Category: Teenagers (Page 2 of 2)

To The Teens

I’m 40 years old, I have a green mini-van (Carrie-Anne drives it, not me), and, not only have I never played with a Wii, up until two days ago I didn’t even know how to spell it. I own, and sometimes wear, a pair of blue jean shorts. And with the exceptions of Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Audio Adrenaline, if it was recorded after 1985, I don’t listen to it. I have tube socks older than you. If I had my way, every room or office would have a Lava Lamp, the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA basketball tournament would be declared national holidays, and we would sing “How Great Thou Art,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” and “A Mighty Fortress” during every single worship assembly. In my mind, Tom Landry is still the only coach the Cowboys have ever had.

Maybe we don’t have a ton of things in common. But let me tell you this: I love you.

I love you. Your youth minister loves you. The elders in your church love you. Your preacher loves you. The older lady that you think frowns at you all the time loves you. The man in the back who refuses to sing a “new song” loves you. Your friends’ families love you. And your parents love you more than you can possibly begin to imagine.

If you were beginning to learn how to drive a car and your dad took you to the Driver’s Ed place and the teacher told your dad, “We offer two different education packages. For $39 I can teach your child everything he needs to know to pass the test. It’s only the basic stuff. It’s not too difficult, he should breeze right through it, and we can get him his license in just a couple of weeks.”

“But for $79 I can give your child the extended course. We’ll teach him the basics, naturally. But we’ll also give him tons of practical experience behind the wheel in both urban and rural settings. We’ll take him out on the highways and through the school zones. We’ll teach him safety. We’ll show him how to react in emergency situations. How to avoid dangerous circumstances. How to react when faced with difficult conditions. It takes two months instead of two weeks. And it’s not nearly as easy. It’ll require some dedication and study and lots of field work. But I think it’s worth it in the long run.”

One course gets you your license. The other course provides you with the teaching and the tools necessary to greatly increase your odds of being safe and staying alive. Which one will your dad choose?

Don’t carry the metaphor too far out. It may break down.

Why would the person who loves you the most give you just the basics? He wouldn’t! He would want you to be fully equipped to face whatever challenges or crises come your way.

And that’s what everybody in your church wants for you. We love you.

I want, more than I can explain, to provide you with the teachings and the tools you need to live exactly like our Savior. I want you to be just like him. I want you to think about and talk about sacrificing and serving and thinking more highly of others than you do yourselves. Submitting to each other in love. Seeing your place in the body of Christ, both now and in the future, as vital and critical and paramount to the growth and spread of the Kingdom.

Trust me (and you know this already), we concentrate on you because we see how we’ve messed things up for ourselves. We want things to be better for you than they are for us. We know very well how we’re supposed to act. And we know very well that we don’t. And we know that if the Church of Jesus is going to make a difference in reclaiming the world for its Creator, we’ve got to change. And we see you as the ones who can more than likely do what we’re unable to do.

I believe Jesus’ apostles were teenagers when he called them. Going through both Scripture and ancient Jewish education history, I think it’s clear that the apostles were likely between the ages of 12 and 19 when they decided to follow Jesus. Peter is the only one that Scripture points to as maybe possibly being in his 20s. I think they were teens.

And I think Jesus chose teenagers, not just because that was the way the rabbinical system had been working for a couple of centuries, but because he knew the passion and the energy and the desires of teens to identify with a cause and dedicate themselves entirely to it. I know that fire, too. I see that fire in you all the time — at youth rallies, on retreats, at WinterFest, and around campsite campfires at 2:00 am. You’ve got it. You want, most of you, more than anything else in the whole world to be exactly like Jesus. And you look to church and church leaders and church culture to find out exactly what Jesus was like and what he taught so you can be exactly like him.

And I’m afraid we let you down.

The last two posts on this blog have not been about you. They’ve been about us. They’ve been about me.

And here’s my plea, to you from me: don’t leave us.

