During Bible College, I had a professor who when assigning a paper would always say, “I don’t care what you know. I want you to tell me what other people know.” I believe that my professor served me well. Our own experience and knowledge can be limited. We need to look to others who have more experience and knowledge to gain wisdom. Personally, I’ve worked with teens for about eight years. Mainly in secular environments. That isn’t a long time. I’ve also never raised a teen. I have a one-year old son and another child on the way. At best, I consider myself a rookie who’s just entered the game. I praise God that there are many in my life who have more experience and knowledge than I do in this area. Over the last couple of months, on this topic, I’ve communicated with experienced youth leaders, parents whose children have just become teens, parents who have teens, parents whose teens have just become adults, and parents who have adult children who have teens. I’m thankful for each person I’ve communicated with and learned from on this important topic.
1. Push Back from Teen
The teenage years are a season of transition from childhood to adulthood. This can be intimidating for both teens and parents. For some parents it can be a season in which your teen gives you more push back, especially about going to youth group. So, what do you do if your teen tells you they don’t want to go to youth group?
First, the question needs to be asked, “are there good reasons for not having your teen involved in a youth group?” Yes. One, if there isn’t biblical teaching. Two, if there is reasonable cause to believe it is unsafe for your teen to attend. However, most of the reasons many teens give for not attending youth group are not the two I listed above. It is likely one of the eight reasons listed in this excellent blog post by Jeff Strong. These reasons include:
- The teen is too busy with other activities
- The teen thinks youth group is boring
- The teen has Christian friends outside the local church
- The teen gets what a youth group offers through the Christian school
- You’ve recently begun attending a church and your teen doesn’t want to attend
- The teen doesn’t know anyone in the group
- The teen tried the group and left
- The teen just doesn’t want to go
A youth leader at another church told me about his experience as a teen and in reference to Strong’s blog post he said, “these objections existed when I was in youth 15-20 years ago. I banked on #1 and # 2 to get me out of going to youth at times. If it weren’t for the godly and loving parenting of my mother, I’d likely have taken much longer to have the appreciation for the body of Christ as I do…”
Teens are smart. A lot smarter than most people give them credit for. They know which excuses will work on you. This must be at the front of your mind when responding to teens who are disinterested in youth group. You need to be intentional about this, so that you can be biblical in your response as opposed to reactionary. Understanding the purpose of youth group must lead how you respond to push back.
A youth group must know its purpose. At our church God defines our purpose. At Trinity Youth we’re about seeing every youth grow into a life-long, mature, disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). This involves:
- Intentionally fostering a daily relationship with Jesus Christ through spiritual disciplines (1. Tim. 4:7)
- Understanding the Gospel, and sharing it with boldness (Eph.6:19-20)
- Thinking biblically (Rom.12:1-2)
- Growing in Christian virtue (Prov. 10:9)
- Becoming a productive contributor in society (Col. 3:23)
- Serving as an active member within the local church (Rom. 12:3-8)
- Being prepared to cultivate a biblical family life (Eph. 5:22-6:4)
Many believe the purpose of life is all about “ME!”. This is toxic. The Word of God tells us that whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (Prov.28:26). This “ME!” mentality is the natural position for the person who is not born-again or is hiding in sin. Don’t cater to it with your teen. It will only hurt your teen in the long-run. Your purpose is to make a life-long, mature disciple of Christ. The purpose of youth group is to make life-long, mature disciples of Christ. Remember the purpose when you respond to push back.
But how? My teen doesn’t want to go to youth group. They just don’t care. What do I do? You don’t want to be motivated by the family tradition of going to church, anger toward your teen’s disobedience, or catering to your teen’s desires. You need to continue to be motivated by LOVE. Without love all they’ll hear is a noisy gong and clanging symbol (1 Cor. 13:1). You can have all the right principles but if it’s not led by love it’s useless. Your teen needs to be led by your love for them which must overflow from your love for Christ. As you lead them in love, here are four principles from God’s Word you can draw from:
Without prayer you have nothing. Only God can change the rebellious heart. He hears you through prayer (1 John 5:14-15). Charles Spurgeon once said, “It is well said that neglected prayer is the birth-place of all evil.” Prayer must be your first response not your last resort. Continue to pray for your teen’s heart to be changed. People go to great lengths for the ones they love. War-like prayer must be the length of what you’re willing to go to out of love for your teen.
B) Probing Questions
When you read the gospels, you’ll notice that Jesus was the best at asking questions. Questions are very effective. Personally, it was a youth leader who asked me the question of whether I was truly a Christian that caused me to wrestle with my own salvation. This ultimately led me to trust in Christ. Questions are great. But what makes a great question? Great questions are God-focused questions that hit the heart not horizontal questions that focus only on behaviour. Great questions are asked in love because you earnestly desire your teen to experience the love of Jesus. Focus on the heart. Focus on their relationship with God. Be motivated by love. This may even give you an opportunity to lead your teen in repenting of a sin or to salvation in Jesus Christ.
C) Preach the Gospel
The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom.1:16). Don’t forget it. God saved a murderer (Acts 9). He can save anyone. He can save your teen. Love them with the Gospel. Check out Pastor Jacob’s blog post on Soul-Winning by Urging People to Make a Decision.
D) Parental Responsibility
What if I’ve been praying, probing with questions, preaching, and my teen just doesn’t care? God’s Word stays the same. Parents are the primary people who are responsible for the discipleship of their teen. So, continue to display the fires of hell and the glory of heaven before their eyes. Open God’s Word with them. Speak to them about the dangers of false conversion. Don’t assume they’re saved because of a profession made years ago. Keep giving them God’s Word. In your home the expectations and consequences should be clear and understandable. Out of love, hold the line of expectations. Address rebellion with a calm assertiveness. Don’t get roped into rabbit trail arguments. If you are the father in the home, it is your job to take the lead to bring your teen up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph.6:4). Having your teen involved in a God-focused youth group is one of the ways to exercise this leadership. You’re not forcing your teen to go to youth group or letting them choose to skip out on youth group. Instead, you’re leading them. You are leading them out of the overflow of the love that you’ve received in Christ. It is important to remind your teen that you love them, and you are responsible to the Lord for them. Your responsibility must take higher priority over your teen’s feelings in the moment. Don’t abandon your responsibility when it gets hard. Be motivated by love.
There are four spiritual consequences when a parent does not lead their teen out of love to being actively involved in youth group:
- The teen is cut off from a means of God’s grace during one of the most critical seasons of their life
- The teen is set up to excuse themselves of being involved in other ministries in the future
- The teen is hindered from more opportunities to develop godly friendships
- The teen is taught that church commitment is more about how they feel than serving others
Youth group is a means of God’s grace for teens. When youth group is God-focused we should expect that there will be times of push back. There is an intense spiritual battle going on. In these times of push back you need to continue to trust the Lord. Remember the purpose of youth group. Continue to pray. Ask God-focused heart questions. Prioritize God’s call of you to lead your teen. Be motivated by love. And remember, the Lord is with you!