Truly Helping Those Who Answer to God

Originally published July 2003.

This is another Pair of Cleats that really is a bunch of questions for you to ask yourself. But before the questions, I want to share a story that played itself out in my local newspaper.

I live in Virginia which is considered the South. Those in the South do not handle winter very well. Just the forecast of a winter storm coming sends droves of people to the grocery store to stock up on those essentials. Like they will not be able to get out of their house for days on days once the storm hits. This past winter we did get hit by one of those large winter storms and, surprise surprise, you were able to get out by the next day. You certainly wanted to after being stuck in. So why the need to stock up? Truly. If you are from the North, I grew up in Minnesota, this is hilarious and silly.

Another crazy effect of southern winter storms is school being canceled with less than an inch of snow on the ground--sometimes with the snow melting and the roads clearing before noon of that very day. This past winter, being that it was like the 6th worst in all of Virginia history, we had 13 snow days. Thirteen. That means we went to school late into June and students went an extra 30 minutes every day beginning March 17 to make up for those lost days. This made a very, very long spring.

The school superintendent for my school system is a man. I mean man in a sense that he has the guts to leave the schools open even when other school systems have closed for the day. He doesn't want to lose a day of school for a snow that will melt or never build. Hence while we missed 13 days, other locals schools missed even more.

Early in the season, before the really bad winter storms hit, my school superintendent left school open while everyone else had closed. That morning it was around 32 degrees and just icy. The kind of ice that hangs around at that freezing point. At any point, the temperature was due to go up and not be icy anymore. Unfortunately one of the early busses slid on the ice, had an accident, and 30 students were injured. They were hardly injured but you had to report them that way anyway.

What happened next was a flurry of phone calls and letters to his office and to our local newspaper. The letters went on and on about how irresponsible he was to have our children out on those streets that day. These parents shared their own stories how they had troubles driving to work because of the ice so surely school should have been closed. Many parents were calling for his job.

This went on for days until the editor wrote her response. She wrote a piece asking the question that if these parents are such good parents and concerned for their children, why did they not keep their children home from school that day? They as parents, have that right to disagree with Dr. Kelly and keep their children home. She didn't know Dr. Kelly was responsible for their children's safety. She thought parents were.

That editorial finally ended the flurry of letters. (Then of course after missing 13 other days for snow, he saved us from having to make up one more day. Hindsight is always the wisest, right?)


The editor was right. Parents are responsible for their own children and their growth and safety. Not the school superintendent, not the teachers, and not the youth pastors.

Yet over time, parents have let others help them or actually have had others raise their children. Because of so many "authorities," parents have begun to feel inept in raising and influencing their own children. But they are the ones who answer to God for their children.

Curiously, as we buried ourselves out of this winter in Virginia and blamed the school superintendent, George Barna was doing another survey. This one was finding out who adults think are responsible for the spiritual development of their children. Results were that 85 percent of parents with children under the age of 13 believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. Another 11 percent said their church is primarily responsible and 1 percent said it is the responsibility of the child's school. We seem to be all in agreement here.

However, Barna also found out that only 19 percent of parents with children under 13 have ever been personally contacted or spoken to by a church leader to discuss the parents' involvement in the spiritual life and development of their youngsters.* There is a large black hole here and youth ministry has a part of it.

We are part of those authorities on teenagers. Have you ever had a parent "dump" his/her child on you and ask you to "fix" him/her? Whatever your reaction may be, you may have contributed to this being the "last effort" the parent has.

How have you contributed to this black hole? Have you ever asked how the parents would like your help in the spiritual life and development of their children? What have you done to make parents feel inadequate? What have we done to encourage the parents' thinking that they can drop their child off at a youth meeting and in 90 minutes all will be fixed? Some parents may just think this, but do we also enable this thinking?

What do you do as a youth leader and in your youth ministry to encourage parents to be parents? To build them up in their tough job of parenting a teenager? To remind them that they answer to God for their child, not you?

Have you fostered an environment that this is a youth ministry to youth like the men's ministry is only for men and women's ministry is only for women? Have you fostered an environment that says that only youth can experience God in the youth ministry?

Is your effort of helping parents in the form of a newsletter that just contains the month's schedule for their children? Do you feel that they do not need to know the deeper stuff that is going on in your ministry? Do you feel that they have no part in it?

Has your youth ministry philosophy been that youth ministry should be just that, ministry to and of youth? Does your love for youth show in that you don't want to take the time you can be pouring into youth to pour into their parents? Why if you love youth so much do you neglect their most important relationship?

Why do we assume that youth have different ministry needs than adults? How did the church become full of age-based ministry? Where did the thinking begin that youth need to be taught away from the church body? Is this because the church body is so boring in its teaching approach? Why then is it boring? And more importantly, is your attitude teaching youth that adults are irrelevant and boring?

Do you believe that teenagers are at a time when they want to become more independent and fear that if youth events constantly have the rest of the family involved that this is going to turn them off? What about all those other times youth exert their independence at school, on their jobs, and with friends? Do you want your youth ministry lumped into these already plentiful times? Do you want your youth ministry to be another time parents don't see their children? What about all the times your youth go home and "cry" to their moms and/or dads? Why do youth who have lost a parent through divorce or death "wig out" so fiercely if they are at a stage of exerting their independence anyway? Why is it that no matter what you teach, talk about or live out by example, you cannot overcome a parent's influence on a youth's life? Why would you not want to help your youth and their parents communicate better during these tumultuous years?

Is the involvement of parents in your youth ministry of one of leadership: discipline, relationship, food-provider? Or do you plan times to allow them to pass on the truth to their own children and their children's friends? Do you encourage your parents to do this? Or do you feel their perceived inadequacies?

As mentioned in an earlier article, George Barna has set a goal of locating leaders as early as high school and challenging them to participate in strategic development of their capacities to lead for Christ. Twenty or thirty years from now, he hopes to see the result in a healthy, dynamic church. Are we currently raising youths to give America a healthy and dynamic church for tomorrow? Or are they just going to be equipped for leading youth group games and talking cool slanguage?

If all parents and the adults within the church stood up and embraced their responsibility to train young people in the faith, would you be out of a job? Is that a fear of yours? How can you begin to redefine your job right now?

*"Parents Accept Responsibility for Their Child's Spiritual Development But Struggle With Effectiveness," Barna Research Group, May 6, 2003, for a complete report , get a complete report at