Statistics show you’re leaving the churches of Christ in record numbers. It happens as soon as you get out of high school. Some of you come back eventually. Most of you don’t. And we’re all scrambling, every one of us, trying to figure out why and what we can do about it.

Don’t leave us.

A young man named Brian, a college student at ACU, asked that panel why it was such a big deal when teens born and raised in the churches of Christ left for other faith traditions. If we’re still claiming Jesus as Lord and still serving Christ in love, he said, why does it hurt you when we leave this particular heritage?

I waited until the session was over and grabbed him in the hallway. (Not literally. I said his name.) Yes, it hurts us when you leave, I told him. It kills us. Because it means we’ve let you down. It means we were not successful in passing on the baton of faith and tradition and heritage in our own fellowship to our own kids.  We take it as a sign that we’ve failed. And it kills us. It means to us that you didn’t really see us, the churches of Christ, as a family. And that’s what all of us long for it to be.

Don’t leave us.

I know we’ve horribly distorted the Church that Jesus died for. You’re not stupid. You know it, too. You know how inconsistent we are. You know how we preach and teach one thing and then act totally the oppposite. You see right through our feeble attempts to justify our own wants and desires and comfort zones by misapplying this passage or pulling that verse completely out of context. It’s crazy sometimes! Sometimes it makes me want to leave!

Don’t leave.

As I told Brian that day at ACU, stay and help us. Wrestle with us. Grow with us. Teach us. Show us how to worship with passion and joy and with the freedom we have in Christ. Point out the inconsistencies. We know how crazy it is to say you can clap and raise your hands in the Youth House but not in the auditorium. We know that makes absolutely no sense. But we keep doing it anyway. We’ve been so inconsistent for so long, we’re blind to a lot of it. Show it to us. Challenge us. You know how God works best when we’re getting our hands dirty in the low income apartment complexes and the homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Most of the people in your churches know it, too. But there’s nobody challenging them to act on it. We know it’s nuts to expect you to submit and sacrifice for us when you see us slamming each other and gossiping all the time. Tell us about it.

Find somebody in your congregation, maybe somebody other than a youth minister or an elder or a parent, someone with a big picture view of things who’s not going to be caught in the middle because of job descriptions or expectations, and talk to them. Make that contact. Make that friend. And then when somebody or something in the church is beating you down, go to that person. I think you’ll find that, if you haven’t already, when you engage an adult in serious reflection and discussion and give him your trust, he becomes your biggest fan.

To the youth group here at Legacy, specifically: I’m your biggest fan. Getting to know you at the Discipleship Retreat last Spring was such a wonderful experience for Carrie-Anne and me. Listening to you, sharing with you, especially those of you in Group Five (“common name, uncommon game”), gave me such optimism and joy. It made me so excited to be coming to a church family with such a thoughtful and passionate group of young people. If anybody or anything in our church family is beating you down, if you’re confronted with a teaching or a directive that’s contrary to Jesus’ example or teachings, you let me know. Come see me. And I’ll be at the very front of your parade with flags and trumpets and whistles and bells. Driving a green mini-van. Wearing blue jean shorts.

Don’t leave us. Stay with us and help us grow together in our Lord.


My sympathies are certainly with Pat Cox and Dale and Kimberly and the whole Cox family after the passing of Billy Ray. What a great man. What a great family. Billy Ray is the one who, while I was in high school, brought Roger Staubach to speak at chapel at Dallas Christian. It was a big secret. But he let me in on it early, the day before, so I could bring my Staubach poster to school and get it autographed. Their son, Dale, was a football hero to me. Their daughter, Kimberly, was a great friend to me who wound up marrying one of my best friends, David Grogan. Billy Ray and Pat had the biggest house. And the very best of my high school parties and gatherings were held there. Billy Ray is the one who helped us get Whitney into Dallas Christian when we moved back to Mesquite from Wichita Falls. And he’s the one who helped me secure funding from the Saturn Road Church of Christ when we moved to Marble Falls and Austin Grad.

