Recently we had a youth night at CrossPointe to help raise money for camp. The kids led the singing, took up the offering, and gave their testimonies. Watch our kids talk about how they met Jesus, and why they love Him.
Recently we started asking our teens to text, IM, and email us questions about the Bible, faith, and life. On the first Sunday of the month we address the questions we received the month before. I wanted to share with you what teenagers are asking, because I’m sure these questions are being asked by teenagers everywhere. Here are some questions and a short excerpt of how I answered them.
1. I know hate is wrong, but how do I stop hating someone who is always looking to hurt me?
This one is hard to answer, because the answer is simple, but doing it is hard. We all know Jesus said forgive 70 times 7, but doing it is tough. I encouraged our kids to realize that this individual is probably hurting on the inside. If we can take compassion on those hurting us it helps us realize what they are doing (though it seems personal) is really their way of reacting to the hurt they have from someone else. Also we know Jesus said hate is a sin just like murder. We can’t allow someone else to lure us into willful hatred and sin by their (albeit immature) behavior.
2. What do you do when you feel like giving up?
First I explained that as teenagers, often their emotions haven’t found balance yet. They will have super high highs and super low lows. I explain that as you age your emotions mature and you can handle more emotionally challenging situations. However, the problem is todays teenagers are facing harder situations more often than generations past. Many of todays teens have been through divorce of their parents, addiction (to drugs, alcohol, porn, etc) and abuse (physical, mental, sexual, by peers, etc.)
I took them to 1 Kings 19:4-16. We talked about Elijah and how depressed he was. He was so depressed he wanted to die. When I was 15 I was placed on some medication for severe acne (I would show you a pic, but i burned them all). This medication is now known to cause depression and suicidal thoughts in teens. I remember at 15 wanting a clear face so bad I’d die for it. The mix of medication and hatred for my physical appearance was depressing, I never attempted suicide, but it was the longest year of my life. Now it seems comical getting upset over pimples, but to a teenager it was life and death. Elijah had to realize he wasn’t done yet. God had big plans for him. The same is true for all of us. We can’t give up, we aren’t finished, and He’s not finished with us yet.
3. Are more people headed to heaven or hell?
This question is on the minds of many young teenagers who realize how big the world is, and how little the church world they were raised in is. We looked at Matthew 7:13 and, sadly, we realize the way is broad which leads to destruction and many people go the wrong way, but we can make a difference and shine the light. If we shine like a city on a hill we can lead many to the truth and salvation. Still, the answer seems discouraging, but Jesus himself said it.
I hope these questions help us understand a few simple truths. 1. Teens ahve questions we don’t address often enough. 2. Teens don’t always know what we assume everyone knows about the Bible. 3. Teens want to know how to live for God…don’t just tell them, SHOW them.
Our kids are going to camp this summer, and as always we need to raise some money to offset the price of camp. So we are looking at a few of our options for raising some dough. Here are some ideas I found, have used, or have seen others use. These could be used for camp, missions trip, leadership retreat, etc.
Car Wash/ Yard Sale– we’ll probably do this in a few weeks now that we have our own location and lots of room for stuff and washing cars.
Teen Auction- auction off teenagers at your church for 4 hours of labor, boys could do yard work, while girls clean, etc.
Dinner Sale- Have the teens prepare and serve a huge banquet style dinner, sell tickets before hand and at the door.
Donut Sale- Krispy Kreme sells fundraising boxes at a discount so you can sell them for a profit. Have the kids sell them at school, or from your church parking lot with a big sign during rush hour traffic.
Babysitting Night- Have the teens watch kids at the church so all the parents at church with kids can go on a nice date, ask for donations, or charge 1 or 2 dollars per child per hour.
Silent Auction- Have the kids make something, arts and crafts, woodworking, or donate something. Have an auction at church where people sign their name to a bid for an amount on each item during a 20 minute auction viewing period. Announce the winners afterward. Paintings, Drawings, Custom t-shirts, Birdhouses, Framed Photographs, etc. Michaels has tons of premade crafts ready to just add paint.
Talent Show-Have the kids sign up to perform a talent: singing, comedy, drama, instrumental, etc. Sell tickets to the show before hand and at the door.
