When it comes to impacting teenagers for Christ, who’s the superhero and who’s the sidekick? Well, both Christian and secular researchers say you’re Robin and your students’ parents are Batman. I mean that parents who are only doing a mediocre job of impacting their kids’ faith journey can still out-impact the best youth minister in the world. Parents—not the church or the culture or friends—hold the keys to their kids’ long-term faith trajectory.
And that’s good news for youth pastors. You, like Robin, can offer the kind of sidekick help that can make or break parents’ ability to “train up their child in the way he should go.” I think most Christian parents deeply love their kids and want them to grow into committed Christ-followers. So why do researchers say that so few kids appear to be headed in that direction? I think parents need tools to do the job—they don’t lack the want-to, they lack the training.
And that’s where you come in.
You can use your God-given gifts for reaching and discipling young people to help parents reach and disciple their own kids. Awhile back, I was invited to train 60 or so parents to use skills that will release them to passionately pursue their sons and daughters for Christ. At the start of our training time, I asked them to write at least one question they were dying for someone to answer. Afterward, I collected their questions and promised to answer as many as I could. This is exactly how you can help your kids’ parents. You don’t know everything, but you know some things that will really help them. Here are some of their questions, and my best attempts to answer them.
Question: When does the peer-group influence become the most important influence?
Answer: Never. Every research project—both mainstream and Christian—that has focused on the influences in kids’ lives has found that parents are always the #1 influence, no matter what they say to your face or how it seems. One caveat: If a teenager’s parents are significantly disengaged from her life, it creates a void that lesser influences will fill. That’s when a good youth ministry moves from “parent supporter” to “parent substitute.”
Question: How do we best deal with our teenagers who are questioning the whole idea of God and their faith?
Answer: Doubt is a developmental necessity for an owned faith. Teenagers are in the no-man’s-land between their natural adoption of their parents’ beliefs and the testing of those beliefs so they can be owned. They’ll never enter into an “adult” faith if they don’t first question their “inherited” faith. Ride out the storm, maintain your own intimate relationship with Jesus, and answer their questions honestly and with passion. But don’t discount or minimize their doubt. Doubt is a tool God will use. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to encourage their doubt by finding resources that will help them explore their questions. A great resource is The Case for Christ—Student Edition by Lee Strobel. It’s a compelling, quick, and clear-eyed little book.
Question: Why do our kids want to be part of a mainstream culture, where they think that it’s so cool to act and talk like gangsters?
Answer: Because “street” culture and gang-banger language represent power, and most kids are desperate to find more power over the uncontrollable forces around them. Cool, in many cases, translates to more social power. I think kids need to experience the power of Jesus firsthand. And the best way for them to do that is to first see Christ’s power working in your life. Together with them, make it your practice to vocally invite God into your everyday struggles—that means you must “put your light on a lampstand, not hide it under a basket” (Matthew 5:15) so they can taste the difference an everyday relationship with God makes. When they experience real power—in your life and in their own—it will expose the false power of “cool” for what it is.
Question: Is the humanistic influence and bias in public schools that much greater now—as we suspect? Any keys to dealing with it?
Answer: Well, “diversity and tolerance” are not only the primary religious tenets taught in public schools, they’re also the primary messages in most films and TV shows targeted at young people. But I don’t believe it’s a bad thing that schools are “humanistic.” I think an owned, strengthened faith must be lived out in the world’s marketplace of ideas and beliefs. Your job is to engage what your kids are hearing and learning at school and teach them to be critical thinkers about everything they’re taking in—not rescue them from “the world.”