The Extended Family's Role in Youth Ministry

Originally published December 15, 2009.

For the start of Advent, one of our 8th graders at my church, the one who has grown to be taller than his own father over the past year, showed up to church wearing a suit and a tie.I was wearing jeans that day (dress jeans for those who understand that fashion) and the practice for the rest of the staff is to rarely wear a tie.Randy’s appearance was a shock to us, many whom have known him his entire life.So the moment he entered into our worship center he was mobbed with comments.Comments he definitely expected to receive.Comments he definitely did receive.He came to church that morning knowing that he would receive the hubbub he did receive.This once shy, asperger’s-diagnosed boy came to church purposely to be the center of our attention that morning.

This reminds me of a story Mark Yaconelli told in his classic read, Contemplative Youth Ministry:“When I leave my house to go to church, I usually begin walking like I walk to school.But then as I come around my block and see the church building, I start smiling.And by the time I reach the curb in front of the church, I’m giggling.And then when I reach the front door of the church, I’m just about ready to fall down laughing because I know as soon as I open that door all of these older folks are going to be looking over and see me and start smiling.Then they’re going to come over and hug me and they’re going to ask me all kinds of questions and they’re going to want me to sit by them in the service.And that just cracks me up.”(pp. 100-101) 

How does this happen that teens come to church (not the youth group part of church) looking forward to being with “old folks?”And as you know in any church congregation makeup, there is usually a low percentage of “cool old folks” and a high percentage of “not-so-cool old folks.”It is simply because teens pick up their cues on how to be from the surrounding adult culture.These teens are choosing to take their cues from the adults at church.When we as youth workers have this ready-made church family at our disposal, how can we not find ways to incorporate them into all of our youth ministry plans?

Chap Clark in his study of mid adolescence and the abandonment that they feel also reiterates this, "Lastly, the most effective thing we can do to foster spiritual maturity in our children is to integrate them into adult relationships in the body of Christ. Because mid-adolescence developed due to our collective neglect and abandonment, we must undo its effects by bringing adults and kids together. Young people should be allowed and encouraged to participate in adult Sunday school and Bible study classes, go on men's and women's retreats, and serve on ministry and service teams with adults. The more your child feels that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they are included in not only a family but the family of God, the more they will allow themselves to be drawn into a level of faith that will strengthen and lead them for the rest of their lives." (Fuller Youth Institute)

The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, is often quoted as a foundational scripture for any family-type of ministry.And I concur.However a family in the Old Testament would have included parents, children, workers, and adult siblings with their own spouses and children.A household would certainly be a large group that went beyond the nuclear family.A pastor friend of mine is convinced the traditional nativity scene is incorrect because she believes there is no way that there was not a Jewish mother or stand-in Jewish mother around for the birth of Jesus (insert stereotype).So in the Shema, it is understood that the raising of children is a communal responsibility.

We have that in the church family.The church family is our extended family for our teens (really for everyone) today.I believe it is yet another reason why God has chosen to use the Church to be His hands on this earth.Many blogs seem to delight in the dysfunction of the modern church.But has the Church ever been the ideal that God has set up?Yet His work continues to be done through the Church.May we also put to use our church families to raise our teens to love the Lord the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.

I so hope that Randy will be drawn into a level of faith that will strengthen and lead him for the rest of his life.Wearing a suit and tie on one Sunday is not a youth ministry plan.But providing Randy the opportunity to know he would get the reaction he did is.