Saturday, March 9, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #5, Youth

Surely this will be the most contentious of the five articles, because not just the church but our society has gone youth crazy. We live in a day and age where parents cater to the every whim of their children … and the results have been obvious and startling. Children are less moral, less polite, less knowledgeable, have less of a work ethic, are more selfish, more self-centered and more lazy than at any time in recorded history.

Within the Restoration Movement, it has been the decision of elderships across the land to focus a majority of the congregation's time and resources on attracting and catering to youth. Transportation ministers bring them, children's ministers raise them, youth ministers play with them, praise bands play for them, planning committees build for them and the adults pay for it all. We pay to send them on mission trips and retreats. We take them to youth group, after school programs, parties, Vacation Bible School, church camp, conferences, concerts, ball games, skate rinks, movies, restaurants and theme parks.

Yet for all the time invested … for all the expenditure of finances … what have we accomplished? Are our children more spiritual? Are they more knowledgeable of the Scriptures? Are they better prepared for heaven? In fact, since the inception of youth ministries … since the spotlight has been shined upon our youth … have they become more moral than the society around them? Do the statistics show that more kids are attending church and being saved? Have teen pregnancy rates dropped? Are more college kids attending church because they were a part of their church's youth group?

Psalm 144:12 says, “Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace.” I cannot come up with even one name from my own experience within the Christian church of a youth such as Josiah, Samuel, Mary or Jesus. Where is the proof – even one scrap of evidence – that suggests the human invention of youth ministries is working?

I say human invention, because there is not one shred of Biblical evidence that even remotely suggests such a training process for children. God said to His people at Mt. Horeb, “Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deuteronomy 4:10). This is the God-given pattern. It is one of righteous men and women teaching their children. Proverbs 6:20 says, “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” Nowhere in the Scriptures was the spiritual instruction of the children given over to someone else.

But today we are too busy! We are too ignorant! We need specialized people to train our children. They must have a degree from a Bible college (which is understandable, because where would we ever find a young man or woman who came out of their congregation's youth group already trained?). But once they have gained that sacred shingle, then we gladly turn our children and our money over to those who are barely more than children themselves. They have received an education, but unfortunately have no wisdom with which to disseminate their knowledge. Welcome to today's youth ministry!

One congregation which I attended numerous times had a habit during their worship service of standing and turning to face the children as they left the sanctuary for children's church. After leaving, one of the leaders would then pray for them specifically. This happens every week. Perhaps you think, “What's wrong with praying for children?” The better question would be: Why only pray for the children? Why stand and give them special honor? Do we also stand for the reading of God's word? Do we stand and pray before the minister preaches? Do we so recognize teachers or musicians? Why just the children?

“Oh, but the children are our future!” That's what I have been told repeatedly, ad nauseum, since I entered the ministry. But is it true? Are the children we train our future … or are they someone else's? How many children grow up in your congregation, are served by your youth group, attend college and then come back to serve that same congregation as an adult? The answer is very few indeed. Most children graduate from college and relocate to areas other than the old hometown. So it would be much more accurate to say that our children are someone else's future … and someone else's children are our future. Of all the deacons and elders I have worked with over the last 27 years, I cannot think of one who was actually raised up in that particular congregation.

Regardless, the end result is the same. Children are being entertained, but not educated. They are given ample activities, but few facts. They are taught nice moral lessons (ala VeggieTales), but little actual doctrine. We cater to their attention spans, rather than meet their spiritual needs. They go home to their parents and report what fun they had! … and it's enough. As long as their kids LIKE the youth program and have some friends, there are no questions asked. What a shame that parents care more about whether their children will survive public school than about whether they will actually reach heaven.

It is this ungodly tunnel vision upon youth that is killing the Restoration Movement. If such attention were focused upon producing holy and righteous youth, able to stand boldly against a wicked world, I would be less inclined to complain. If actual fruit were being produced, I would have a harder time criticizing. But such is not the case. Today's children are rude and obnoxious (like their parents), especially toward those elderly who have exhibited the most faithfulness within the church. They desire said adults to fund all of their ventures, all the while keeping their mouths shut about everything else. “We don't want your old-fashioned ideas. We want programs we like. We want music we like. We want teachers we like. We want ministers we like. We want buildings where we can play. We want buses to take us wherever we want to go. Don't tell us how to live our lives, just write us a check.” Is it any wonder Isaiah said, “The youth will storm against the elder” (Isaiah 3:5)?

One of the main reasons Solomon wrote the Proverbs was “to give ... to the youth knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:4). Very few of today's youth ministries are actually accomplishing that goal, even if it were their job instead of the parents. Unless we reverse this trend … unless the parents Biblically educate themselves and take control once again of their children's spiritual education … the Restoration Movement is doomed to failure.

The Scriptural process has been reversed (which is Satan's specialty). The New Testament shows adults being given good news … being evangelized … and those adults sharing it with their families. The church was a top-down model: Win the parents, and they bring the children. Today, it is the opposite: Win the children, and maybe they will bring their parents.

We are supposed to be a Restoration Movement … restoring biblical principles … restoring New Testament faith and practice. Somewhere along the line, someone stopped caring. Today, tradition trumps truth. What the consumer wants is more important than what the soul needs. Oh, for a return to the time when a preacher was able to say with conviction, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5).

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