What Divided Got Right

image courtesy adamwc.meThursday I addressed some of my problems with Divided, the new documentary about youth ministry.  In fairness, I want to agree with the film on one thing.  Parents have the primary responsibility to disciple their children in the faith.  As obvious as that fact may seem, I think parents and youth workers alike lose sight of it at times.  I know I did.  When I was a youth leader, I had as little contact with parents as possible.  To be honest, I was afraid of the parents, and (especially in the first few years) identified far more with the teens.  My communication with parents amounted to handing out schedules and asking for money and signed permission forms.  I certainly didn’t see myself as partnering with parents in ministering to teens.

Now that I’m a youth group parent, I see how wrong my approach was.  I want to be involved in my children’s spiritual lives, and I think I have much to offer them.  But I’m also grateful to have other adults in their lives who join my husband and I in the work of discipleship.  That’s where I depart from the folks behind Divided.  I don’t view our youth pastor as a threat to my authority as a parent.  That’s authority the filmmakers barely recognize, given that I’m a mother and not a father, but I digress.  “Divided” turns discipleship into a zero sum game.  In their way of thinking, if my daughter is seeking counsel from her youth pastor, she can’t be seeking counsel from her parents, as well.  If she’s building relationships with kids in the youth group, she can’t be building relationships with the rest of the church.  Whose soul is that narrow?  Whose capacity for connection is that impoverished?

image courtesy rebuildlakeshore.comStill, as I mentioned yesterday, I do have concerns about youth ministry.  I have twelve years ahead of  me as a youth group parent (yep, did the math again).  I’m also Director of Christian Education in my church, and hope to continue in that role as long as God allows.  I care deeply about the spiritual formation of our children.  So here are a few questions I think we’d do well to think about, regarding youth ministry specifically, and all “age segregated” ministry.

1.  Are there ways in which traditional youth ministry has alienated teens from parents, rather than strengthening family relationships?  Are there practices – however unintentional they may be – that diminish the place of parents in the lives of their children?  If so, what changes need to be made?

2.  How should youth pastors view their role:  as serving youth, or as serving youth and their families?  What will be the impact on ministry of each perspective?

3.  If parents have shifted responsibility for spiritual instruction onto the church, what can the church do to encourage parents to live up to their calling? (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Ephesians 6:4, for starters)?

4.  While still providing age appropriate instruction, how can children and teens be incorporated into the life and ministry of the worshiping community?

5.  What about children and teens whose parents are not involved in church?  How can the church minister to them without the assistance of their parents?  Are there ways in which the church can communicate respect and support for even the unbelieving or uninvolved parent?

In my first post I said that I’d wrap up with my thoughts about why any of this matters.  Why bother responding to the documentary at all?  For starters, I think “Divided” did a serious disservice to the wider family church movement by tethering it to other, disputable issues like young earth creationism and patriarchy.  Secondly, the faulty arguments in “Divided” provide an easy out and convenient places to lay blame, rather than a thoughtful response to the problem of young people leaving the church.  It’s much easier to think that teens are leaving because of that darn lock-in they attended last year, than to listen to their real reasons.

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About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in church, education, parenting, religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What Divided Got Right

  1. Pingback: Ahhh, Facebook, you are making me ANGRY! | Strange Figures

  2. Mark Copley says:

    There really is a need for discussion by Youth Pastors and parents about how they can work together to disciple our youth. Where can such a discussion take place if not in the church?

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    • Sean and I have been thinking about that very thing – we’re going to meet this week to talk together. I’ll tell you one thing he did recently which I really appreciated, though. Supriya visited another youth group and heard a lesson on tongues. She simultaneously texted Sean, another youth leader and myself to ask our church’s position on tongues. Sean and Libby both replied by suggesting they she ask me first. I wouldn’t have done that twenty years ago – I would have been so full of confidence in my own abilities as a youth leader that it wouldn’t have occurred to me give a “veteran” Christian parent the chance to answer their child’s question. Of course, if I’d asked Sean for back up, I know he would have provided it. But I felt respected by Sean and was able to have a great conversation with my daughter….
      By the way, we’d certainly take suggestions from other veteran parents and church leaders, too! 🙂

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  3. Sean Asbeck says:

    I am blogging about this next week – but, while I do think we (YP’s) need to be more intentional, I don’t think this is something that needs to be over-programmed. One of the things we are going to this fall is resourcing our parents with the topics we are going to be talking about in our youth group times. This will include some of the source material I use, the scriptures we will be referencing, discussion prompts, and a schedule of when we are talking about them. We also are incorporating family times into our programming – 5th Sundays when moms, dads, and siblings are specifically invited (they are always welcome to attend) to our youth group to experience what goes on – games, discussions, lessons all included.

    I think a big thing in my thinking has been a shift in how I view youth ministry. Growing the youth group is not my priority anymore. Spreading the gospel, through word and deed, are the things Jesus commissions his individual followers to do – not necessarily the institution of the church. I have shifted to see my role as one more of training, equipping, challenging, and yes, discipling teens I have to deepen their faith and live out that commission – not relying on the church to do it for them – but understanding they are personally responsible for those things. In the prior view, parents can be a tolerable (at time intolerable) nuisance. In the shifted view, they become a necessity and vital resource.

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  4. Sean Asbeck says:

    Interestingly, I have noticed that growth accompanies even this shifted view. It is slower – for sure – but I think it is a more genuine and transformational growth. Teens come and stay because they are attracted by the genuineness of the relationships that are formed in that sort of environment. Nothing is more exciting for me than to see my teens living out the things we talk about – except for maybe witnessing them doing the things they didn’t used to because I and the institution were doing it for them. It is amazing what can happen when I get out of the way…

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