Equip parents before the youth group

Deuteronomy 6.6-7 reads ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.’

Ephesians 6.4 reads ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’

The great responsibility to bring children up in the ‘instruction of the Lord’ is not given to children’s workers or youth ministers. And yet so many churches act as though it is.

How many resources are given over by your church (and our Diocese) to the recruitment, training, and employing of childrens and youth ministers? What if those same resources were instead given to train parents to discharge their God given responsibility?

Too often a youth group is seen as an essential for raising Christian kids. Plenty of people have ‘big youth group’ as top of their list for choosing a church. Others leave a good church to find a better youth group. This is putting the cart before the horse.

The stakes on this one are raised in a small church setting where the teenagers can be sucked out of the church where their family is, and into the church where the youth are. That’s not to say you can’t do youth ministry well on a smaller scale - but the reality is you are working against the grain of our church culture.

Children’s and youth ministry need to be seen as a complement to the family ministry than as a substitute for it.

Humanly speaking, the family is where much of the next generation of church is being raised.

As the gap between church and culture seems to grow, we needs parents (and dare I say fathers?) who will step up and commit to raise their kids in the love and knowledge of Jesus.  Two hours a week at youth group will not cut it.

The Rev Michael Kellahan has experienced the highs and lows of church planting. He also understands ministering in a less well-resourced context, and is currently rector of St Barnabas, Roseville East in Sydney's north.

Comments (37)

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  • Ruth Mahaffey
    April 22, 09 - 2:15am
    I couldn't agree more with this, any ideas on how to make it happen?
  • Dianne Howard
    April 22, 09 - 6:35am
    I do agree that Christian parents are responsible for teaching their children.

    However, coming from a non-church going family, I was and still am very thankful that my local little church at the time had put money and effort into backing youth ministry. Who was going to teach me the scriptures at home?

    I take it that parents who attend church should be being taught the scriptures always and be adequately prepared to teach their families. I would ask: how well are we teaching adults?

    I am sympathetic to parents who are frustrated by unsatisfactory care of teenagers who are part of the body of Christ. It is not easy to raise your teens in a church where they are expected to turn up to a youth group (if there is one at all) for a five minute talk and two hours of games!

    If you have teenagers, that is gold! give them the best of your teaching, not the worst! Meat, not milk.
  • Graham Stanton
    April 22, 09 - 8:54am
    Michael – thanks for putting both youth ministry and the ministry of family on the agenda.

    I agree that a youth ‘group’ is not an essential element of church life – if it were there wouldn’t have been a ‘real’ church until the mid 20th century. I agree as well that parents have responsibility under God to raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord. And I agree that ‘Children’s and youth ministry need to be seen as a complement to the family ministry than as a substitute for it’.

    Both these ideas are regular themes in youth ministry writing and training, and to speak just quietly in defence of youth ministers for a moment, it hasn’t been uncommon for requests to parents and senior ministers to take up responsibility for ministry in the home to fall on deaf (or perhaps just preoccupied?) ears.

    What I’m wary of is the suggestion that the ministry of families be seen as a substitute for youth ministries, rather than as a ministry of the church Family that will support and serve the ministry of the church’s families to their adolescent children.

    There’s a bit of a movement in North America to ‘do for youth ministry what home schooling did for education’ – personally I think that this sort of replacement of youth ministry with family ministry is a bad move; bad for young peoples’ development into mature adulthood, bad for outreach, bad for ministry to young people from non-Christian homes.
  • Jean Marlow
    April 22, 09 - 9:14am
    Although ideally children and young people should be built up in their faith at home, there is one advantage of youth groups which hasn't been mentioned-the child of the non-Christian family who can be invited to youth group by a Christian school friend or neighbour has no chance to learn at home. The youth group, whatever its size, is an ideal opportunity for young people to involve their friends and open the scriptures to them.
  • Ruth Mahaffey
    April 22, 09 - 9:31am
    I don't think anyone has suggested there is no place for youth ministry. I run the youth ministry in my church and have been involved in youth ministry for over 20 years. I think the concern is the expectation that youth group is the primary place for spiritual care of children. youth ministry has a huge place in the church especially for the purposes of evangelism and training, but parents still need to see the importance of their role in the spiritual welfare of their children.
  • Joshua Meier
    April 22, 09 - 1:38pm
    More interaction between families and youth is only a good thing. At my church youth leaders make an effort to engage with parents of the children before and after youth group. A few of the leaders are parents but they are a minority.
    In my experience church parents are great at youth ministry and its a shame fewer people do participate, rather than having uni students to lead youth group.
    What are some ways of encouraging church parents to consider youth ministry?
  • Robin McKEnzie
    April 22, 09 - 8:18pm
    Peer group is incredibly important to teens.
    Being in a church with a good youth group is helping your teen have a positive peer group.
    Doesn't matter how great the family is. It's a developmental stage as they get ready to enter adulthood.
  • Peter Alan Newing
    April 22, 09 - 11:27pm
    I agree wholeheartedly with Micheal, but disagree with Robin. Great families raise good kids who grow into godly adults!