I preached at Saturn Road on a Sunday night last October, almost a year ago now, and Billy Ray spoke after I was finished. And, as always, his words were full of praise and encouragment and kindness and warmth and love. He’s one of those guys with a long, long reach. The impact he’s had on the Church and on Christian education is impossible to measure and will continue far into the future. Billy Ray Cox was a great man. And I’m a better man for having known him and his sweet family. I count him among the many who encouraged me in my efforts to ditch radio for the ministry. And I’m eternally grateful.

I’ll be attending the funeral this afternoon at Saturn Road. And I’m looking forward to seeing tons of old friends and praising our God for the wonderul life of Billy Ray Cox.



Almighty Teenager Part Two


 What a fantastic response — overwhelming — to yesterday’s post. Ministers from Fresno, California and Marble Falls, Texas and Manhatten, New York have posted the entire article on their websites. Our youth group here at Legacy discussed the article and the comments at last night’s Bible study. Your comments and emails in response to the post are heart-felt, sincere, and provocative. And they reveal an intense desire to prayerfully consider the issue and act in ways that are best for our kids and best for the body of Christ as a whole.

Thank you.

Today, I’d like to clarify a few points from yesterday, especially as they relate to your comments, and then narrow the focus down to one particular part of the discussion that I think impacts all of us.

First, it is a very complex issue. There are no easy answers. The solution isn’t going to be some simple fix or four-step plan or better program. It goes much, much deeper than that. Jason and Lance, our youth ministers here at Legacy, and I will visit with each other over these very issues at least once or twice every week, sometimes for a couple of hours at a time, and come away frustrated. It’s so deep and so complex. And we wrestle with it together. And we don’t know what to do.

You’ll notice I don’t blame the teenagers. I don’t blame them at all. It’s not their fault. Look at the way we treat them and the way we model “church” in front of them. I don’t blame them a bit. And I don’t blame youth ministers. Not a one. At least, not any more than I blame all the rest of us. This is a parenting and a church issue. It’s not a youth minister issue. It’s not a teenager problem. I applaud Jason for his desire to move Youth Ministry here at Legacy into more of a Family Ministry model, much like the one Paul oversees at Woodwark Park in Fresno. I appreciate his attitude about all of this. He recognizes all the same things we all do.

But youth ministers are caught in the middle. They’re in a no-win situation here. They’re obligated to the teens. They care for the teens. By virtue of their job descriptions and the relationships they’ve nurtured, the teens are the main priority of the youth ministers. And rightfully so. But when they’re moved to take their programs in a different direction or to stress more church-wide or even inter-generational emphasis in an effort to show our kids a more big-picture view of God’s church, they’re re-buffed by the parents and the church leaders. It seems that if the teenagers buck some kind of a change or directive, regardless of the stated intention or anticipated goal of the change or directive, parents and church leaders slam on the brakes and tell the youth minister to do what the kids want to do.

It’s not that teens shouldn’t be able to voice their opinions or concerns and have them taken seriously. It’s not that at all. I pray that a young person would feel comfortable enough, and loved enough, to speak openly with any elder or church leader about anything. But teenagers don’t have the maturity or the big-picture view they need to make all of these kinds of decisions for themselves. Seriously. No offense, but they’re teenagers! It’s impossible for them to have the experience and the judgment necessary for a lot of these things simply by virtue of their age. They’ve only been around for 13 or 14 years! It’s not their fault. That’s where parenting and the church comes in. And I would hope parents and youth ministers could work together on these things with the spiritual health of the teenager in mind — his spiritual health for the long-run, not necessarily his social or relational health in the here and now.

