An Open Letter to Youth Group Leaders, Church Leadership, and Especially Parents:

I hear the way the world screams for our kids. 

I feel the cold tentacles of porn so readily accessible on the internet, the pain from addictions to drugs and alcohol, the pull from friends, the media, and even our government on our youth to step off the foundation of Jesus that we’ve placed them on.

 I can hear the silence of their daily loneliness, even in the midst of their peers, and I understand why some of them choose to hurt themselves just to feel something in the numbness that this world drowns them in. 

I can taste all of our fear that comes from technology and gaming, internet connections, social media, and chat rooms wondering if we’ll one day hear the piercing sound of an Amber Alert, and this time, it’s going to be our kid who has gone missing. 

Never to be found. 

I can sense the darkness and the dilemma we all face every day now. My own heart asks the same questions. Where are our children safe anymore? Not at school. Not at the mall. Not at the movie theater. Not even at church.

Never before are our kids more at risk. The risk of porn, abuse, addiction, death, and most of all, stepping off the foundation. The rock that is Jesus. 

I feel your burden. I appreciate your desire to make our kids safe and to keep them connected. I see your posts and messages about getting our kids to church, more services, more youth group events, more lights, smoke, and roller skating. 

But you’re going about it the wrong way. I don’t have all the answers, but there are some things I’ve learned.

If we really want to keep our kids anchored to Jesus, we’ve got to take them to where He’s at. 

The field.

Pastors and Youth Group Leaders, our young people don’t need another “Youth Game Night” or “Youth Concert.”  They don’t even need another “Youth Service” where they are catered to. They need to go cater to others, those who can do nothing for them, and serve.

My oldest comes back from Africa soon. I’ve talked to her quite a bit over the last week and a half, and it’s changed her, as I knew it would. She doesn’t want to leave. She did a couple of fun excursions with her new church friends over there, but that’s not why she doesn’t want to leave. It’s the kids at the orphanage she met who simply wanted to be held and loved. It was the people in the village they visited who had never seen a phone, had no running water, and didn’t know Jesus that has captivated her heart and left her dreaming of when she can make it back to Namibia.

It was in serving that she found her fulfillment.

That’s not accidental. She wasn’t just born another Mother Teresa or Florence Nightingale. It was put there over years of serving from the time she could barely walk or talk. 

Feeding the homeless on Christmas mornings.

Bringing out gift bags and food to them once a month.

Connecting with, feeding, playing with, and ministering to kids in one of our city’s poorest neighborhoods over summer breaks.

Traveling to Atlanta’s inner city and Skid Row in Los Angeles to help other ministries reach for the lost in their cities.

This isn’t a post to say, “Look at all the awesome stuff we do!” My husband and I will be the first to say we have no idea what we’re doing when it comes to parenting. We’ve been banging through this gig blindly, trying to stay ahead of the world, and follow Jesus.  We’ve screwed up a time or two (or a hundred), but I know we did do a couple of things right. 

First, and most importantly,  we prayed. A lot. And then we took every opportunity that came our way to serve, dragging our kids along with us. It didn’t matter how crazy or menial. We knew that we were called to serve, and we also knew we were called to lead our kids to do the same. We messed up a time or two but with all surety we’ve known our place, like every other Christian, is in the field. Not the pew.

That’s why my oldest’s response doesn’t surprise me. God put that in her and used us to give her opportunity after opportunity to meet Him in the field. Because of that, even when she questions church doctrine or traditions, even when she wanders a little off the path, I can see she’s still standing on solid ground. She knows who Jesus is, and she knows what it looks like to follow Him.

Here’s the thing, other than to us, she’s really nobody special. She’s just a human teenager with hormones, mood swings, and drama (real and imagined). The Bible says that God doesn’t play favorites. So if opportunities to serve are what has given her a heart for Jesus and strengthened her own relationship with Him, He’ll do the same for anyone else. 

We don’t have to send our kids halfway around the world for their lives to be changed. We don’t even have to take them to another state. We could probably find opportunities right across the street.

In our elderly neighbor’s overgrown front yard that desperately needs to be mowed.

Or downtown on the streets where thousands of hungry people need a warm meal and an even warmer hug.

Or across town at the single mom’s house that needs a new coat of paint.

It doesn’t have to be a spectacular trip of a lifetime. 

What would happen in our youth groups if, instead of taking them to another roller rink, we took them as a group to serve a neighborhood in our city?

What if, instead of another youth service, we took them out to find and minister to the homeless?

What if, instead of another youth prayer meeting, we took them to pray with others on the streets, in the hospitals, in the park?

What if, instead of another event that caters to them, our kids committed to visiting and serving the elderly of our churches?

Parents, it’s not up to the church to disciple our kids. It’s up to us. It’s our biblical duty to make sure they walk in the faith and to keep them safe, physically and spiritually. Our youth and church leaders are there to come alongside of us as a support, a help, and an encouragement, but at the end of the day, it’s all on us.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things working with youth groups in church, and I’ve learned a lot of things through raising my own kids, and I still don’t have all the answers. But I know who does.

Jesus does. And the best thing we can do is lead our kids to Him. 

Where He’s at.

In the field.

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