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The Glass House

Reason 5: Youth Ministry

You cannot please God if you do not know Him.

Family and secret devotions are not going on. That's the entire problem in a nutshell. Stop calling Dr. Phil. Stop whining, stop running in circles, beating your chest wondering why, oh why, is my kid out of control. You don't pray with them, You don't have a time of sharing with them. They don't see you pray. They don't see you keep a regular personal quiet time of devotion. Everybody's got a soccer game. Everybody's rushing to the mall. You've parked your kid in front of a TV for fifteen years and now you're wondering why she's cussing you out and letting unemployed, clueless boys get over on her. You did this.

I've never known a pastor, well, at least not a black pastor, who regularly checks up on his people. I don't mean a smile and a handshake as they exit the building, I mean calling, working the phone list, with some regularity. How are things going. How's she doing. Are you keeping a regular, appointed time to worship and share together? Never known a pastor to pick one, two families a week to come over to the house and do this with them, to model what this Christian family experience should look like. This worship time doesn't need to be a big deal. Fifteen, twenty minutes and we're done. But, for Christian parents, it should be the law.

In 47 years, I've known only one sister who was serious about family devotions. She got her kids up at 5:30 in the morning, indifferent to their protests, so she could pray over them before leaving for work. She did this every day. They thought she was a nut, and she probably was. But that was her conviction, and it was training that stuck.

This “church optional” nonsense is the number two reason our youth know nothing of God. Mommy opens the cellar door Sunday morning and hollers downstairs, “Johnny—you goin’ to church?” This is, typically, the extent and quality of Mommy’s family devotions. The parent who knows God, who loves God, usually asks the same question, but in a different way. More like, “Johnny, how you goin’ to church today?” Johnny can get dressed and go wearing his clothes or he can be dragged out by his ear in his underwear. Either way, he’s going to church.

Kids don’t get to choose. They’re kids. Their little kid brains—centers for logic and reason—are still developing. Stop negotiating with these people. They are CHILDREN. You are the ADULT. You have to be the parent. You have to make the tough choices for them, to risk losing their "friendship." There is no “choice.” Get your butt in the car.

The number one reason we're losing the younger generation is parents unwilling to confront their own child for fear of upsetting them. They don’t want to argue, don’t want to fight. Raising kids, teens most especially, is all about struggle. It’s supposed to be. If your kids are rebelling against you—that’s part of life. That has to happen. At some point your kid will begin to define himself, usually at your expense, by turning away from your values and from your example. Usually, this is a phase, and once they get past this annoying, hormone-driven nonsense, they usually emerge with those values intact.

Trouble is, many parents are simply not teaching their kids any values. They are abandoning their kids to a TV set. All day long, the kid sees murder, cussing, drinking, sex. While you’re off catching vapors at the church house, your son, your daughter, can’t wait for you to put on your big hat and grab your keys. No sooner are you out the driveway, your fifteen-year old daughter’s got some twenty-something or even thirty-something man laying up next to her rolling a joint. Some of you are laughing now. Some of you are getting angry at me, now. But these are the facts.

Ministry is top-down: the rebellious godlessness of youth is a direct reflection of what is being preached in the home—nothing. The nothing being preached in the home is a direct and accurate measure of the quality of the pastor's leadership.

Pastors: do your members actually have family devotion with their spouses and children? We stand up every month and read that lie—that useless and doctrinally questionable Baptist church covenant, and promise to keep “family and secret devotions.” Most of us do neither, and our lives reflect that. This is why the divorce rate is so high. We try to do things on our own. We exclude God from our choices, our thinking, our family process. This is why our children know nothing of God and do not fear God: (1) our failure to share Christ with them, usually because we ourselves do not know Christ and do not worship Him and do not live a life that honors Him and our kids know it, and, (2) we keep paying that cable or satellite bill, literally financing the garbage that is destroying our kids right in front of our eyes. And you cry and cry and pull your hair out and toss and turn and call Oprah. “I can’t control her!” This is a battle you lost long ago.

Quick—what color are my eyes? Who does this glorify?

You can’t wait until your kid is 15 and cussing you out

to decide to man up. It’s too late: you blew it. Parents: your kids are watching you. All the time. They may not say it, may never call you on it, but your hypocrisy is like a billboard sign to them. Your weakness undermines your claim to know Christ. Human weakness is not something easily processed by young minds, which we have trained, from birth, to think in moral absolutes—right and wrong. We’ve lied to them since birth, with all those lies about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fiary and good people going to heaven and all of that. Lies. And we do this because this is what our parents did to us and what their parents did to them: lied. Santa Claus, lie. Tooth Fairy, lie.