As for the issue of entitlement, yes, we are all entitled by the grace of God to share in the glory of Jesus. We are heirs of the Father and joint-heirs with the Son. But only by God’s grace. It’s a gift. The very definition of the word “entitled” conveys the meaning of “gift.” It’s not earned. I’m not entitled by my age or my income bracket or my diplomas or my behavior. I’m entitled as a son of my Father because he chose to give that entitlement to me. Teenagers are just as entitled to the joy of our salvation as any of us. And they’re just as entitled to be a part of the Lord’s body. But not more so than anybody else. We shouldn’t raise them above the others. Their opinions shouldn’t matter more than others’. And, again, I don’t think the teens take that entitlement from anyone else. I think we give it to them. To their detriment and the detriment of the church.

And I cannot agree with any concept of adapting to our culture. The posts today and yesterday are purely insider issues. We’re talking about Christians and the church, not outsiders. So I’m not really sure how adapting to the culture fits in this conversation. But I do hold to the imperialistic claims of Scripture. The Gospel doesn’t want to speak to the modern world; the Gospel wants to convert the modern world.

OK. It’s not a teenager issue. It’s a parenting and church issue.

Let’s narrow the focus to concentrate today on what I see as the number one problem: bad-mouthing the church in front of our kids.

You want solutions? There are no easy ones. But I think everything, all of this, changes in very positive ways if we’ll just all stop talking negatively about the church in front of our teens.

 When the only time our kids ever hear us talking about church is when we’re bashing it, why would we not expect our teens to leave the church and start looking for something else? Our kids aren’t stupid! They can connect the dots. We teach and preach one thing, but they see and experience something different. They read in the Scriptures one thing. But they hear something different. They know we’re called to something more. They’re convinced that God’s church is a loving, united, nurturing community of faith that puts others’ needs ahead of our own. But when they see their parents gripe and complain and threaten to leave if things don’t start going their way; when they hear their parents slam song leaders and song selection and elders’ decisions and Bible class teachers; when they experience the tension in the arguments and the gossip and the backstabbing; how can we blame them for wanting something else? Don’t you think this has a huge impact?

I’ve been very, very disappointed in some of the magazines and websites and blogs out there that angrily tear apart our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s body who don’t believe or practice every single thing the exact same way we do. Labeling preachers as wolves and denouncing entire congregations as heretical based on personal opinions or personal comfort levels is wrong in every way. And damaging. So very damaging. Some friends of mine made a vow almost two years ago to stop reading that stuff. Even if it’s just for information’s sake, for the sake of amusement or entertainment or even curiosity, stop reading it. It’s damaging.

And now I see preachers and teachers on the other side, the ones who’ve been labeled as wolves and heretics, the ones who preach and teach unity and love and fellowship, engaging in the exact same practices. There’s just as much, if not more, hate and anger and selfish enmity and hostility than was in the old school stuff. It’s repulsive. One brother commented on one of these preacher’s blogs recently, in response to a criticism of a Church of Christ program that espoused some fairly rigid views, that “pretty soon they’ll all be dead, including ________, and the problem of traditional Church of Christ’ers will snuff itself out.”

And he mentioned the older preacher by name.

It was as if this brother would personally delight in slashing the throats of all his brothers and sisters who disagreed with him if he thought he could get away with it.

And we don’t see that this kind of thing has a tremendous impact on our kids? That man’s blog is no longer on my list of things to read every week. No way. There’s no place anywhere in our Christian faith for that kind of attitude to be thought, much less articulated in a public forum. I’m embarrassed and ashamed and saddened by the way we treat each other. God, forgive us. Have mercy on us.

 It’s not ACU. It’s not youth ministers. It’s not the kids. It’s us. It’s the church. It’s the parents.

Is complaining and griping and ridiculing the church in front of our children the biggest part of the problem? Can it be stopped? Would it matter?



Observations on the Almighty Church Teenager

We’re losing our kids. We can’t keep our young people. Our teenagers are leaving the church. Ever increasing numbers of our children are becoming more and more disenchanted with our faith and our faith traditions. There’s no “brand loyalty” among our offspring.

So in an effort to win those kids and hang onto our young people and keep our teenagers and encourage our children and indoctrinate our offspring we throw more programs at them. Give them more to do. More activities. More ministers. More money.

