Imagine it is 3:00 pm on the first day of school.
Your daughter or son comes home and gives you a horrible report. They didn't get the classes they wanted, one of her friends was mean to her, your son isn't in classes with any of his friends, and it turns out they aren't going to get to start their fall sport like they thought. So much disappointment all in one day.
As their parent, how do you respond? "It looks like school is going to be too difficult this year for you and I don't want you to have to experience this kind of pain and discomfort, from here on out, if you don't want to go to school or play that sport, you don't have to."
Why would you not respond this way? Probably because school is a no brainer. It is a value and a commitment that you have made. In fact you have so internalized this value that this conversation would never even happen and there is absolutely no expectation from your child that you would bail them out and they would no longer have to go to school. Because there is no exit strategy, they are forced to find their way, to make it work, and survive. And in fact, this is what happens every year with students and school.
What would it look like if you valued your child's spiritual formation the same way you valued their school experience?
I know we all think that we value them the same, or we might even say we value them more. But as I have done this job and done this job here at MCC for the last nine years, I can firmly say that this is not the case.
It starts in 4th grade with kids complaining that Sunday school is boring, then in 8th grade that youth group is too immature, then in high school that their friends no longer come. And somewhere along the way the kids win out and church and youth group become an elective.
It is true that some of your kids really enjoy youth group, and I am glad. Matt and I work incredibly hard to make youth group a fun, safe place for kids to work out their faith. But what if your son or daughter, who loved youth group last year, decides this year it isn't their thing. Every parent I know at our church would let the child decide because they don't want to cram religion down their throat.
Here are some things to consider:
1) You are never going to cram religion down their throat. That is not you, that is not our church, and that is not our culture. This is our baggage from our childhood that we have to get over and die to in order to truly help our kids thrive spiritually.
2) It is a no brainer to make your kids figure it out at school, why not make them figure it out at church. Kids will always find a way to survive. If they know that youth group is part of their life like math and english, they will actually find a way to enjoy it and make friends.
3 ) If you value the spiritual formation of your kids, then youth group is the only place in their world where it is going to happen. I know this sounds rough, but we don't live in a christian culture, and there is no back up for what you are trying to instill on the home front. Teachers, coaches, radio, tv, internet, do not have your back spiritually. And if the only place they are getting a spiritual diet is from home, then during adolescence, this message is firmly going in the,"you are the parent, and I need to define myself against your beliefs and values" box. Youth group is the best place where they get to wrestle with these spiritual issues, have space to push back in a context that values what you value among peers who are in the exact same place.
4) Would you consider this school year making the spiritual formation of your son and daughter a high value. We work our butts off making space in our schedules for every activity under the sun. Would you be willing to put some skin in the game to help them land at youth group so they can work out their faith and get after all that God has for them this year.
I know that this is the heart of just about every parent in our church. But the tyranny of the urgent, the old patterns we have slipped into often distort the desires of our heart. A new school year gets to be a reboot. This is the perfect time to take an honest inventory of our life and schedules, and to come up with a plan to live life according to what we value.
The worst mistake I see parents making is that they do not put a high value on actual attendance within the church community and in turn their kids never connect to the church community or to Christ.
"We become what we want to by consistently being who we want to become each day." The problem is that we are not intentional with what we do with the little and small decisions each and every day. Spiritual formation for our kids is an intentional effort every day, and why not have today be that day?
May God give you wisdom and discernment as you navigate these waters and make some difficult choices. And no matter when your daughter or son jump into youth group, know that they will be welcomed with open arms and loved completely for who they are and where they are at!