In a recent conversation, a parent from my church recently gave words to an unspoken fear that I’ve heard from an increasing number of parents: “I feel like I’m sending my kid out into the world, just them against the culture.” We as youth workers often wrestle with that same concern. Given the secular drift in our culture, it can be easy to feel like it’s us versus the world, and our kids are caught in the crosshairs.
Youth workers and parents both want to raise up teenagers with resilient faith who follow Jesus at school, while navigating social media, and eventually throughout adulthood. Calling students to follow Jesus without providing genuine support only compounds the struggle Christian teenagers already face. How can we foster both faith and perseverance in young people if they are standing alone against the culture? Two vital truths give parents and youth workers hope.
1. Salvation and a Growing Faith Are Works of God
Christian parents are concerned about this because they want their kids to walk with Jesus. Parents whose children utterly reject their Christian upbringing don’t need to assume they’ve done something wrong. We are never promised that our children will have genuine faith if we meet a certain threshold of Christian parenting. Reading the Bible with your kids five times a week from cradle through graduation will not guarantee your children’s faithfulness more than those whose parents barely remembered to pray before meals. Of course, parents need to diligently pray for their kids’ salvation and structure their family time to intentionally raise their kids to hear and see the power of the gospel, but parents need to rest in confidence that God will call the lost to himself. So when our kids run away from Jesus, we can trust him to lead them home.
2. No Kid Needs to Stand Alone
Church kids are the church’s kids. That means they stand with not only their parents at their side, but the entire church too. Regardless of your church tradition, the membership has made a commitment to parents and to their children: we will pray for you, minister to you, and help lead you to Jesus. As members of their local church, parents are not alone in their desire to raise up kids who are salt and light in the culture. Our children do not need to stand alone against the culture, and neither do parents.
This is what a youth ministry should be—an expression of the church family coming alongside parents to co-evangelize and co-disciple the next generation. Youth workers don’t replace parents, but they provide pastoral care and mentoring for students because they are members of the same faith-family. We don’t hire youth pastors and build youth ministries merely to entertain or to provide “safe spaces” for teenagers. We do these things because, in the family of God, no kid (or parent) stands alone.
How to Foster a Sense of Belonging
How can youth workers, parents, and the church at large collaborate to ensure that every student receives the support they need from their church family? First, meaningful relationships between students and godly adults begin by worshipping together. Over the past decade it’s become increasingly common for youth groups to meet during the church’s worship service. Regardless of the church leadership’s motivations, this approach intentionally separates teenagers from the body of Christ. Of greater concern is the reality that students who attend youth group during the church service hours don’t really go to church at all. They merely go to youth group. Then they graduate and everyone wonders why they stopped going to church. If parents and youth workers want to stand beside students, then we need to sit together as we worship the Lord in gathered worship.
Another way to create a ministry culture where no kid stands alone is by empowering church members to pray for students. I started doing this last year and it’s been incredible to watch the enthusiasm with which senior members of the church have embraced the opportunity to pray for two or three students daily. Not everyone can serve in the youth ministry, but every church member can pray.
All I did was create a simple sign-up list and divide students among those who volunteered, then send periodic prayer prompts to that prayer team via email. Without creating any expectations for mentoring or any other personal contact, the simple act of praying for teenagers by name has turned these church members’ hearts towards the kids they’re praying for . . . and then they often make introductions on their own. Sure, it can be awkward for the students, but it’s a meaningful reminder that their church family cares for them and is praying for them.
It Takes a Church Family
Parents are concerned about their kids. It can be overwhelming to watch teenagers struggle to make the faith their own. When church members keep their commitments to come alongside parents and teenagers, it can bring significant peace to experience that kind of fellowship and support. May our churches and ministries become places where students are invited into fellowship with God and with adults who faithfully lead them to Jesus.
Lead them to JeSus: A Handbook for Youth Workers
Veteran youth pastor Mike McGarry offers a practical, comprehensive tool to jumpstart your youth ministry and help youth workers with biblical answers to the tough questions students ask. In a two-part approach, he tackles both the practical skills and biblical depth needed for effective gospel-centered ministry to today’s youth.
Photo by Pearl / Lightstock