    As a parent of 5 and a Sunday school teacher, it seems to me that pumping resources into youth ministries without a solid and vibrant parenting ministry is like building an ambulance station at the bottom of a cliff. In my experience, one week of life at home where mum and dad read the bible and pray with their children, and model an authentic Christian walk is more effective than a year of the most exciting and engaging lessons at Sunday School.

    We live in an age where the world tell us it is acceptable to outsource the nurture of our children while we chase dreams of affluence and success, and many young Christian parents have bought the lie. As a generation of parents, from an early age we outsource the care of our kids to well meaning strangers at day care. Many outsource the spiritual training of their children to a few well meaning volunteers at Sunday School, and their discipline training to overworked school teachers.

    If we are to successfully pass our faith onto the next generation we need to train parents to teach their children at home from the earliest of ages, and build the support structures (ie playgroups, parenting training etc) to assist them, and not rely exclusively on our children’s or youth departments at church.

    Leaving it to the youth department is too little too late.
  • Brett Bovey
    April 22, 09 - 11:31pm
    Well done Michael for raising quite a controversial question! How can you argue against the employing of a youth minister who will solve all your issues in reaching out to the younger generation? You demonstrate your commitment to young people, you resource your young people with leadership and you have a passionate go-getter on staff. But I think you are right to question this approach. The pressure on this youth minister who is brought in to solve the issues, the unspoken expectations, the need for 'success' from a whole range of sources - not least the youth minister himself, justifying the huge expense, handing over of complete responsibility for youth by everyone ... no wonder there is a high burnout rate amongst youth ministers. What is it now, 18 months was the last figure I heard. I think there are alot of questions to be asked about our current practices in youth ministry. On a more personal note (and here is my agenda), the biggest shock I have experienced in youth ministry is the evangelical senior minister who suspends his theology to achieve pragmatic success in youth ministry. Young people don't need the latest technology, a large peer group, a hip programme, and all that other good stuff - just like everyone else, they just need to be welcomed into a loving community where Jesus is made known.
  • Graham Stanton
    April 23, 09 - 12:30am
    We don't seem to be making any clear distinction about children and adolescents. Scripture is clear about responsibility for raising children lying with parents; that same responsibility doesn't continue once children become adults - but what of this transitional period peculiar to modern culture that we call adolescence?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 23, 09 - 1:08am
    I am assuming Graham, as head of Youthworks College, you agree Michael's point is fine for children work under 13 but not teenagers?
  • Graham Stanton
    April 23, 09 - 1:16am
    not quite sure what you're assuming here about Youthworks College Jeremy!

    I agree with Michael's point that responsibility for raising children and teenagers (at least while they are living in the family home and dependent on the family income) rests with parents, but I'm not certain that primary responsibility must equate with most of the actual activity of discipling. I have responsibility for Youthworks College but I don't actually do all of the teaching, I fulfil my responsibility by engaging others to do that who can do it more effectively than I can.

    Is there a parallel with youth ministry? When a teenager is trying to understand who they are as a distinct person from their family, if spirituality is only connected with the family, then the process of individuation may mean that Jesus is left behind along with childhood. So a youth ministry - with peers, young adults who are 'one step on', and other adults who aren't their parents - can be a vital 'place' for adolescents to understand who they are in Christ, and as members of the church.

