Recently I have been examining the language we subconsciously use to describe church for our teens. A few weeks ago I asked a teenager, “what church do you go to?” His answer went something like, “well, I go to this youth group over here on Wednesdays and then to this other youth group over there on Fridays.” I paused for a moment and thought, “that was an interesting way to answer that question.” My primary problem with his answer was that he did not answer the question I asked him. Did you notice that? We have defined church for teens as the youth group. I do not think we have maliciously or intentionally endeavored to breed this into our definitions. But that is what we have done. The youth group is not the church. It is one group that exists within the church. Similarly, the men’s and women’s ministries are not the church in themselves but are merely two groups that exist within the church. Answering the question, “what church do you attend?” by stating what youth group you frequent is not a healthy nor correct perspective of what the New Testament church is supposed to look like. Our youth are not a part of a youth group; they are a part of the church. We need to get them plugged into the church, not a youth group.
I am approaching my sixth-year mark as the Youth Pastor at Calvary Chapel Saving Grace. My constant concern is that our postmodern church culture is discipling our teens to become partial attendees to multiple youth groups, but not in the Biblical model of planting roots and flourishing under the direct leadership and accountability of pastors who are overseeing a local congregation. The discipleship our teens receive in our culture is that church is about entertainment and about friendships first, and if those things fit then maybe the Bible will fall inline at some point. In other words, the standard youth group model is – let’s entertain them and hopefully they will catch a Biblical nugget or two along the way. We have detracted from the understanding of the sufficiency of the teaching of the Word of God to impact, convict, and change lives. Remember what Paul said, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Of course, I am not saying that church should be boring. It should be the most energetic and exciting experience of our week. But that excitement isn’t about fog machines, big bands, pizza, video games, laser tag, or boyfriends; it’s about Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Allow me to leave you, the parent reading this, with a few points to consider. First, make sure that your child is plugged into a church, not a youth group. That does not mean that they shouldn’t attend the youth Bible studies and events, they should! It means that on top of that your teen is investing in the local church body by serving. The most natural place for them to help is within the youth group, but it should not be limited to that alone. Get them plugged into children’s ministry, have them become a greeter, drive them to church early so that they can help with setup, and here is an idea – serve with them. Remember, you are the primary influence in your teen’s life even if you don’t realize it. Your teen will cherish these memories. But what if they throw an attitude and it is a trial every week dragging them to serve? Well, be the parent and parent them. You are in charge; they are not. Do not be led by your teen’s emotions as that is a rollercoaster of destruction. Instead, lead your teens into serving Jesus.
Lastly, remember that our teens are worth fighting for. They are going through radical life changes and are experiencing peer pressure in entirely new ways that we can even begin to understand. If we don’t take them to Jesus every opportunity we can and teach them how to function as a New Testament Bible believer, we will lose them forever.