Deuteronomy 6:5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
I am getting old. I have been in vocational ministry for 13 years now and have four children of my own. Man…life comes at you fast. As I have gotten older I have had the opportunity to see more long-term results of the lives of the people I have had the chance to minister to. About 10 of the 13 years I have spent in ministry have been in youth ministry. I worked with students ages 11-19. Now that I can look back and see the lives of these young people as adults I can see which ones are following Christ and which ones have unfortunately fallen by the wayside. As I have looked at the lives of these young adults there has been one very BIG yet almost obvious conclusion I have come to.
The adults who are faithfully following Jesus had parents that modeled the Gospel at home!
Wow! There it is! This fact was a big part of the reason that I felt like it was time to leave youth ministry and become a pastor. I did not leave youth ministry because I loved youth any less, had my fill of pizza, or because I could not grow facial hair. I left because I felt like if I loved them then I could better affect change in their lives by investing in their parents. If I could get a platform in the church to help parents grasp the great big foundational Biblical truth that it is their job, calling, and mission to disciple their children then perhaps they could raise spiritual giants. The Bible is so clear that parents are to pass on their faith heritage to their children.
Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
WHAT I LEARNED IN YOUTH MINISTRY
Yes, there were kids who came from awful homes that are still loving and serving Jesus and yes there were those kids that seemed to have awesome Christian homes and yet have grown up to walk away from Jesus. However, there is very clear principle that CANNOT BE MISSED:
Christian parents who live their faith will produce Christian children who follow their example.
As a youth pastor I cannot tell you the hours I invested in “fringe kids.” You know, those young guys that had no real father figure to look up to. I would spend time with them, hang out with them, and try to teach them what it meant to be a Christian. To my heartbreak most (not all) of those kids, when they left the student ministry would fall right back into the same ditch they had been pulled out of. Then there were the others…
4 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE ONES WHO ARE STILL IN THE CHURCH
1) THEY WERE ALWAYS IN CHURCH – You know the kids. Their parents had them at church every time the doors were open. These kids were sunshine singers in the children’s choir; they were at VBS, AWANA, or RA’s and GA’s. They were at every lock in, every youth camp and every mission trip. Their life and the life of their family revolved around church. I have a news flash! THE CHURCH KIDS ARE STILL IN THE CHURCH. In fact I am so encouraged to see some of the awesome young spiritual champions they are becoming. Many of them are in Bible College or are serving the church in ministry in someway. One of them (Josh Ellis) now serves as the youth pastor for the church that I pastor (this is super cool by the way). For these kids church was never an option.
These kids did not always like it but their parents thought their spiritual formation was more important than their child’s feelings at the time. My parents were good examples of this. Church in our home was never optional. It was who we were. I have heard many people make statements like this, “I don’t want to make little Johnny go to church because he says he doesn’t like it.” This is ludicrous! You make Johnny go to school when he doesn’t like it. You make Johnny eat his vegetables when he doesn’t like it. You make Johnny brush his teeth when he doesn’t want to and you make him go to bed when he is not ready. If you do not do these things then it is obvious you are not a good parent. HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT IS IT THAT YOU MAKE JOHNNY LEARN ABOUT JESUS AND ETERNITY! Stop your stinking thinking! When Johnny is under your roof you better make sure he knows that being part of the church is not an option.
2)THEIR PARENTS LIVED THEIR FAITH – It was not a Sunday only deal. The Children who are living for Christ had parents that were active in ministry. The parents were usually active in the youth ministry. These parents were the kind of parents that were Sunday school teachers, deacons, greeters, and 1000 other things. They showed up for church and they always brought their children with them
3) THEIR PARENTS SHARED THEIR FAITH – If there is one single indicator of children growing up to love and serve Jesus it may be that they have parents who are personal evangelists. Parents who share their faith will have kids who believe their faith, almost without exception.
4) DAD LOVED JESUS – I do not write this to discourage single mothers who are doing their best but to encourage dads to be what they need to be. There is a clear correlation in my experience with children more readily following Christ when the Father of the home led the way.
If you have small children or teenagers how are you doing in these three areas? I would encourage you to step up your game. There is nothing more important then your child’s spiritual formation.