    We've spoken a lot in this thread about the relative merits of family ministry vs church based children's or youth ministry but not about the relationship between the two - I reckon more thinking about this relationship would be helpful.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    April 23, 09 - 1:24am
    Thanks Graham. Poorly worded question. I meant merely to let readers know you may have particular interest in this subject :)
  • Graham Stanton
    April 23, 09 - 1:58am
    it was ths line that got me jittery!
    What if those same resources [for training youth ministers] were instead given to train parents to discharge their God given responsibility?

    just for the record - youthworks college does children's ministry training as well as youth ministry... I could say we're holding a conference later this year on the Theology of Childrens' Ministry that is focussing on the ministry of the family, but that might sound too much like advertising!
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 2:13am
    Hi all,
    just to explain my slow response to some comments - I took the family to the Show yesterday. Wouldn't normally have a Wednesday off but a Dawn Service & a wedding this Saturday meant I changed my normal pattern. So thanks for some great comments here.

    Please don't hear me having a go at Youth Workers. As Brett reminds us, these guys and girls can be working under unrealistic expectations from ministers and parents and I don't want them to feel under more pressure. Nor am I having a go at Youthworks and Graham shows us these issues are clearly considered there.

    But - I do think this is an area where some Christian parents can fail to take hold of the responsibility that is given to them and think they can outsource to the youth group. Worse than that is where our church structures are complicit or even encourage that.

    The issues are obviously different for an 8 year old than an 18 year old. The good parent who holds the child's hand to cross the road at 5 is not such a good parent if they are doing it at 15. Part of parenting is letting the child grow up, own faith for themselves, and live it out in a different stage of life. But the parents still have that God given responsibility for raising the child. How they discharge that responsibility is something beyond the scope of this post - but it is one of those wisdom areas that looks different from family to family.
    Part of wisdom may be involvement in youth ministry at the local church.

    to be contd...
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 2:22am
    just cross posted with you and saw your 'jittery' comment...

    I'm not suggesting a motion to Synod to appropriate Youthworks funding to a new Parenting College.

    with you though, I want to hear more about the relationship of the family and church ministry.
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 2:41am
    I notice a number of people have spoken about the way youth ministry can be used to evangelize non-Christian youth. That is true, but isn't it also true of the family. In fact won't part of being a Christian household mean this should be happening anyway?

    I'm not persuaded by the 'need for peer support' and 'one step on' leaders line. If this was so vital wouldn't we see it coming off the pages of scripture? - 'Timothy: be sure to appoint youth workers in every congregation'. In fact when older and younger are mentioned it is not to segregate them but to say older should be teaching younger (eg Titus 2). For me, this is an argument for youth being in church - and for church to change so that this will be a good place to disciple them (but that is probably a post for another day)

    Again, don't hear me running down youth ministry - just wanting to put it in its place. If families did take this responsibility more seriously, it would actually make the work of Youth Ministers easier - they wouldn't be as burdened with unreasonable pressure and expectations.
  • Dianne Howard
    April 23, 09 - 2:53am
    Surely every time a man preaches/teaches he will (should be) equipping everyone to live a godly life. And as older women teach younger women, so the same happens. What better equipping can any parent get than to know God and his word. His word equips us for every good work and I take it that that includes parenting and marriage.

    The biggest challenge in regards to parenting is to be godly. I am wary of many parenting programs.

    I think perhaps we all agree that parents have a responsibility to teach and train their children to know and love the Lord Jesus. To do that parents need to make progress in godliness, by the mercy of God, in our own lives.

    However I do believe children/teens are part of the body of Christ and need to be loved in that wider context in ways that are appropriate to each gathering and the context they are in. Some churches may have small parent run gathering for teens, some may have people in the role as a paid servant…. What we don’t want is ‘ill equipped’ young adults or parents teaching youth. (I am talking about faithfulness to God and his word here, not skills.)

