I had an interesting conversation earlier this week. As I was riding down the road with one of the elders here at Elizabethtown we started talking about the teenagers in the church overall. He said something interesting that really made me think. The conversation went something like this, "Michael, over the years there has been [a high] percentage of teenagers fall away from the church after they graduate. Basically the only kids that have been staying are elders and deacons kids." Wow. That statement really made me think. I thought, "what about my home congregation, and other congregations I have been associated with?" As I thought about this I realized that this same concept seems to be holding true. "Why is is?, I thought." It then hit me, elders and deacons on average put more of an emphasis on church. Elders and deacons are usually involved with something in addition to just showing up on Sunday morning. Elders and deacons usually are at services every time the doors are open. Elders and deacons are usually at the extracurricular activities. The most vivid role models in teenagers lives as much as teenagers may hate to admit it are parents. That is why expressions, "like father, like son" and "a chip off the old block" are used, most kids will emulate part of their parents lives. Most kids don't grow up to be just like their parents, but instead grow up to emulate just portions of their parents lives, the things that their parents emphasized the most, or spent the most time doing. In my little experience working with youth in the Lord's church I have noticed that many parents without meaning to sometimes send the wrong message to their kids. When the parents have something that interferes with services, they choose the thing that interferes. The parents complain about things happening at church. The parents aren't diligent about enforcing moral issues happening in their teenagers lives, not wanting to mess up their social lives, or risk messing up their popularity or even prevent their children from having a "good time". When these things happen what message does it send the teenagers? It sends a scary yet simple message, church isn't important! As long as parents continue to send this message their kids will continue to fall away. After all when there children go to college or get out in the "real world" why would they start making the decisions Christians have to make when their parents many times inadvertently taught them they don't have to. In fact, if the teenagers have decided that church really isn't that important why go at all? Scary isn't it?
Here a couple of suggestions that as future parents and parents we can take to heart:
1) We are role models. Over our children's lives we will spent more time influencing them then anyone else. There is a reason that the Bible says in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.", and in Ephesians 6:1-4 there is a reason that children are told to obey their parents, it is because parents are role models! There is a reason that fathers are told to bring their children up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord", because that child will continue living that way in most cases if shown how important it is. Let me suggest making a goal to have some kind of Bible study or prayer with your child before they go to bed!
2) We teach what we do! I can remember sitting on a plane earlier this year and it was late on a Saturday night. Most people on the plane were sleeping, however I happened to be on the back row of the plane going over my lesson for that next morning. In front of me in the aisles on both sides there were two or three families whom I would assume were traveling together. A scene happened that I will never forget. A little girl who couldn't have been older than seven or eight was sitting beside her father, and the girl asked her father, "Daddy are we going to go services in the morning?" The father was obviously tired and said, "well we will have to see, it will be late when we get in" I could tell as I was observing that the father didn't want to tell his child no, but at the same time knew that they were going to be tired and wanted to sleep in. The little girl then said, "Daddy my Sunday school teacher said that we shouldn't miss church" at this point I could tell that the father didn't know how to respond, and so he said "we will see" and ended the conversation. It is sad that a little girl could see the correct priorities when her father couldn't. It is even sadder that this father was teaching his daughter that church wasn't important. Let me suggest making a goal that you and your children will be in services every time the door is open and become involved with extracurricular church activities.
3)If we have idols our children will have idols. If sports are more important to us then church then our children will notice, and one day sports will be so important that they don't go to church. If sleep is more important then church, then one day our children will notice and sleep in and never go to church. What we worship, our children will worship so we better worship God! Let me suggest that we make it blatantly obvious to our kids that God is more important than anything!
4) No one else can parent for us! I get the impression sometimes that people assume that the youth minister will teach their children the things that they need to know. I get the impression that if the youth minister is teaching parents think that they don't have to. How many hours a week does a youth minister get with your child compared to the hours that a parent gets. A youth minister can be a great aid in nurturing and teaching children but that doesn't take the responsibility away from us. If the only parenting that is done to a child is through the youth minister in all probability it won't be enough. The child will become another statistic, and will have fallen away. Let me suggest that you teach your children the things that they need to know and don't depend on anyone else!
Teenagers, please realize how important your God, and the church is. Parents please teach your children how important God, and the church is not just through word but also through deed and think about What you want your child to be like spiritually when they grow up!