Thursday, October 19, 2006

How One Chruch Does "Teen"

For any who have done much research in the area, you can quickly discover that the idea of adolescence is a relatively new concept. In fact, the word "teenager" didn't exist a century ago. And the whole idea of "teenage rebellion" is one that would be foreign to our forefathers because there was no such thing as a "teenager." As one matured, he simply moved into adult responsibilities. How else do you explain the phenomenal accomplishments of young people in the 1700's? Jonathan Edwards was a college president around age 20. I believe it was John Quincy Adams who was a United States Ambassador at age 14! And there were others, but their names don't come to mind right now.

I believe a whole host of our societal problems come from the whole idea of "teenager" and "teenage rebellion" What can we do about it? For one, we as families can endeavor to raise children who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength...who walk humbly with Him as their God... and who love their neighbor as themselves. These are people who will change the world in which they live.

What about our churches? How can they hinder or help?

Most of what passes for ministry to children and young people today is patterned after the evolutionary theories that brought us age-segregated public schooling...and that's not a good thing. This is especially true when it comes to the teen years when enabling young people to focus solely on themselves and on each other only leads to questionable salvation and to extended adolescence. These young people enter adulthood woefully unprepared to actually BE adults.

There are several movements afoot that attempt to address this problem. Here is what our particular church is doing:

We no longer have a children's department, nor do we have a youth department. Instead, the whole thing is now the Family Discipleship Department and it endeavors to work with parents and to help them raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. There is a seamless curriculum that runs from preschool to eighth grade that brings the children deeper and deeper into God's Word and good doctrine. They realize that we aren't playing games here, nor are we babysitting. That part is wholly in position already and is working nicely. The next step is to radically reform what used to be the youth department. The vision right now is to even change the more "youth;" no more "teenager." Instead something along the lines of "apprentice adult" would be used (that's not set in stone...just an idea that reflects the concept that what we call someone affects both how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others). The apprentice adults (ninth grade and up) would be expected to join in with adult activities and ministries, both in terms of learning in Sunday Schools and volunteering their time in ministry. They would be shepherded and mentored (hopefully by their parents) and encouraged about growing quickly into adulthood and assuming adult responsibilities. They would be encouraged to put off the childish things of the world in favor of the more exciting things of adulthood. The idea that your 20s is a time of sowing your oats and having a time of grand fun while you are single before being "tied down" to marriage would be anathematized.

In short, they would be expected to grow up.

And of course, all of this assumes an education of the parents and other adults in the church so they understand their responsibilities in helping these apprentice adults learn and grow. They are to provide example and opportunity. They are to mentor and shepherd. This can't happen in a vacuum; it will require a paradigm change on the part of the adults of the church.

Not a bad idea at all....

Praying that more parents and churches would come to understand this vision.


Anonymous said...

Amen! I agree with you - the churches are asleep in this area and they need to wake up!

Sleepless in Seattle

Anonymous said...

I see where you are going and I agree with the ideas. I will offer one thought - the Church has to be very careful about assuming the responsibility of training from the parents. I have been around too many that would say that the parents should disciple their own children and in the next breath will talk about all the ways the Church needs to do it for them. To borrow a term from AA (not an endorsement on my part of them) - they enable the parents to shirk their own responsibilities. So the question is - how much is too much? How much "help" can you provide before you are actually getting in the way of them doing it like they are supposed to? With those issues in mind, would it not be better instead to focus all of that effort on training the parents to train their children, mentoring them in the responsibilities and hold them accountable? Thus, insisting on them performing their responsibilities.

Charley said...

Anonymous (wish you'd use a name!)...

You have very good, practical points that have often been demonstrated in practice. No matter what the official church position is, many (most?) parents will insist on just dropping off their children/youth with the intention of allowing the church to take care of what should be the parents' job. This is a known problem, even at our church. And that is what is being attempted as they grapple with how to move from the typical "youth ministry" into more of an apprenticeship model, where the focus will be on the adults mentoring young people in the ways and responsibilities of adulthood.