings with parents so that they do not have any excuse for not knowing what the youth ministry is doing.

Training

Parenting is a difficult task even for the best of parents. It seems ridiculous to me that churches don’t make training and equipping for parents more of a priority. This responsibility is one of the most important tasks we face, and yet we often go into parenting so unprepared. It has also been reported that church growth guru George Barna has stated that parenting classes might be the most effective means of community outreach in contemporary culture. It is no wonder, then, that so many parents of teenagers have told us that they wish their churches would provide specific means of training.

There is a very real tension here, though, because many church youth workers are younger than the parents of teenagers. I personally faced this apprehension as a young youth pastor, right out of college and trying to relate to the parent of teens and preteens in my church. I discovered that I could talk to them about the big picture of youth ministry without trying to state that I was some kind of expert on being a parent of teenagers. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue how to be a parent back then, but I did come in contact with several teenagers in church each week, and I also made weekly visits to multiple high schools in our area. I couldn’t tell them about how to raise their own kids, but I could share my own observations and conclusions about teenagers in general and the overall picture of youth culture.

I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t provide specific training in how to be a parent of teenagers, but I could make other “experts” available to them. So, I utilized our senior pastor (he and his wife had grown kids) and other adults with parenting credibility in our church to lead parenting classes and workshops for younger parents. We also brought in outside parenting specialists for training and provided other training tools for our parents of teens and pre-teens to utilize on their own.

Fellowship

The third thing that parents need from church is fellowship. I believe that parents of teenagers desperately need fellowship and interaction with other parents of teenagers to show them that they’re not in this all alone. They also need fellowship with people from other age groups as well, especially with parents who have already raised their own children. Wise youth workers will help parents make these kinds of connections through various church programs and ministries.

I want to share another idea with you. Why not try planning some activities each year for parents and teenagers to attend together? Mark DeVries, the author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, touts this idea is his book. He writes, “I began with this rule of thumb: if it works with teenagers, try it with youth and parents together.” Maybe he is on to something.

Encouragement and Support

Parents need regular sources of encouragement and support. Ideas abound. The key here is to do everything you can within the youth ministry to show parents of teenagers that you appreciate the work they are doing in raising their kids for the Lord.

Resources

Finally, youth workers should do all they can to provide parents with some helpful resources and materials for parenting. These resources are plentiful today – check the Internet and your local Christian bookstore. Perhaps you could create a library of sorts within your ministry for parents to check out books, websites, or other practical resources to help them with their kids. You’ll need to be discerning about what kind of materials you provide for them. You should read or watch everything first and only then make those resources available that you would personally endorse or recommend. You may also want to involve the senior pastor in that process. Ask him to list some resources that he finds helpful for parents of teens and preteens.

As you gather resources for parents, don’t forget the “people resources” that are a part of your church or community. What about doctors, police officers, child advocacy experts, lawyers, and counselors? Sometimes parents need these kinds of resources as well. Proverbs talks much about the “multitude of counselors.” It is my experience that a church can make some crucial contacts for parents when they are going through difficult times with their kids.

 

It is very important for all youth workers to remember that they are not the parents of teenagers. Ultimately, parents are responsible for the spiritual maturity and well-being of their own teenagers. I am afraid that some youth workers inadvertently take on too much pressure by almost trying to be a parent to the majority of students in the youth group. This isn’t the best solution. Wise youth workers will work to add the above listed ingredients into the fiber of their youth ministries. This strategy will encourage parents and will help to get them on your side. We must not forget that the most effective youth ministry is undoubtedly a ministry that includes parents as a major focus.

May God bless you as you seek to minister to parents of teenagers.

 

www.GoingOnForGod.com

www.melwalker.org

5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children to Go On for God

in Parents by

The books are flying off the presses in seemingly endless numbers; and frankly, I’m sick of hearing the statistics about the young adults who are dropping out of church. (I know, I know – I’ve listed some of these very statistics in my books and seminars!) But, please keep reading.

I want to start hearing about the kids who stayed in church. I want to hear the stories of Christian kids who grow up and go on for God. I want to hear about the successes of Godly, Christian parents who are proactively working with the church’s youth leaders to develop strong, stable, and mature Christ-followers who as young adults decide to stay engaged in the church.

I know many of these young adults who are absolutely committed to Christ and His claims on their lives. Some of them are currently in college, others are in the military or work force, and many of them are currently living productive live as God-honoring adults.

So, what can Christian parents do to help their children to grow up and go on for God? I’m convinced that we must look to the Scriptures for the answers! In the pages of the New Testament we are told the stories of some young people who grew up before our eyes (so to speak) in the Biblical narrative and who continued to live for God long into their adult lives. One of those young men was Timothy. We meet him in Acts 16 as a young man growing up in church and we read his story throughout the Epistles, including Paul’s last letter to him in 2 Timothy. There are many things in the Bible that we can learn about Timothy, but for the sake of this quick post lets talk a look at some of the things his parents (especially his mother, Eunice – see 2 Timothy 1:5) did right.

It’s important to note that parenting is never a formula or a recipe. It doesn’t work to frivolously think that a few quick ideas lead to spiritual success with our kids. However, if we look at the sweeping principles that seemed to guide this family, we can take away some very practical advice for raising our own kids for God today.

A Consistent Lifestyle – 2 Timothy 1:5

Probably the most obvious thing that this family did right was Eunice’s and Lois’ consistent or genuine walk with God. The Bible calls theirs an “unfeigned” (KJV) or un-faked faith! Timothy’s mom and grandmother demonstrated a genuine relationship with God – and it impacted Timothy. Notice in verse 5 that Timothy also demonstrated a genuine faith. He grew up and went on for God – and that’s what we want from our kids, too.

Communication of God’s Word – 2 Timothy 3:15

The second thing this family did right was that they made it a priority to communicate Biblical truth. Notice that from his earliest days, Timothy learned the Scriptures. The next two verses (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17) reveal that this strategy was much more than a rote memorization of the Text. He also learned that Biblical principles are “profitable” for life and that these principles lead to true spiritual maturity.

Collaboration with the Church

There’s another key element to their strategy that is worth identifying and that is their cooperation with the church to help develop Timothy’s faith. Acts 16 identifies him as a “disciple”, who as a young man already had a good testimony with the other believers. He also was personally selected by the Apostle Paul to go along on this missionary journey. The text expounds on the purpose of their ministry, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (NIV)” Obviously, the church was a priority to young Timothy. He grew up in church and committed himself to a church-based ministry.

Concern for People and Culture

The Acts 16 passage also presents an interesting scenario of Timothy’s circumcision even though his was a Greek (see verse 1). He perhaps was willing to submit to this cultural ritual due to the cross-cultural background in his own family. This somewhat dysfunctional family environment undoubtedly produced a heart-felt concern for other people and a genuine sensitivity for others.

Commitment to Ministry

The final positive thing I’d like to identify from this family was their dedication to God’s work. They were willing to allow their son to follow Paul along on this journey. Without any visible hesitation on anyone’s part Timothy joined the missionary team and set off on what was the beginning of his call to vocational ministry.

Timothy was a young man who grew up and went on for God. The narrative of Scripture points out some identifiable things that helped in this process. Perhaps there is practical wisdom here for today’s Christian families to implement into the fabric of raising their own kids.

May God bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity.

www.GoingOnForGod.com

www.melwalker.org

 

 

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