When my oldest daughter was ready to enter our church youth group, I found myself in a series of discussions with members who had decided to not allow their children to attend. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but this caught me off-guard. Was it because they disagreed with what was being taught in our youth ministry? No. Was it a distrust of our youth leadership. No. Was it a rejection of the whole idea of youth ministry? Partially. But for the most part, it was the fear of negative peer influence on their children. There were clearly “bad kids” in the youth group that could unduly impact their child’s spirituality. This made the church youth group a dangerous place.
Since that time, I have talked with other parents who have chosen this particular viewpoint. And still others have committed to the youth group for a time, then pulled out their children after they experience some un-Christian behaviors among their church peers. While I can understand and respect the responsibility to protect our children from bad influences, bullying, or the making of corrupt friendships, I can’t support the abandonment of a church youth ministry. So, let me offer some random thoughts on this point of disagreement:
- Should we be surprised there are pagans in our youth groups? Yes, I’m talking about non-Christian youth who come from Christian homes. They’re teenagers! No, I don’t espouse the view that all teens have to go through some sort of rebellious phase. And, no, not all teens experiment with drugs, sex, and ungodly rock-and-roll. But it’s unrealistic and idealistic to believe that your youth group is filled with Christians who are passionate about serving Jesus. Even those teens who profess Christ are often immature and foolish.
- So maybe we should enact church discipline and bar the “bad kids” from the youth group. But aren’t these the very teens who need to be sitting under the teaching of the Word and the ministry or godly youth staff? On the other hand, they clearly aren’t listening, or even attending youth group with the desire to learn God’s Word. Now, I’m not opposed to elders being involved with families to address particular public sins of their teenagers. This is most appropriate. But even this will not eliminate the potential for bad behavior in the youth group.
- Just an observation: Most of these same parents allow their teenagers to participate on a sports team, or in community activities, or even in public schools. I’m guessing there are pagans in those places as well. So, what’s the difference? Is it that we expect “worldly” organizations to be unsafe places and the church to be a safe place? Personally, I can see the need for more protection from groups that are not led by, or claim to be, “Christian” than the local church of Jesus Christ–even with sinners in her midst.
- What about positive peer pressure? Is there such a thing? Last time I checked, the New Testament is filled with truths about how light overcomes darkness, and the Kingdom of God prevails against the Kingdom of darkness. Do we believe this is operative in the church youth group? It seems to me that if we are training our children in our homes to live as followers of Christ, then a necessary part of their training is for them to learn how to stand strong against negative peer pressure. But many of these parents treat their children as if their commitment to Christ is a fragile thing, easily destroyed by sinful peers. If this is a true concern, then it seems that more work needs to be done at home to educate, train, and discipline.
- All of this raises a bigger question in my mind: Are we raising a generation of spiritual weaklings? Are we so concerned with protecting our children from suffering, hearing bad words, seeing bad things etc., that we aren’t building strength of character in them? I’m not suggesting that we ship our teens off into the bowels of evil, surrounded by wicked peers. This is church youth group! If they can’t handle the pagans in the youth group now, how will they handle them in college, the workplace, and the world?
Just to be crystal clear: All of these thoughts rest on the foundation that your youth group has godly, mature leadership, is teaching sound doctrine, and is wisely supervising youth activities. If these are true, then to keep your teen out of youth group is depriving them of essential opportunities to grow in character and mature in Christ!