Over the course of the holidays I did not do any writing but I did a fair amount of reading. I never got to the book that I was intending to read but I did read a number of articles and blogs. One that really caught my eye was an article by Tim Challies entitled I Am Unalarmed. It is an article about how different surveys have found that anywhere from 60% to 94% of those that attended church during high school end up leaving the church shortly after leaving high school. As a former youth pastor, it is a very alarming statistic. But Challies writes this article from his perspective of being a parent rather than from the perspective of being a pastor. He says:
"These statistics are alarming, and particularly so to those of us who are raising children and earnestly praying that the Lord would save them. It has often been my prayer that the Lord would save my children while they are young, long before they desire to taste the world’s pleasures as unsaved adults. According to these reports this is unlikely. Statistically speaking, I can have little hope."Each of these studies appears to show that Christians are doing a very poor job of reaching the children in their midst. Ironically, the statistics are used to support solutions that reach from one end of the spectrum to the other: they vary from more programs for teens to fewer programs to teens to abolishing all programs for all children."These statistics are widely quoted, widely believed, but I remain unalarmed by them. I remain skeptical about the results. Allow me to explain myself."
Challies goes on to detail how he believes that these youth that are falling away are doing so because they are not seeing the true Gospel in action within the church or in their own homes. It is a case of people making a mental assent to what the Bible teaches but not living it out in practice:
"If 7 in 10 young people leave the church it may well be because 7 in 10 parents are not immersing their children in the gospel from a young age. They are not preaching that gospel to their children and they are not living as if that gospel is true. That may be an overstatement, but I do not want you to miss the point. Many, many children, a disheartening number, are raised to believe they are Christians by parents who just as erroneously also believe that they, the parents, are Christians. Many more are raised by parents who never model the beauty of gospel living. Such children barely stand a chance."
Challies is not trying to minimize the seriousness of youth walking away from the church. What he is pointing out is that the youth are walking away from hypocrisy.
One of the most important–and hardest–lessons that I learned throughout my youth ministry experience is the importance of parents. When I first started out my view was to include the parents whenever I was in need of help. The parents were important because they could help me out. But as I matured and gained a better understanding of how family systems work I started to ask parents to help out because they were important to the youth ministry.
It was my great fortune both early and late in my youth ministry career to have parents and other adults that were so willing to go out of their way to help me out. Their extraordinary efforts made all the difference. They gave up time, food, money and prayer.
It has become clear to me that the success of a youth ministry does not rest in the youth pastor. Yes a good youth pastor is important. But it is highly likely that the youth ministry will be ultimately unsuccessful if the youth do not see Christianity being lived out as Christ intended it to be lived out in the lives of their parents and in the lives of the other adults in the church.
Yes there are those kids that beat the odds both for the good and the bad. There are those kids that have poor influences that turn out to be stellar. And there are those kids that have solid parental influence that end up rebelling to the point of having very serious problems. But it is still parents that have the highest influence in their kids lives. It means that if we want the youth of the church to remain committed to the church as they move into adulthood then we first need strong and committed parents and other adults in the church. It means that if we want to have a strong and successful youth ministry then we as adults and parents need to make extraordinary efforts to be involved.
There is a reason that we say that the apple does not fall far from the tree.