Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

02 April 2012

Why youth stay in church when they grow up

The post Making the transition from children's ministry to church, on the topic of seeing children make the transition into church and into a faith of their own, included a blend of notes I'd taken at a recent children's ministry conference and some personal thoughts.  The "take home" message from the workshop and the post that followed was that credible relationships between adults and children in church seems to be important.

But there's more!  Because being in church and staying in church is not just about relationships with others.

Jon Nielson is a youth pastor.   In his post Why youth stay in church when they grow up at The Gospel Coalition (HT: the lovely Jean) he considered the drift from church by teenagers and young adults and then made three observations of those in their 20's from his church who are thriving, flourishing Christians.  What seemed to make the difference?

1. They are converted.

Nielson said, "We need to stop talking about 'good kids.' We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them...We need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students."

2. They have been equipped, not entertained.

Which goes back to that idea that that our primary responsibility should be to prepare our children for a lifetime of service to God and His church.  And that is not to say that THERE WILL BE NO MORE FUN!  We teach and train our children in developmentally appropriate ways.   But our ultimate aim is to teach, train, equip and disciple, not to entertain (or babysit.)

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

Nielson said, "The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central."

Which reminds me of this quote, "You must never succumb to the thinking that this is the responsibility of the youth group and Sunday school. True conversion of the heart and soul of your children is your God-given charge," from Disciplines of a Godly Family by Barbara Hughes.

This is a very difficult subject to write about because it pulls right at the heart of the grace vs works tension.  It raises guilt.  Or prompts laziness. Ultimately whether a child makes the transition from vicarious faith to a flourishing owned faith rests in God's hands.  And yet, in His grace, God allows us to participate in the process of bringing our children to a saving knowledge of Him.  All rests in God's hands.  But these are some good things to guide us as we pick up our part that He has given us to play.  It is a long term work.  And it rests in prayerful dependence upon our gracious God.


Deb L said...

I know so many peers who grew up in Christian homes who are not in church now. They may have Christian siblings, actively involved in their churches, and godly parents, but they themselves are no longer believing. The homes were seemingly doing it "right" - after all their siblings have stayed in the church. Christianity was far from lip service in their homes - most of these kids have/had a parent in fulltime Christian ministry. It's not that what we do doesn't matter. It's just that it isn't what changes the heart.

Meredith said...

I hear you Deb. I do. And that is why it was so hard to write these two posts. I spent hours on them, fiddling with the wording and trying not to take the glory from God. It is all too easy to look at a very neat list like this and fall into the trap of thinking that we just have to follow the formula. It is that whole "Gospel plus" thing.

And I look at my own story. I didn't grow up in a Christian home. I didn't have lots of believing adults around me as I grew up or prayers said or memory verses learned...and yet here I am, thanks be to God, soundly converted.

But I don't think that means we don't think about what we are doing. Because somehow in the process God invites us to be involved. Which is why we pray and meet together and run Sunday Schools and youth groups and seek to share the hope we have with others. I think that there is value in thinking about what we do so that we can make it more likely to encourage rather than discourage. And it is always good (for me at least) to be reminded about the importance of prayer in all of this.

But it is hard to talk/write about. At one end of the spectrum there is the place where we lazily abrogate our responsibilities and at the other end we think we can do all things in our own power. It's the age old tension and it is hard to stay put in the right spot.

And there are the tragic stories like you have described and similarly the miraculous stories of Christians who emerged out of seeming nothingness.

So I do hear you and I am thankful that you have put the other side of the story. As I said, it was hard to write these posts - even this one which was mostly cut and paste in the end! I think the points given are helpful and worth praying about but we ultimately we are here as His children by His grace and mercy.

Meredith said...

Does my comment sound cranky? It isn't supposed to.

Deb L said...

No, it doesn't sound cranky at all! I hope my original one doesn't either. I didn't intend it to mean we shouldn't give careful thought to how we live out the gospel in our family lives. I had read the original article you mainly quoted from and I guess I was reacting more the parents who ended up in his office saying, "What can we do?" rather than his worthwhile observations in response. We should work hard at modelling the gospel of grace in our family because, if our children know Christ, it will an immense blessing to them to have learned it from infancy. I think when I left home 95% of what I knew about God came from my dad. Now that I'm older, I'd say that's only gone down to about 85%. In other words, what my parents said, taught and did has laid an immensely valuable foundation for me personally. My heart just breaks though for peers who's parents were just as diligent and yet (at least at this stage - we pray that God will have plans for their futures) we don't see them walking with Christ. Now that I have kids of my own, I feel the tug to "do it right" and a good measure of that comes from a my own desire to create guaranteed outcomes instead of trusting in God. Like you said, "all rests in God's hands" but we also need to "pick up our part" and do so in "prayerful dependence".

Meredith said...

Amen to that.
Thank you.
Have a great Easter.