Now more than ever, there are endless opportunities vying for our kids’ time. School and homework is enough to fill a schedule, let alone sports, clubs and extra-curricular activities. As a veteran mom and a youth group leader, I’m writing this open letter to plead with parents to prioritize church youth group for your student.
The girls in my small group (we call them “life groups”) are now Juniors in high school. I’ve had the opportunity to walk with them as their mentor and leader they were in elementary school. Having put in the investment for all these years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak into their lives on every level. I’ve seen them and their parents make choices along the way that have definitely shaped who they are becoming as young women.
One of the most consequential areas that their choices affect them is their schedules. I pleaded with parents early on to carve out time for these girls to attend youth group.
You see, my husband and I both grew up in churches with strong youth ministries and volunteers who poured time and energy into us. Looking back, I can see how having adults, other than our parents, speaking truth into our lives, praying for us and showing us what it looks like to live out their faith has shaped and propelled us to seek Jesus for ourselves in our adult lives. I wanted that not only for each of my own children, but for the girls in my life group as well.
Sadly, as the girls in my group have gotten older, and the choices for how they spend their time have grown, the time needed to meet regularly for teaching and discussion with other girls who are trying to follow Jesus has taken a back seat for many, and I can see how that has shaped who they are becoming. Because many of my girls go to school together I get updates on the “goings on.” My girls often meet with me one-on-one to discuss issues that may be too personal to discuss in the group, and it’s in those moments I learn the impact that youth ministry has on students.
In the past 7 years, I’ve had many girls come and go for various reasons, many of which are out of their control like their family moving. But it’s the students who no longer attend mid-week youth group or small group meetings because they’ve chosen sports, theater, dance, or any of myriad choices competing for their time that keep me up worrying at night. There’s nothing wrong with any of the activities mentioned above. Most of my girls’ attendance will wax and waned during the year because of a certain sport or activity, but the ones who have chosen to make these things priority all year, forgoing youth group, often wear the results sadly.
Teenagers would like to think (and tell us) that they can “handle it;” that they are mature enough to filter the constant input of ideas coming at them. Their friends, social media and TV display a life very different than what I hope for my own children. Teens think they are strong enough to withstand the pressures but they’re simply not. The drive for teens to fit in will often override what they know to be right. So when your student isn’t spending time regularly with other students who are seeking Jesus and adults who can help them sort through what they’re experiencing, they are left with ideas that are hollow, that promise them one thing yet rob them of what they are truly looking for.
I’m sharing this because I’ve watched it happen and I’m currently watching it unfold in realtime. I’m watching girls who once sought Jesus turn to boys for affection, doing things that several years ago they wouldn’t dream of doing. I’m aware of students attending parties where alcohol isn’t the worst thing being served, and they’re not just attending, they’re partaking. It’s breaking my heart to see them suffer the immediate consequences, and it crushes me to know that these choices will follow them into their adult lives.
I cannot speak strongly enough to parents who have elementary and middle school children to make the tough decisions now. The girls who’ve thrived relationally and spiritually throughout High School have had consistent and involvement in youth group and small group meetings. If you wait until trouble shows up on your doorstep and then attempt to get them involved it’s often too late. (It’s never too late for forgiveness, grace and redemption, but when it comes to earthly consequences, by the time teenagers choices have set fire to their lives, there’s only time for damage control, not prevention.)
One of my girls was involved in a sport that was very costly for her parents so they didn’t want her to miss any practice or meet because of the great financial they made in this activity. I was lucky to have her attend youth group 4 times a year, and retreats were out of the question. However, I often got calls or emails from this mother when this student would make poor choices asking me to step in and talk with her daughter. I met with her on different occasions and discussed wha going on and how she could make better choices, however, I call that 911. Swooping in only when there is an “emergency” isn’t effective AT ALL. It’s over time. Hearing truth and consistently spending time with other teens trying to the same tough decisions is what makes a difference.
There are only so many hours in our day, and as parents and mentors, we have a limited number of years to guide our kids toward God’s truth and walk alongside them to advise and encourage them through the muck life throws their way. Our influence and leadership in their spiritual formation has a shelf life. Youth leaders like me get a short window of time where our voices and our influence can impact your kids’ lives in a lasting way. The clock is ticking.
I implore you, parent, to rethink the way you approach your child’s schedule because each moment is a potential investment opportunity. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “making it all fit,” or “figuring out how to make it work.” That’s our default mode. Just remember that their bodies won’t be young and fit enough to play that sport forever. There’s a good chance that their interests will change and they might not be wild about that club forever. Save for a very few of them, they are not going to become famous actors or singers. But they will grow up to be adults someday…adults who will face the same choice as Joshua did so many years ago. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” it says in Joshua 24:15, “whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
The “gods of the the Amorites and the people living beyond the Euphrates” were idols; false gods. If we are hoping that our kids grow up to be spiritually strong adults that resist the false gods of our culture, they need relationships with Christ followers now. And from where I’m standing, as a mentor and youth leader, that means passionately guarding their time so they can attend youth group consistently. It’s hard to say “no” to things, even good things, that seek to devour our kids’s time, in order to prioritize what’s most important for our kids. But if we don’t no one will.
To the parents who are facilitating their kids’ schedules so that they can attend youth group, way to go! If you’ve read this and feel you need to make a change, you can do it! Don’t hear this as shame or blame, just a passionate plea to reconsider. Pray and ask the Lord to give you wisdom in how to carve out the time in your kids’ schedule. I’m so glad that the parents of the girls in my life group have done just that. I have a consistent group of girls who’ve been growing together for years. They challenge each other, (to the point of getting on each others nerves sometimes, but in an “annoying sister” sort of way.) They ask questions, have discussions and pray together. Most recently they have been praying for the opportunity to serve in a third world country. Their excitement in seeing God open doors for them is amazing. These girls’ parents are reaping the rewards of making the hard decisions to get their students involved and keep them involved. That is no easy feat! Yet, it’s one that pays off not only now, but well into their future!
Your Faithful Servant, the Youth Leader