    Depending on the context, I take it some churches will do more evangelism to youth than others, but all will be doing it as there is opportunity.
  • Graham Stanton
    April 23, 09 - 3:01am
    I'm not persuaded by the 'need for peer support' and 'one step on' leaders line. If this was so vital wouldn't we see it coming off the pages of scripture? - 'Timothy: be sure to appoint youth workers in every congregation'.

    But I'm not sure that the same instructions would be given if adolescence was a cultural feature of the first century church.

    reading Calvin right now and he says (in an entirely different context of course) 'we know that church organisation admits, nay requires, according to teh varying condition of the times, various changes' (Inst[/i, 4.7.15.
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 3:24am
    But I'm not sure that the same instructions would be given if adolescence was a cultural feature of the first century church.

    Really??? What do you think would be different?

    My point was that the argument about adolescence is a pragmatic rather than biblical one. Being pragmatic doesn't make it wrong, but should make us wary of giving it too much weight. Particularly in a context where the argument is being mis-used (by others) to abdicate a clear biblical responsibity.
  • Debra Williams
    April 23, 09 - 4:20am
    Yes, parents need to make progress in Godliness. They need to do this in order to raise their children in Christ. They need to be supported in this process with teaching & resources. They need to know the importance of modelling to their children Christ's example, knowing God's love & forgiveness, problem solving through prayer & encouragement and the importance of faith. And they need to be supported in practical ways in the development of their Children's Christian Character. This then helps Youth Ministry and Youth leaders focus on their task in the nurturance and support of young people in their relationship with Christ.
  • Dianne Howard
    April 23, 09 - 6:12am
    where our church structures are complicit or even encourage that

    just wondering if you could help me to understand by giving some examples of how you think church structures encourage parents to opt out of their responsibility.
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 7:23am
    some examples?
    * If a church culture is allowed to develop at a church where the children and youth are only being intentionally discipled on a Sunday morning or Friday night
    * if Fathers aren't taught how to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord
    * if at the same time - resources are poured into youth & that is seen as the place the kids will be discipled

    Notice I'm not talking about youth ministry being done badly but the context in which it takes place - where it is made to do too much and the rest of church & family are not playing their part.
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 7:31am
    Sorry - hit submit too quickly. I coach a soccer team my son is in. Those teams used to all be coached by Dads but the fathers are too busy now. Most of the mums aren't game to coach (I wish more would) and so the parents get 'professional' coaches in. The paid coaches are teenageers in the club. These kids know how to kick a soccer ball better than me and it is tempting for me to opt our & leave it to them. The culture of the game and club has quickly shifted with that. Once you are paying for this service then expectations of performance come with it. Now the parallels aren'tt exact but I wonder if something like this is going on. SOmething that should be the bread and butter of church and family life is now being done in a way that usually does good things - but have we missed the more basic thing along the way? Are families missing out when Dad doesn't have a crack at praying with the kids, reading the bible with them, modelling what it means to be Christian, and doing it together.
  • Dianne Howard
    April 23, 09 - 7:47am
    so Michael, are you saying it is more about culture than structures?

    If I was a youth leader I would see that I was to teach the youth as well as I possibly could. I wouldn't assume too much about their homes.

    But I would expect those who instruct and encourage the adults to help them to be faithful parents.

    Am I missing your point? Di

    ps I think it can be helpful to listen to parents and weigh up their feedback on the group. Encouraging the parents to gather occasionally to pray and offer their help as may be needed can perhaps help?
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 23, 09 - 7:56am
    if this is the culture then I think it may indicate a problem with structures.

    being a good youth leader is a good thing but may not be sufficient if a different message is coming from home - by omission or commission.

    speaking of which - I'm heading home.

    and yes, parental involvement and prayer for group and help is brilliant idea. Often works with parents hanging around cooking meal...
  • Dianne Howard
    April 23, 09 - 8:09am
    I would tend to associate culture of the church with the bible teaching and people's response to it rather than the structures.

    I would be working on the truth that the sheep hear his voice, whatever is being taught in the home. Obviously it is best if home is also teaching, but for many that never happens.
  • David Wilmshurst
    April 23, 09 - 8:58am
    And (following on from Dianne's post)... I, who try to do the best for my kids, and use both church and home based rearing of young Christian minds... I am sure that I for one could use both more constant encouragement from my peers, and also those who have "gone through it all before" in terms of doing that which all of you have been talking about above.