Arm Band Sale– order custom armbands from somewhere like armbands.com(usually 8-23 cents a piece), and have the teens sell them to their friends for $1.00. The arm band could advertise your church, mission trip, youth group, or the camp.
Fundraising Letters- Help the teens write letters explaining about the camp or missions trip. In the letter ask for a donation. Have the teens send these letters to all thier relatives and friends.
When I was in high school I attended youth group activities quite often. I was warned that at age 18 many teenagers leave church. I watched at age 16 though as many of my friends became disinterested in church. The exodus used to occur at 18-20 years of age, but now I am seeing signs that kids are leaving church at age 15 and 16. The church has lost its ability to connect with teenagers and even kids today. What has changed? Is the church doomed? I believe there are many answers to these questions. I also believe that we don’t want to hear some of the real reasons kids are leaving the church. I have three questions I believe we need to answer honestly.
Why is the church trying to compete with sports and activities?
Over and over I see programs at churches aimed at kids who want to play sports. The thought is “if you’re gonna play sports, why not do it at our church?” Many kids programs at churches rely heavily on using games and sports to keep kids involved. Churches are investing lots of man hours, money, and space in being the hip new place to play sports. When did the role of the church transform from teaching kids about God, to training kids to be athletes with a hint of spirituality. When did we stop going into the sports world as coaches making a difference, and start sectioning off our own little christian leagues with few if any lost people? When did Sunday morning become this big game we play with kids? We have themed rooms, professional stages, bright fancy areas for games, etc. When God sees us turning kids ministry into a carnival, do we really think He is pleased? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for top notch, first rate kids programs at church- if discipleship is the goal. With all the effort we have put into making kids and youth ministry in general more fun and exciting, why haven’t we seen a decrease in the numbers of young people exiting our churches. We aren’t just another fun place. We aren’t just another youth sports league. We are the church. Our job is to connect people with Christ, and teach them about His Word. Sadly not everyone will stick it out, but does this give us the right to fun it up to keep the numbers up? We are sacrificing the minds of real dedicated Christian kids to entertain the kids who just want to play soccer, dodge ball, or duck, duck goose. We’ve added so much stuff and fluff; the message is getting lost in the mix. We have to remember who and what we are, and what we are called to do.
Why is it that the role of a youth pastor is usually entrusted to someone who either has no children or is currently raising their children?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust this position to someone with a little bit of experience with raising kids. Imagine a youth pastor helping parents raise teenagers, and explaining how to deal with a difficult 13 year old girl using the illustration of how he dealt with his daughter when she was 13. Instead I am 25 with no kids, trying to help people with decades more experience than me. Sadly by the time most guys have the experience, they’ve moved on into Associate or Head Pastor Positions. I admire guys who are 40, 50, and older who still work with teenagers. Because ultimately it’s the parents we are trying to help. Many churches have this idea that the youth or children’s pastor should be a kind of second parent to the kids at the church. The truth is my job as a youth pastor is to equip the parents to train their kids to be Godly young Christians. I can’t raise a child or teenager in 4-5 hours a week. If a child is going to make it, there has to be a solid home life backing up what is being taught at church. The same principle is true in schooling. A teacher can’t raise good kids, even with the 45 hours a week they have with the children. Kids are capable of being taught any and everything. So the question is what are Mom and Dad teaching them at home? Next what are they being taught at school? And finally what are they being taught at church? I decide what they are taught at church. I can only recommend Mom and Dad what to teach them at home. I have no say in what they learn at school. How do we as youth Pastors overcome this challenge? I believe we need to involve Mom and Dad as much as possible. Tell them what you see hear by and about their kids. Have regular meetings with parents and kids to explain the goals of raising good Christian kids. Ultimately we have to reach Mom and Dad and help them be the best parents they can be with God’s help. It won’t be easy. It’s not the 50’s anymore. Most homes have two parents working at least two full time jobs. Kids have more activities than to fill their schedule than ever before. Parents are busier than they have ever been. We need to lift these parents up in prayer and let them know we are rooting for them.