Have we ever stopped to consider that our current model of Youth Ministry, an unchallenged and undisputed and powerful force among our churches for about 40 years, is part of the problem?

I have two observations, maybe three, on the issue of our teens and the widely perceived problems of them leaving the church. This may take a while. It may take all week. I encourage you to read this and reflect on it and pray about it. Especially if you’re a parent.

There’s a member of my family who, many years ago, decided to move God and his church way down on the list of priorities. None of it is very important to this person anymore. This person, whom I love dearly and pray for every day, is not a member of a church anymore. This person’s spouse and children don’t care about any of it at all. It doesn’t matter to them. And it breaks my heart. It grieves every other member of the family. And we make a concerted effort, as a family, to never, ever, ever speak negatively about the church in any way any time this family member is around. We don’t discuss “church issues.” We don’t complain about policies or gripe about worship. We don’t argue about doctrine or in any way air the church’s laundry when this family member is around. When this person is in the room, we talk only about the good things in the church. We speak about relationships and love and support. We talk about people and families this person knows. We communicate what God is doing in and with his church and the people there.

That’s just common sense, right? You’d have to be a fool to think that speaking negatively about the church and communicating all the things that are wrong in the church would ever win this person back to our Lord.

So how in the world do we justify the way we talk about the church in front of our kids? We wouldn’t do it in front of the lost. Why do we think it’s OK in front of our children?

We’re raising entire generations of kids — two or three in a row now — who, the only time they hear their parents and their parents’ friends talk about church, hear their parents slamming the church. We complain about worship. We gripe about policies and practices and personalities. We threaten to leave if things don’t change or go our way. We talk about the church, in front of our kids, as if it were a burden or a necessary evil. We communicate to them that we don’t like very much about it at all. What young person would want to dedicate his life to it after listening to that for 12 or 13 years? Who wouldn’t be on the lookout for something else? Some of them, I don’t blame for wanting to leave.

OK. That’s observation number one.

Here’s the second: I’m afraid we’re communicating unscriptural ideas and planting ungodly seeds when we unflinchingly cater to the wants and whims of our teenagers.

We tell our teenagers that they are the single most important group in the church. They matter more than anybody. We tell them to separate from the rest of the body for worship. We tell them to separate from their families, sit together as a youth group, right down front, so we can look at them. 

We laugh at the absurdity of someone thinking they have their own pew in the sanctuary. We joke about a visitor walking in and unknowingly taking someone’s pew. Yet we block off entire sections of our worship centers for our teens. Seriously.

We encourage them to do their own thing, sing their own songs, express themselves in their own ways. And if we’re not comfortable with all that, we send them away to do it by themselves. We build them elaborate youth facilities for their own use. They make up less than ten-percent of our congregations but they get all the attention, two or three full time ministers, and a huge unbalanced chunk of the budget.

How can we change worship to meet the needs of our teenagers? How can we tweak our meeting times and places to satisfy our kids? What songs can we sing that our youth group will enjoy? How can we provide our young people with more fun activities? What will the teenagers think? What do the teenagers say?

When’s the last time anybody asked the 55-year-old couple in the back, the ones who’ve been members at your church for 20 years, what they thought?

Here’s the deal: a kid in our churches feels a sense of entitlement. Our youth programs and the attention we pay them naturally foster it. If those same kids go to Christian colleges and attend big churches with successful college programs that treat them the same way, it only gets worse. And by the time that young person graduates at age 23 or 24, he gets a job (hopefully, right?) and begins searching for a church home and realizes, maybe for the first time in his life, that it’s not all about him.

Nobody’s catering to him anymore. He’s having to sacrifice and submit and consider others maybe for the first time in his life. Suddenly, he and his age group aren’t the most important people in the church. He’s just as important, or unimportant, as everyone else. And he goes into shock. Vertigo. Disorientation. And I think it’s only natural. What other result would we expect? Does it surprise us that it’s at that age, 23-25, that our kids leave the churches of Christ or drop out of church altogether?

