Student pastor counsel parents whose kids want to go to a different youth church


Student pastor counsel parents whose kids want to go to a different youth church

A student pastor has provided answers to parents whose children prefer to go to other churches' youth programs. Will Standridge, a preteen and student Pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas offers practical counsel to parents

Why Does This Happen?

As a student pastor, I’ve seen three common reasons why students want to attend another student ministry.

1. Preference
We live in a consumer culture. Our students are accustomed to finding the best product in every avenue of their lives. Our social media world makes life infinitely customizable. Teens are used to exercising control over what they do and when and how they do it.

When it comes to youth groups, students expect to exercise the same freedom of choice they enjoy with respect to what sports they play, whom they eat lunch with, and what music they listen to. When they hear about a student ministry where more of their friends attend, the music suits their taste, or there’s a more engaging speaker, they may want to attend that group instead of their local church’s youth group.

When it comes to youth groups, students expect to exercise freedom of choice.

2. Conviction
Sometimes students change youth groups over theological convictions. Students with Catholic parents may attend a Protestant student ministry but still honor their parents by attending mass with them. A parent may be a nominal attendee at one church, but the student becomes a committed member or attendee of another through its youth ministry. These circumstances don’t happen often, but when they do, these young adults should be applauded for their theologically informed decisions.

3. Availability
I have two scenarios in mind. First, a student is committed to a local church, but circumstances hinder his involvement in its student ministry. He may have a practice during the gathering time, live too far away to travel midweek, or not be able to get a ride.

Second, a local church doesn’t have the resources to provide a student ministry or to disciple a child with unique needs. Many small churches don’t have a youth ministry or the resources to provide regular discipleship programs for young people. Even a church with a thriving youth group may not have worked through how to disciple a child with a severe disability. In these situations, students may attend another church’s student ministry while remaining involved with their home church.

What Should We Do?

Each of these situations is different, so the way we respond must vary as well.

1. Don’t give into preferences. Keep covenant.
While your child may insist she doesn’t want to go to your church’s youth group due to a preference, that doesn’t mean you should give in. It can be tempting to say yes out of a genuine concern for her faith: If I don’t let her go where she wants, she may resent me and Christianity. While I understand this inclination, young people need to learn preference doesn’t fuel commitment. Rather, as Christians, we’re called to covenant with Christ’s body by being faithful members, submitting to leaders, and serving with our gifts (see 1 Cor. 12).

In my church, we don’t see youth ministry as a take-it-or-leave-it parachurch option. It’s a key discipleship environment where teenagers encounter biblical teaching geared to their age and context, direct mentorship, and training in spiritual disciplines. Our church’s leaders have invested in this ministry because we believe it’s critical. We tell kids, “Commitment to discipleship is worth forsaking preferences for, even for a teenager.”

Having said this, parents (and church leaders) should recognize that when a kid wants to attend another youth group, he’s usually wanting to hang out with his Christian friends. That’s not a bad desire. We ought to be thankful when our kids want to spend time doing spiritual activities with other believers, even when those Christians don’t attend our local church. So even if the ultimate answer is “No, you can’t go with your friends to a different youth group,” parents should acknowledge the importance of Christian friendships in a teen’s life and work with their sons and daughters to find other ways to cultivate those relationships.

2. Address convictions with conversation.
Matters of conviction require careful conversations. If the doctrine taught in a youth ministry deviates from your church’s confession of faith, you should address that with your pastors.

If your child is going through a crisis of faith (as often happens in the teenage years), see this as an opportunity to partner with your church in discipling your child theologically. In a situation where you and your family are uncomfortable with student ministry teaching that your church leaders support, the best answer may be to move churches as a family.

This should never be done lightly but with care, prayer, and communication. Because the teaching ministry of the church matters, it’s important you show your child you value the work of the pastors who oversee them. If you can’t honor your pastors’ teaching, it may be a sign your family is at a church you don’t align with.

3. Maintain a clear conscience.
Exercise flexibility and charity in matters of availability. If your church can’t offer programming for teenagers and you find a student ministry you trust, there’s nothing wrong with your child attending that group. I recommend making this decision with your pastor and communicating your commitment to the life and health of your local church.

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