    We are all so busy these days that we seem to live pretty insular lives, and it can become a case of everyone having to "reinvent the wheel", even with parenting. (Unless of course you have time to read the ocean of parenting books available. Of course if any of them were perfect, they would have ceased to be written long ago!)

    In any case, Michael's brotherly reminder of the value of Christian parenting is welcome where i sit.
  • David Wilmshurst
    April 23, 09 - 8:59am
    PS: Thankyou Michael!
  • Gordon Cheng
    April 23, 09 - 9:59pm
    Speaking to myself as much as anyone, but surely the divide between youth group and family would be bridged by a few dads actually turning up to assist in running things.

    Also great for building relations with some of your kids' peer groups, in much the same way that school scripture can help you to get to know kids in the school class.
  • Graham Stanton
    April 24, 09 - 6:57am
    But I'm not sure that the same instructions would be given if adolescence was a cultural feature of the first century church.

    Really??? What do you think would be different?

    What I meant was, if Paul was writing to a church in a cultural setting (like ours) that had a 'thing' such as adolescence, I wonder whether there may have been some instruction about peer-peer ministry and 'next-step on' ministry?

    The Bible gives us instructions about raising children, and about discipling adults, but we're going to need to use some biblically shaped wisdom to know how best to deal with adolescents, who aren't children anymore, but aren't adults yet either.
  • David Wilmshurst
    April 24, 09 - 7:21am
    Sounds like i need to exegete the scriptures in a theologically sound manner, and then apply them to myself and offspring of the same. Lonely world, isn't it?
  • Dianne Howard
    April 24, 09 - 7:44am
    Michael, would you think it ok to have adult specialised groups eg women's Bible gatherings?
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 26, 09 - 3:32am
    Michael, would you think it ok to have adult specialised groups eg women's Bible gatherings?


    But think something would be wrong if our specialized/segregated ministry worked against the main meeting of church or family ministry.

    So men's groups shouldn't be an end in themselves but help men lead their families well.

    With this concern in mind, I know one church that had a very complicated small group pattern of meeting - men and women met weekly wihout kids in gender specific groups but once a month they'd have a week where husbands and wives would pray & read bible together. They'd also have a monthly meal after church with kids. The logistics of this make D Day look pretty simple & it was almost impossible to advertise. But it seemed to work well.

    I know I've said nothing here about singles and mixed marriages - there is more to be said . I don't want to be prescriptive but to call us to be wise.
  • Michael Kellahan
    April 26, 09 - 3:39am
    What I meant was, if Paul was writing to a church in a cultural setting (like ours) that had a 'thing' such as adolescence, I wonder whether there may have been some instruction about peer-peer ministry and 'next-step on' ministry?

    So Graham, would you see peer-ministry and next-step ministry as missiologically driven? i.e. These are good missionary strategies to reach this strange new tribe we call adolescents?
  • Graham Stanton
    April 26, 09 - 10:50am
    I guess that's not a bad way of putting it.

    I think I'm trying to put some detail in our setting to the NT metaphor of church as family - this extended 'family of families' is a significant factor in thinking about 'family ministry', not just what happens at home, but what happens in the church community - which is also where we can talk about ministry to those are aren't married, or have no children, or have no parents, or no christians in their own family etc.
  • Shane Rogerson
    April 26, 09 - 12:53pm
    this is a fascinating and important conversation - thank you!

    1. @ Graham I think your last comment is important - in that the discipleship of youth is not only a family (ie parent) responsibility but should also be a concern and activity of the whole gospel community. My observation is that the gospel community often takes responsibility by employing someone to make youth discipleship happen, rather than get involved in discipling relationships with adolescents i.e like parents, the danger is that church outsources.
    do you think this danger can be countered?

    2. I wonder whether specialist ministries reflect the homogenisation of church - and as Michael has suggested - create pragmatic drivers that 'work' against the dynamic of the family responsibility in particular and the responsibility of the whole gospel community in general.
    every church homogenizes ministry to some extent ( like language) but is more lost than gained from specialist ministry?