December 12, 2017

The Role of Parents in Youth Ministry

Joe Vaughn

Last year my wife and I bought our first home. We were blessed to find a home with a large yard. Yet, with the blessing of a usable yard came significant upkeep and maintenance to keep the landscaping looking nice. Up to that point in my life I had had little lawn-care experience, so moving to this house and yard put me on a pretty steep learning curve! Right from the start, I learned an important lesson about yards: without constant cultivation, they go into immediate decline!

When people pass a beautifully landscaped golf course, they automatically know that someone has put an enormous amount of time and effort into shaping and maintaining those grounds. We could say that children are much the same, in that no child naturally grows into a mature, Christlike adult without an enormous investment of time and effort on the part of a mature, Christlike disciple-maker. Without persistent cultivation, the next generation will fall into spiritual decline just like an overgrown lawn. This is precisely why youth ministry is so incredibly important. Yet, in order to have a proper foundation, a youth ministry must be built on a very important principle.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gave the children of Israel his final exhortation before they entered the Promised Land. His concern was that they remain faithful and that they teach the generations to come to be faithful as well. How did he expect them to achieve this? He told them in 6:4–9,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Moses was saying that in order to raise another generation of godly Israelites, the parents must persistently and thoroughly disciple their children in their relationship to the one true God. I believe any understanding of youth ministry must start right here—with the primacy of the parents’ role in personally discipling their children. This passage, therefore, contains some weighty implications for parents.

Parents Must Personally Love the Lord

In verses 4 and 5, Moses told these parents where their discipleship efforts must begin—with their own personal relationship with the Lord. These verses, known as the Shema, tell us that the Lord, Yahweh, is the ultimate reality; He is the only true God. Parents must know Him and must show Him to their children. We live in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. Even some Christian parents today have bought into the world’s fallacy that we shouldn’t force Christianity on our children, that we should allow them to investigate and come to their own conclusion— “their truth.” We must not be so deceived as believers. Our God, Yahweh, is the only God. He is the ultimate reality. If we ourselves are not increasing in our knowledge of Him and are not grounding our children in the knowledge of this God, we rob them of an accurate perception of the world around them. Young people must grow to know this God if they are to know how to function in ways that please Him in His world.

We are also told in these verses that He is the ultimate pursuit. In Matthew 22:37, Christ referenced this passage in Deuteronomy and articulated the greatest commandment in the law: to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. He must be the number one pursuit in our hearts. It is not enough simply to teach our children about God; we must let them see in us a personal love relationship with Him. In a very real sense, this kind of passion for God is not taught, it is caught. And it must be caught! Unless they are motivated out of a growing love for God, our young people will lead Christian lives that are driven by a sense of duty at best, and that are hollow and short-lived at worst. They may learn to obey because they believe they should—it is simply what Christians do. Or, as often happens, they will see in their parents a joyless life of dos and don’ts, and (understandably) turn to something more fulfilling. Parents must show by example the joy of living for Christ that springs from their personal love for Christ.

Parents Must Consistently Teach Their Children

While the previous verses show us where our discipleship efforts must begin, the next two verses tell us that they cannot stop there. It is not enough merely to love the Lord around our young people. Parents must take every opportunity they get to instruct their children in the truth. This includes routine times of Bible study and family devotions, but it also means capitalizing on the many opportunities that come when they are least expected. This kind of persistence and constant readiness to teach the Word requires two things.

First, the Word of God must be our meditation. “And these words . . . shall be in thine heart” (Deut. 6:6). It is not enough for the Word of God to be in our heads; it must be the constant meditation of our souls. Reading the Bible at the family dinner table can be pretty well maintained with a mere head-knowledge of the Word, but seeing Bible principles while cleaning a carburetor with your son or while doing the dishes with your daughter requires a mind that easily reverts back to the Scripture. In working with teenagers, I have found it difficult to steer a given conversation toward spiritual things unless I have started that day filling my soul with meditation on the Word. When my heart is full of the truth of God, I can’t help but overflow it into the young people around me.