Related to that, I think, is the fact that the parents of today’s teenagers, men and women in their 40s and 50s, are the very first generation of Church of Christ members raised in the current youth ministry model. And these parents are changing churches based on their kids’ preferences. Parents are choosing churches only after their children have signed off on the youth program. Parents are taking complaints from their teens to ministers and elders. The kids have the reigns. The kids have the power. The kids have the control. They have the final say.

And we’re the ones who gave it to them.

Last thing. And these are all related. Why are we afraid to correct our teenagers? Why are we afraid to give them direction?

I was interested last week to attend a series of roundtable discussions at the Abilene Christian University Lectureships entitled “The House Divided: Discussing Differences Within the Church.” It was part of the ACU student-led Lectureship track, described and promoted as church leaders discussing ways our members can “maintain unity despite significant differences.” The stated goal of the class was to “dream with our students of a future together in unity.”

There were over a hundred people in the room each of the three days, fairly evenly split between college students and older church leaders. The discussion each day was moderated by a three-man panel of ministers and professors. And not once was the view of a teenager challenged or corrected. Every view of every student — regardless of how misguided or misinformed or even dangerous — was validated by solemn nods and affirming winks. Several times the panelists reminded us that we were there to listen to the students. And that’s all we did. Listen to the students. When they said they needed this or they needed that or they needed to feel such-and-such, we listened. And vowed to change.

At one point, late in the third day’s session, one young lady exclaimed that she and her friends were “just saying ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the church.” And the panelists nodded in agreement.

And I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I asked for the microphone and gently explained (I characterized my forthcoming comment as a “loving response to my sweet sister in Christ) that saying “no” to the church was not the answer. It’s never the answer. I told her and everyone in the room that Scripture clearly and unambiguously tells us that Christ died for the church. His blood purchased the church. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap. And while many Christians are guilty of distorting the church, even in our own tradition, sometimes to the point of making it unrecognizeable as the church Jesus died for, saying “no” is not the answer. It’s impossible to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the church. His death on the cross makes it impossible.

And the panelists took the microphone and corrected me and defended the teenager.

They said we have to change the way we talk and the way we think about the church if we’re going to keep our kids. They said we have to use the language of the outsiders and respect the perspective of the outsiders. And when I observed that this student was not an outsider but an insider in a room full of insiders, I was politely brushed off. Dismissed.

My opinion doesn’t count. I’m 40 and I have gray hair. I don’t have an iPod and I don’t play with a Wie. What do I know?

Maybe that’s right. But I’m saddened that in a room full of elders and ministers and Christian college professors, one of our own kids can declare her response to our problems is to say “no” to the church. And it goes completely unchallenged. It’s actually affirmed as fine and even proper.  

A few minutes later, to his credit, one of the panelists, a youth minister from the Houston area, attempted to encourage our young people to persevere. Challenge the church. Help teach the church. Wrestle with the church. Grow with the church. Love the church. But don’t leave the church. I couldn’t have said it better. I had been waiting for three days for somebody on the panel to actually say something to that effect.

And then the ACU professor on the panel grabbed the mic and said, “But if the Lord is calling you to leave, then you have to leave.”


That day’s session was titled “Visions for the Future: God Has No Plan B.”

God may have no Plan B. But this professor does. Just leave. Do your own thing.

Why are we so afraid of correcting our teenagers? Why are we scared to give them direction? Why are we afraid to offend them? Is it because we think they’ll leave? Is it because we want them to like us? Is it because the parents of our teens are treating them the same way we were treated as teens and we just don’t know any better? We haven’t made the connection yet?

Teenagers are not the church of the future. They are the church of right now. Just like the 91-year-old man and the four-year-old little girl and everybody in between. We all submit to each other. We all sacrifice for each other. We all love each other. We all consider others better than ourselves. How can exalting one group within the church over another, intentionally or unintentionally, ever be godly or good?



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