"How is Kurt?" I asked Carla.
"Please pray for him. He's gotten mixed up with some bad kids." There was pain in Carla's eyes as she went on to share about Kurt, who had been homeschooled since first grade. What had gone wrong? I didn't know two parents who were more committed to Jesus. Then I recognized a particular name being mentioned several times.
"We tried to reach out to Frank, but he ended up pulling Kurt into his crowd at public school," Carla continued.
"Where did Kurt meet Frank?" I asked, confused because Carla and Drew were so careful.
"At church—they were in youth group together," Carla replied. Kurt had met this friend at his youth group. At first, Kurt was "reaching out" to him, but eventually Frank led him away from the Lord and into the world.
The knot that had been forming in my stomach tightened. This was an all-too-familiar story. Homeschooled teen goes to youth group . . . homeschooled teen "reaches out" to or becomes friends with non-Christian or "delusion-ly saved" teen who leads homeschooled teen astray! This is not just happening all over America; it is happening all over the world. My friend in Spain tells the same familiar story, and her heart is breaking.
Most youth pastors have a genuine love for the Lord and desire to see teenagers walk closely with Jesus. However, there is a lot of sinning going on in many Christian teen groups around the world. Parents are often naïve when it comes to the spiritual condition of their church youth group. Or they assume that because a teen group is available, their teenagers should participate in it.
Parents Are Responsible for Their Teenagers
Scripture makes it clear that parents are responsible to train their children in the Lord and restrain evil. Both Eli and Samuel were judged for not restraining evil in their sons. If your child is up to no good or being led astray by another teen at your local church, you are the one accountable to God. You are the one with the responsibility to call your child to repentance and help him to change.
As parents who are responsible to train our teenagers to walk uprightly with the Lord, we must set standards. While other parents set their own standards, we cannot compromise the values that God has put into our hearts.
Mike and I advocate courtship, rather than dating. We have friends, parents of teenagers, who disagree. This limits the time our children will spend with their children, because we want to preserve our family's values. This is accomplished by fellowshipping with like-minded families.
While I believe that all Christians should be plugged into a local church, we cannot begin to participate in all the activities that most churches offer. When it comes to the church teen ministry, we must seek God about the participation of our own teenagers.
Not All Youth Groups Are Created Equal
Before your teens participate in the youth group, visit it first. Let the youth pastor know that you are attending to make sure it is a good place for your children to be. During the meeting, carefully observe what takes place officially and unofficially. Are the children kind? Do they greet you? Are they comfortable around adults? What about the jokes? Are they wholesome? Are the conversations before and after the meeting wholesome? Would you want your teen to be part of them?
Many Christian teenagers thrive without ever setting foot in a teen group. Age segregation is not necessarily a good thing, especially for teenagers. Teens need to fellowship with adults, learning to communicate and serve with maturity. They also thrive when interacting with younger children because it puts them in the place of being a role model. Young men think twice about compromise when they know that younger children are watching!
Our oldest daughters were never part of a church youth group. All the teens in the church were homeschooled and fully plugged into the life of the church. They played on the worship team, taught Sunday School, and attended home Bible studies. We prayed long and hard about whether we should start a teen ministry. We wanted them to fellowship with one another and spend time in Scripture about issues such as knowing God's will for the future, courtship, and growing in the Lord. But, we did not want them corrupted by the world.
Why Homeschooled Teens Can Be Led Astray at Youth Group
The adolescent years are that time between childhood and adulthood when hormones go crazy. Young people desperately need their parents' undivided attention to help sort through strange new feelings. Young men often struggle with anger. My friend, Zack, when he was 15, confessed that he would wake up angry . . . not knowing why. It was as if anger were there looking for a target. My lovely daughters struggled with emotional ups and downs during the high school years.
How blessed are teenagers with Christian parents who can mentor them through this transition time! Struggling with issues does not have to lead to any kind of rebellion. "Teenage rebellion" is simply sinful rejection of authority. It can happen at any age and is unacceptable. The unfortunate truth is that, even in the church, many parents are unavailable, so teenagers find peers to walk them through this tumultuous time.
"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." (Proverbs 13:20)
A "fool" is any person, of any age, who disregards God's Word applied to the heart and daily life (wisdom). If our teens are spending time with other teens who swear, talk about the opposite sex without respect, boast about lying to their parents, and dress immodestly, this will impact our children negatively. Whether the intention of your heart is to "reach out" to someone or not, if you hang out with foolish people, you will become foolish.
Many "Christian teenagers" barely have a clue about following after God; they are still learning and growing. So should teens not hang out with other teens?
"Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22)
Young people should hang out with other young people who love and obey Jesus. How can you tell if a teenager loves Jesus? Watch how they treat their parents and siblings. Genuine faith works in the home.