Second, this kind of consistent teaching requires that the Word be our conversation. “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Moses is telling them to be teaching the Word all the time! It is to be a regular and frequent part of your conversations with your children. If the only time they hear their parents talk about the Bible is on Sunday or at night before they go to bed, they won’t learn that the Bible is to be the basis for all they do in life. Yet, if God’s Word is truly what you as their parents rely on for every circumstance in life, it will naturally come out in your dealings with your children. Children need to see in their parents a life that is governed by the Word. And a life that is governed by the Word will readily and easily revert back to Bible principles when issues come up. Yes, routine times of family devotions are right and necessary. But some of the most significant teaching times that parents can have with their children come when they are least expected. Times when Johnny comes home from school with a failing grade on a test; or when Susie’s heart is broken over a boy at church; or when they see Dad come home early from work because he has been laid off. Moments like these sneak up unannounced, but they bring with them a golden opportunity to teach Bible principles. All the time, parents are to be directing their children’s attention to the Word of God.

A word needs to be said here about the parents’ personal responsibility in teaching their children as it relates to the youth group and Christian school. Perhaps God has blessed you to be in a church with a strong, Biblically based youth program or has put you in an area where you have access to a solid Christian school. These things are genuine blessings indeed. Yet, where these kinds of influences are available, parents will often ease into spiritual “cruise control” when it comes to discipling their children. The mentality of many is that as long as they pay the tuition— albeit a great personal sacrifice in and of itself—they are fulfilling their responsibility to disciple their children. Or as long as they get their family into a strong church and see that their children are there each week for youth group, they are fulfilling their responsibilities. The instructions in these verses in Deuteronomy, however, lay responsibility squarely at the feet of the parents first. It is the parents’ job to be faithfully living and teaching the Word. The Christian school and church youth program are tremendous assets at the parents’ disposal but should only supplement the discipleship being received at home, never replace it. People often perceive that my job as youth pastor is to help our teenagers. In reality, my primary job is to help our parents help their teenagers. I have come to see that heart issues in our young people often reflect parent issues in their home. If, in trying to help a teenager or young person, I neglect to bring the parents into the picture, I bypass the number one disciple-making influence that God has ordained in the life of that young person.

Parents Must Saturate Their Children’s Environment with the Word

Verse 8 says, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” These verses and others like them were taken quite literally by the Jews throughout their history. Even today,

faithful Jews carefully don their tefillin or phylacteries before reciting their daily prayers. They literally bind the Word upon their hands and between their eyes. Moses’ intention here, though, was not that they physically apply the Word to their bodies but that they be always reminded of it and constantly guided by it. As a married man, I wear on my left hand a constant reminder of my relationship with my wife. It serves as a perpetual reminder that I made some specific vows to a specific woman and that she made them to me. Children must also be reminded on a regular basis of the Word of God. If asked, how often would your children say that they are reminded of the Word of God in their home? Are their questions answered with, “What does the Bible say?”

Not only must children be constantly reminded of the Word, they must also be constantly confronted with it! In verse 9 we read, “And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” This is another prescription that the Jews have taken quite literally.

A few years ago I had the privilege to travel to the Holy Land. While there, I noticed that on nearly every door I went through there was a little box fixed to the doorframe with Hebrew writing on it. I learned that this was called the mezuzah. It contains verses of the Old Testament and is faithfully installed on the doorframe in accordance with this verse—to “write them upon the posts of thy house.” But Moses was not talking about literally posting the Word to the door of your house; he meant that your home must be recognized as a place where the Word of God is.

He meant that as folks pass by your home, they should immediately recognize the Word there. Is the Word this much a part of your home? Does it influence all that goes on therein? Could your children look around their home and family life and see the effects of Bible principles on why they do what they do? For instance, does the music in their home reinforce Bible truth and a correct understanding of the character of God? Are the family standards consistent and based on Bible principles? Young people have a keen sense of what is authentic and what is phony. When they hear their parents talk a lot about the Bible yet see no rhyme nor reason as to why certain things go on in their home, they receive a very conflicted message.

Scripture must be at home in your home; it must permeate all your family does. If it doesn’t, don’t be surprised if you have a hard time teaching your children to consistently turn to the Word.

Joe Vaughn is the youth pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina. He holds a BA in History from Bob Jones University and is currently working on a Master of Divinity degree from the Bob Jones Seminary. He and his wife, Kimberly, were married in 2006.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2008. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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