Are we willing to deal with the silent sins in our churches?
There are some sins you hear people talk about all the time. However, there is one sin I rarely, probably never hear mentioned. Pornography is one of those silent sins. We preach against lying, stealing, adultery, murder, drugs, drunkenness, etc. However, over 50% of Christian men struggle with pornography. Close to 51% of Pastors say internet Porn is a real temptation, while 37% say it is a current struggle. Right at 28% of those admitting to sexual addiction are women. Two-thirds of divorces cite the internet as a cause. Let those numbers set in for a minute. We preach and teach on things some are dealing with while the high majority of sin goes unquestioned. Now consider that people don’t just wake up addicted to porn. There is a first time for everything. The adult film industry says that 20-30% of its audience is children. The average age for exposure to porn for the first time is 11. Over 70% of teen girls and 66% of teen boys admit to posting sexually suggestive content. Over 70% of kids get a cell phone within 18 months of their 9th birthday. In a poll of 300 girls, 30% of them aged 9-15 admit to sexting.
The internet is available not just at home anymore, but on your cell phone. A child can view porn on their ipod with an internet connection. I know of a boy whose mom had no internet, and no cell phone. However, he used his ipod’s wi-fi to pick up his neighbors router, and would view porn for hours every night. We have to realize the stakes are higher than ever. We can’t be there 24/7 to watch over them. Therefore, we have to teach them the dangers of porn. The talk used to be sitting your kid down and explaining sex. I’m afraid today we need to start talking earlier about something else-porn. Your child will have plenty of opportunities to view it. Let them know early how dangerous it is.
The real reason we don’t deal with it is simple- because many of us are involved with it. We get nervous talking about it, because we are guilty of it. We have to get ourselves clean, and prepare our kids for the most abundant source of defeat they will ever face. We talk to our kids at church regularly about the dangers of phones, internet, texting etc. It’s real, we need to be real about it too.
So back to the original question, “Why are kids leaving the church?” If teens struggle with a sin (like porn) they feel they can’t overcome, and no one will talk about it, why would they stay. They see the hypocrisy in a church that claims to help people, but won’t help them with the sin that is crippling them. Porn is eating our kids for lunch, and we sit idly by ignoring it. It’s not going away. In fact it gets more and more powerful as technology advances. We are experiencing the shift to 3D, so is porn! HD is crystal clear but the next wave is 2k and 3k, cameras with 3x the resolution of an HDTV and 10X the resolution of old TVs. Porn will be there, enhancing the experience they have to offer through social media, internet, phones, TV, Ipads, etc. The enemy has found a silver bullet for ruining kids, adults, marriages, homes etc. He’s winnig because we aren’t even fighting. We have to stand up for our people. Church, deal with the sin in your pews! Your people will thank you.
Today two articles caught my eye. Ed Stetzer’s post on the myth of teen rebellion, and GQ’s painfully sad interview with Billy Ray Cyrus (regret-filled father of Myley Cyrus/Hannah Montana). Both emphasize the importance of parents and what they allow their children to be involved in.
Ed Stetzer’s article articulates the point that adolescent rebellion is primarily a problem in developed countries far more than in developing countries. Today many parents, psychologists, and doctors blame rebellion on an incompletely developed brain, therefore making rebellion a genetic defect that all parents must struggle with. However, research data indicates there are plenty of cultures where teen rebellion is unheard of. Stetzer cites an article by Dr. Robert Epstein foud here http://drrobertepstein.com/pdf/Epstein-THE_MYTH_OF_THE_TEEN_BRAIN-Scientific_American_Mind-4-07.pdf
But are such problems truly inevitable? If the turmoil-generating “teen brain” were a universal developmental phenomenon, we would presumably find turmoil of this kind around the world. Do we? In 1991 anthropologist Alice Schlegel of the University of Arizona and psychologist Herbert Barry III of the University of Pittsburgh reviewed research on teens in 186 preindustrial societies. Among the important conclusions they drew about these societies: about 60 percent had no word for “adolescence,” teens spent almost all their time with adults, teens showed almost no signs of psychopathology, and antisocial behavior in young males was completely absent in more than half these cultures and extremely mild in cultures in which it did occur.