The Temptations of Youth
Scripture tells us to flee from the temptations of youth, which often boil down to this: "If you try (fill in the blank), you will be happy and fulfilled." A big lie from Satan, sin only entices us to leave God's ways and fall into the trap of the Devil. Temptations of youth result in rejection, abandonment, pain, and heartache. There is no "easy way out" once they are given in to.
If you are vigilant, you can catch these sins in the very beginning stages, while there is still time to repent. Girls begin to flirt with boys and dress immodestly long before they engage in premarital sex. Boys begin to adopt rebellious behavior and dress long before they begin to take drugs. All rebellion starts in the heart. Maintain vigilance, because your teen's future is of utmost importance. Don't be deceived into thinking a little rebellion is okay. A little rebellion leads to more rebellion. Deal with the underlying issues, not the outward behavior only. Mentor your teenagers! The window of opportunity is short. Don't let other things distract you from fulfilling the Great Commission, making disciples in your own home.
Teens in the Local Church
Teenagers are not the Church of tomorrow; they are the Church of today. Young people do not need to be coddled and shoved off in a corner to recreate and pursue pleasure while the adults reach the lost and make disciples.
God's Church is made up of all ages, races, sizes, and shapes. Let your teens take their place in the local church and find their places of ministry. Katie Beth was only 16 when she led her first ladies' Bible study. Julianna mentors several young ladies. Jenny Rose has been faithfully singing on the worship team since she was 14. Age is not a barrier for ministry. Maturity in Christ qualifies or disqualifies.
Age segregation does not benefit the church, as it tends to keep us self-centered. How can we have compassion for the elderly if we never see them, except across the sanctuary? Don't young couples need to build relationships with older families to learn the ropes from them? Rethink the way you do church. The church should look like a family—babies to great-grandpas.
A Different Way to Build a Youth Ministry
When we started the teen ministry at our church, we made our goals and standards clear and continue to do so:
• Parents are responsible for a teen's walk with the Lord; we supplement.
• Our purpose is to make disciples, not converts.
• Teens will participate in the life of the church.
• Teens will be equipped for ministry in their homes and in the church.
• Evangelism will not be limited to other teens.
• Our standards of behavior, conversation, and dress will be from Scripture and enforced without apology.
• Boys and girls will not pair off at teen events.
• High ratio of teen leaders to teens will be maintained.
• Teen leaders will be Godly disciples who maintain good relationships with the teens' parents.
My daughter, Katie Beth, had this to say:
"Our teen group is different in that our teens are totally seeking after God, not just to have a fun or a ‘safe' place to hang out. When I was a Day Camp counselor for the Y, these middle school girls would talk about going to another church's teen group because it had the hottest guys. At our youth group, we'll talk about why we don't date, and encourage purity rather than flirting . . . not so much a ‘great hook-up site'! Also, we're smaller but serious. Our kids do discipleship . . . and our teens are serving in the church as the church. This is their body and they live it because it's theirs."
Are We Focused on Making Non-Christians Feel Comfortable or on Pleasing a Holy God?
What is the purpose of the Church? How should the Church reach the world? What is the difference between how people live in the Kingdom of Darkness and how we live in the Kingdom of God? I will not attempt to answer these questions, but I will say this unequivocally: The Church's job is not to make the world comfortable; the Church's job is to call the lost to repentance and faith in Christ. A comfortable sinner is still going to hell. Our teens are certainly not called to make those who choose to live as enemies of God feel comfortable, even in their teen group.
What Is Best for My Teenagers?
My friend, Blanche, took her son to a church youth group activity, hoping he would find acceptance and friendship. Instead, he was taunted and teased. Eventually Blanche's family came to our church. Blanche visited the youth group several times with her sons in the beginning. They plugged into the church, making friends with other families. Blanche is now homeschooling her three sons, who have real friends of various ages—some are teens! Blanche's answer for socialization for her son was not found in a youth group, but rather in loving Christian fellowship.
When it comes right down to it, you and your spouse will have to make the decision for your own teenagers. God will give you wisdom to know what your children need to steer them safely from childhood to adulthood.
Teenagers should not spend all their time with other teenagers, though they may desire to do so. It will not produce wisdom in their lives. Friendship time among wholesome teenagers is wonderful and should take place under vigilant parents or adults who share your standards. Don't stop raising your teenagers! Most of your teens will have a few bumps in the road, so don't panic. Walk them through each crisis, carefully relying on God and using His Word to give light and wisdom. Let's homeschool our teenagers for the glory of God!
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Meredith Curtis—pastor's wife, worship leader, and homeschooling mom of five amazing children—is the author of Joyful and Successful Homeschooling, Jesus, Fill my Heart and Home, and the God's Girls workbook series! Visit her (and Powerline Productions!) at www.joyfulandsuccessfulhomeschooling.com. Her delight is helping dear sisters like you joyfully grow in your walk with Jesus and experience success in your homeschooling journey!
Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2009. Used with permission. Visit them at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com. For all your homeschool curriculum needs visit the Schoolhouse Store.