Originally published September 23, 2013
Trevin Wax is one of my favorite bloggers.1 Today he wrote an absolutely awesome piece called Anonymous Youth Pastor’s Letter to a Parent. It talked about some of the struggles youth pastors go through and how we as parents of youth can support our kids’ youth pastors better. I commented that the next article should come from the parent’s perspective, and that, being a parent of youth, boy, could I write that article. One of Trevin’s readers suggested I go ahead and write it, and I thought it sounded like a fun and challenging project, so here’s the result. (The first three paragraphs are an homage to Trevin’s letter.)
CAVEAT: This is addressed to an amalgam or “everyman” youth pastor, not to any of my kids’ youth pastors/workers past or present. In fact, some of the things I mention in the letter are things my kids’ youth pastors got RIGHT that I really appreciated.
Dear Youth Pastor,
I need to get something off my chest.
When I first put my child into your youth group, you told me how excited you were to be showing my kids what it means to love Jesus, be part of His Church, and grow as a Christian. You told me you were praying for my child and that you had his back. You had high hopes for the youth ministry.
I had high hopes too. But I must confess that I am frustrated right now because I feel like you’re working against me, not with me.
My husband and I are Christian parents doing our best to pour the gospel into our children every day. We understand that we are the ones responsible to God for the spiritual upbringing of our children, and we take that responsibility seriously. Very seriously. And that includes what he is exposed to in youth group.
“Let no one look down on your youth” notwithstanding, you’re 25. I love you all to pieces, but you know nothing about parenting a teenager. I repeat: nothing. No, the fact that you and your wife have an infant or a three year old does not qualify you as a veteran parent. I have a couple of decades of life experience and parenting on you. I remember being 25. It was that glorious time of my life when I knew everything and had fresh ideas that people in their 40s just wouldn’t understand because they had passed the “cool” stage of life.
Look deep into my eyes, Bub. I am your future.
Listen to me when I explain to you that my kids don’t need another peer. They need mature, godly leadership. Not a buddy. Not an idol to be emulated with the latest clothes from Abercrombie, the hippest glasses frames, edgy tattoos and piercings, and enough product in your hair to put bouffanted church ladies to shame.
You are not a rock star.
You’re a teacher. You’re a caretaker of young souls, and you’re influencing them for eternity. One way or the other. And one day, you’ll stand in front of God and answer for the way you led my, and other parents’, children. Makes your knees knock a little, doesn’t it? Good. It should.
So, when I drop my child off at your youth Bible study or Sunday School class, here’s what I expect. When you say you want to “show my kids what it means to love Jesus, be part of His Church, and grow as a Christian,” I expect that to mean that you will teach them the Bible. Not some watered down, comic book, MTV, “What does this verse mean to you?” version of a Bible story, but the whole counsel of God. I want you to put more time and effort into prayer and studying God’s word so you can teach it properly than you put into hooking up the oh-so-fabulous light show and making inane videos that appeal only to the basest nature of eighth grade boys.
Do you know what these kids are learning in school? If they can be expected to learn Shakespeare and higher math, you can expect them to learn sound biblical doctrine.
When you’re choosing a Bible study curriculum or DVD, or you’re looking at a Christian camp or concert to take the kids to, do your homework. Just because somebody claims to be a Christian author, speaker, pastor, or worship leader doesn’t make it true. Where is this person, doctrinally? What’s his church background and training? Listen to his sermons. Examine the lyrics of her songs. Read some of his books. Does this person rightly divide the Word of truth? Does he exalt Christ and revere God’s word? Does he call sinners- my child and the other children in your youth group- to repentance and faith in Christ, or are his sermons an exercise in navel gazing and nagging about how to be a better person?
Lead my children to serve the church. And I’m not talking about getting paid to do it, either. They’re old enough to help clean up after Wednesday night supper, help in the nursery, assist with a children’s class, serve at a senior citizens’ banquet, work at a church work day, help set up chairs and tables, etc. Over the last few years, the youth group has become the entitlement community of the church, always asking for handouts and rarely giving anything back. Let’s teach them to serve. Because the youth that serve today will be the adults that serve tomorrow.
Teach my children that a mission trip is not a glorified vacation, and that missions isn’t just feeding the hungry or building houses for the homeless. Missions is proclaiming the gospel before and after and while they’re doing those things. Teach my children how to share the gospel properly and encourage them to do it often.
Lead by example:
1. Plan ahead and be organized. If you know you’re going to need to do six fundraisers for youth camp, start them in September and space them out over a few months. Don’t wait until mid-April and have one every weekend. Show up on time. Secure your parent chaperones and drivers well in advance. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do.
2. Obey those in authority over you. Whether that means following the pastor’s instructions or obeying the speed limit and not putting 20 people in a 15 passenger van, when you flout the rules, you’re tacitly teaching my kids to do the same.
3. Be a man, not an overgrown adolescent. Boys, especially, need to see strong examples of what it means to be a godly man, and these are becoming rarer and rarer in the church. They already know how to be adolescents. Show them how to be men.
4. Prioritize safety and chaperonage. Do you know how many horror stories I’ve heard about children dying in church van wrecks on the way back from youth camp, and youth sneaking off and having sex during a lock in? I don’t want that to be my kid. I love him far more than you could ever think about loving him. Don’t be lax about keeping him safe and monitoring his whereabouts and behavior.
And, finally, my dear youth pastor, know that I love you and want to come alongside you and help in any way I can. You see, my husband used to be a youth pastor, so I know it’s a tough and often thankless job. I’m praying for you as you seek to disciple that band of crazed teenagers in the youth room.
Go with God, dear youth pastor. Go with God.
1Keep in mind that this was written in 2013. I no longer follow Trevin Wax and I don’t know much about what he’s up to these days except that he’s still with TGC, which I don’t recommend.
5 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday ~ Anonymous Parent’s Letter to a Youth Pastor”
I think churches need to stop hiring young 20 something men to be their youth pastors. Until I read this post it never even occurred to me that pastors who’ve never raised teens would be poor choice for youth pastor. Practically every youth pastor I’ve ever known has been very young with no teen children.
I really didn’t want my now adult daughters to have anything to do with youth group but I and my husband finally agreed to let them join.
Thank you for this post. It was an eye opener because it made me think about the my own experience being a volunteer youth group helper while being single and still young and not knowing anything about teens.
I think parenting experience has a lot to do with it, but I think spiritual maturity is even more important. Young guys in their 20s who know their Bibles well, have a shepherding mindset and approach, comport themselves like adults, and are humble enough to ask parents for help and input are going to do just fine. The student pastor at our current church is (I think) still in his 20s, he is like this, and he is phenomenal. :0)
I would add an understanding that, while it is part of the nature of teenagers to form cliques, teaching the gospel means having a heart for the outsider and welcoming those who didn’t grow up in the kids ministry and all the songs and memory verses they do.
This could have been my letter. We’ve been pulling back from youth group. Too much secrecy, favoritism (my kid was a favorite until we put a stop to it), undermining of leadership and parenting, private testimony given to entire youth group and public events without parents knowledge (meaning they are the last ones to find out big issues their teens are struggling with). Not liking it at all. I don’t think the pastor is a creep, but sees parents as an obstacle to spiritual growth of teens and is determined to make us “let go.” Our teens see the issue too and have backed away on their own.
I know that kind of thing can be a difficult situation. If you haven’t already, it would be wise to go talk to the youth pastor and your pastor about all of this. Hopefully that will help clear things up.