“Are you being discipled?” I asked under my breath.
My sixth grader looked up. “What, mom?”
“Oh, I’m editing this study guide I wrote. One of the questions is ‘Are you being discipled?’. How would you answer that, buddy?”
He got that pensive look he wears. “Yes,” he said. “By you, Dad, Joel, and Mike.”
* * *….
My husband and I have two sets of kids. Our first set came to live with us out of a high-risk situation soon after we were married. I started going to church and was saved during their early teen years, and I dutifully took them to youth group twice a week, and to all the special functions. It wasn’t necessarily a positive experience for us, though I think there were many factors that contributed to that.
We’ve done things a little differently with our two youngest kids. For instance, we homeschool. With our older two kids we saw too much lost discipleship time as they attended public school, learning a worldview that opposed our own. We also don’t have video games in our home this time around. We decided that games altered our children’s temperament and motivation, and we didn’t see a good cause for them. Big and small, we’ve learned and adjusted our parenting. (Also, we’re walking with Christ now, which is a foundational change.)
When it came time to choose whether our younger children would attend youth group, I experienced a kind of paralysis. We’d done a hybrid approach to church with our younger kids, bringing them to service with us, and sending them to the children’s area during Sunday School, and taking them to AWANA. Recently, there’s been a lot discussion in broader American Protestantism about family integration and whether youth groups are necessary, or even harmful. My husband and I debated the value (or lack thereof) of youth group for close to two years. We’re not opposed to outside activities, and our boys are in a number of them. But we wanted to be certain the time would spiritually develop our kids rather than be time spent on questionable activities or teachings labeled “Christian” that actually weren’t. We didn’t want our kids to see church as a place they went to be entertained, but rather a place to grow and to serve. To allay my concerns, I spoke with youth group parents and volunteers, and got to know our youth pastor (our older kids had a different pastor).
In the end, my husband and I decided to send our boys to youth group. The teaching was sound, and any differences in biblical understanding would be a good opportunity for discussion at home. We want our boys to form strong male friendships, and we believe in mentorship. We also feel the group is careful with gender issues, separating into discussion groups based on gender, and having good boundaries (that’s a big deal with adolescents, I think). Ultimately, we want our kids to have the opportunity to own and develop their faith now, while they are still at home. We believe youth group gives them the opportunity to do so.
We’re a year and a half into this youth group experiment. I’ve seen our boys develop and grow personally and spiritually. After a weekend at snow camp this month, they both came home and began reading the Bible on their own daily, checking in with an accountability partner. (We do Bible Road Trip and have family worship, but this is reading they’re choosing to do.) They’ve made friends who are seeking Christ. The best part for me is that our kids have godly men pouring time and energy into mentoring them. We haven’t abdicated our God-given role of discipleship as parents, but we have broadened the godly influences in our kids’ lives.
Are all youth groups edifying and biblical? Probably not. But I’m grateful our church body has made a strong, Bible-oriented youth group a priority. I’m also glad my son is able to list men who love Jesus amongst those who are discipling him. I’m thankful both boys will grow up having learned about God from my husband Ed–and also from Joel, Mike, Nathan, Chris, and Jim. What a gift.
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Image: William of Nottingham, c.1350, Jacobus le Palmer, Public Domain
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~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.