Even more significant, a series of long-term studies set in motion in the 1980s by anthropologists Beatrice Whiting and John Whiting of Harvard University suggests that teen trouble begins to appear in other cultures soon after the introduction of certain Western influences, especially Western-style schooling, television programs and movies. Delinquency was not an issue among the Inuit people of Victoria Island, Canada, for example, until TV arrived in 1980. By 1988 the Inuit had created their first permanent police station to try to cope with the new problem.
Consistent with these modern observations, many historians note that through most of recorded human history the teen years were a relatively peaceful time of transition to adulthood. Teens were not trying to break away from adults; rather they were learning to become adults. Some historians, such as Hugh Cunningham of the University of Kent in England and Marc Kleijwegt of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Ancient Youth: The Ambiguity of Youth and the Absence of Adolescence in Greco-Roman Society (J. C. Gieben, 1991), suggest that the tumultuous period we call adolescence is a very recent phenomenon–not much more than a century old.
Basically, our culture influences how teens behave, then explains it away as a brain development challenge. I believe we all know how important it is to protect your kids from certain influences in media, pop culture, etc. On the same not, in a GQ article (in no way an endorsement of GQ) Billy Ray Cyrus explains how upside down his life is right now. He sits alone in his dark Tennessee mansion, reminiscing about the past. He is in the middle of a divorce, his record company is delaying his next album, and he watches along with everyone else on the internet as his daughter posts videos of herself using drugs. In the article he claims to have many regrets, but the sad truth is when you allow young kids, preteens and teens access to what Miley was surrounded by, you can expect similar results. In the article Billy Ray prefers to stay indoors with the lights out. Sadly, depression is just the beginning of what looks to be a long story for the Cyrus family.
So the stats, data, and stories all indicate that parents have a real, powerful role in their children’s lives. However, excuses are more often found than determination to raise Godly kids. Just some articles I found interseting today.
According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds. That blows my mind. On top of that the National Institute of Mental Health believes that as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed. The leading cause is obviously believed to be depression. This breaks my heart, but I remember being a teenager and having huge mood swings. So what are some signs that we as youth pastors, parents, and church leaders should be looking for?
Often, kids with teen depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation and even become withdrawn, closing their bedroom door after school and staying in their room for hours. Kids with teen depression may sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, and may even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting.
Here are some signs that a Teen may be dealing with depression.
- complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- excessive or inappropriate guilt
- irresponsible behavior — for example, forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school
- loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating that results in rapid weight loss or gain
- memory loss
- preoccupation with death and dying
- rebellious behavior
- sadness, anxiety, or a feeling of hopelessness
- staying awake at night and sleeping during the day
- sudden drop in grades
- use of alcohol or drugs and promiscuous sexual activity
- withdrawal from friends
Here are some signs that a Teen may be contemplating suicide.
- Talking, joking, or asking about suicide or death, including statements like “Things would be better without me”
- Giving away possessions, especially valued ones
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, especially those that lead to injuries or “near-misses”
- Obsessing over death, violence, and weapons, such as in speech, television, music, games, drawings, etc.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with a teen contemplating suicide
- Do not leave a suicidal teen alone, or allow him or her access to firearms, medications, or other potentially harmful objects
- Talk to the teen – be direct and ask him or her if he or she is thinking about suicide
- Show concern for the teen – don’t judge or try to convince him or her that “it’s not that bad”; reassure the teen that he or she can get help
- Take suicide talk and attempts seriously
- Get help for the teen from a professional doctor or counselor right away; if he or she does not have insurance, contact a local mental health center or hospital to find out what kind of aid or free services are available
- Educate yourself about suicide and depression
- Help the teen feel support from family and friends and/or join a support group
- If someone you know has committed suicide, seek counseling for yourself and anyone else in your family who may be affected
In my short 5 years of ministry I have seen teens that would definately be categorized as depressed. More and more, teens are hurting and we are the ones they are looking to for help. I hope this reminds us to keep an eye out for signs kids at our church, in our school, in our neighborhood might be hurting. After all, we are the ones who should be helping the hurting.