Then what happens? She turns thirteen and begins to develop what Mama 'Nem used to call “a mind of her own.” She begins watching and listening ever more carefully. And she realizes you’ve lied to her. Most little kids can’t even fathom a mother lying to them. But the day will come when your child will realize you’ve been lying to them all along—about Santa or whatever. And, once your child realizes you have lied to them—about anything—they realize you might be lying to them now. Your word no longer has instant and unqualified credibility with them. Now they want proof. Smoking is bad for me? Prove it. Sex before marriage is wrong? Prove it.

The trust is gone. You’ve squandered it on nonsense that means nothing. And you don’t even know why you did that—frittered away your child’s trust on Tooth Fairy nonsense and lies about her “uncles” spending the night in your bed. You did this. You lost them. Your weakness, your wretched character and your selfishness—unwilling to sacrifice your needs for your child—did this. The TV as babysitter and all that lying.

This is largely because the parents themselves don’t know God, don’t have a thriving, productive relationship with Hm. Because they think church membership is what saves you. Because they have lousy pastors who haven’t bothered, even once, to call and ask how they are and break bread with them and get in their face about their spiritual walk and that of their children. But this pastor’s name is on the side of the bus, and these same moron parents give him a bag full of cash at his anniversary.

Where’s the accountability? Where is the point where we step back and realize our leaders have grossly failed us?

The worst threat to youth ministry is the mommies.

The over-protective mommies who use their children as emotional crutches, fearing to lose their companionship and, in some cases, their child's approval. Many of these women have serious emotional issues, having been hurt and/or abandoned by some man or men in their lives. Wounded and emotionally needy, they throw themselves into mothering and find reward only in the emotional connection they have with their child. But this is a connection which must, by the laws of nature, be strained and even severed as the child matures, discovering his or her own identity—usually at the expense of the parental bond.

Many mommies, frustrated by increasing emotional distance between themselves and their child, switch tactics, becoming the child's buddy or roommate, attempting to win their friendship or appease the kid in an effort to keep peace and/or maintain the closeness Mommy has been using as her own emotional crutch for years. Mommies often take out their frustration on the other people in the child's life, notably teachers and ministers: anyone trying to instill values in their child. A youth minister becomes a major target because his efforts to instill spiritual values in mommy's child can often be received by mommy as an indictment of her parenting. The child comes home ticked off because she has to read three chapters of the bible, and Mommy calls the pastor and gives him an earful about what a jerk his youth minister is.

Which is where the pastor blows it. See, he takes that phone call. Nine out of ten times, a histrionic mommy on your phone is taking out her frustrations with her child on you. She is scapegoating the other authority figures in her child's life because she feels guilt about her deficit of influence over her own child, or she is attempting to champion the child—no matter how obviously wrong the child is—in an attempt to either keep peace at home or win the child's favor. Most Mommies are so unaware they're even doing this, that any authority figure—particularly any male authority figure—will inherit Mommy's wrath simply for pointing out how incredibly wrongheaded Mommy is for objecting to her child's being asked to read the bible.

Thus, the second biggest threat to effective youth ministry is often the pastor himself. Weak pastors have weak youth ministries. Weak youth ministries do not effectively seed the next generation of believers, which leads to a shrinking congregation. Pastors: women despise weakness in men. Women will always test boundaries and jump in your face and try you. You may think you're being conciliatory and keeping the peace, but you are displaying an inconsistent testimony to these people, being bold and decisive in the pulpit while being a jellyfish whenever they confront you.

Pastors, you are doing the very same thing to the mommies that the mommies are doing to their children. The mommies are trying to be their kids' buddy, when their kids desperately need their mother to be their mother. The mommies need their pastor to be their pastor, not their buddy. Not tip-toeing around and trying to keep peace, but be a man, Stand on biblical principal, get her to open the bible, to read it for herself, to understand how Christians resolve conflict (Matthew 18).

Far too many pastors fold, caving into the hysterical mommies, and then go and spank their youth ministers for simply doing their job. Little by little, the youth pastor's authority is eroded and undermined to the point where he becomes little more than a babysitter. He can instill no discipline because the kids know he has no power. His threats are empty, he can't even make them stay after and sweep up the place because Mommy is on her way and she can't be bothered to wait. Worse, the kids know—I mean, get this in your spirit, pastors—the kids know you don't have the youth pastor's back. They can smell it. They've got Mommy jumping hoops because Mommy is in Buddy Mode trying to appease them. They know Mommy is going to bypass the Youth Pastor and go directly to the pastor who will cave in to Mommy and smack down the youth pastor. So the Youth Pastor comes to accept the utter meaninglessness of his work in your church. The program gets watered down and watered down and watered down to the point where it's just a joke. Kids stop coming, the youth pastor eventually moves on to another church, the pews get emptier.

Your church stops growing

Next: Reason Six: Non-Relevance

Christopher J. Priest
13 July 2008