Every healthy, growing congregation pays great attention to its young people — and does it without doting. The members recognize that the young people represent the future of the congregation, and they also comprise a vital part of the present. There are two extremes with regard to our young people which need to be carefully avoided.
1) On the one hand, our young people should not be overly and uncritically adored to the point where they believe they are the center of the universe. This is being played out in many modern families where parents are failing to discipline their children, and are giving them the impression that they are above correction, free to do whatever they please. The Bible still says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Prov. 13:24). Young parents who treat their children as though they are always the center of attention, at everyone’s beck and call, are doing them a grave disservice. The children become accustomed to such treatment, growing up believing that they can say or do anything in society, and are disrespectful, truly “spoiled.”
2) The other extreme is just as dangerous. Some children are neglected, missing out on important instruction and guidance, and sporadically over-corrected. Their upbringing is inconsistent, incomplete. Many lack the influence of a godly mother or a Christian father in their lives. Dad may be irresponsible, or absent altogether, and mom is preoccupied with other things. When discipline is administered, it is usually unpredictable and inappropriate.
Paul addresses all this in one powerful sentence: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord,” (Eph. 6:4). Here, fathers are commanded not to “provoke their children to wrath” or over-correct them. Discipline is to be steady, appropriate and consistent. Further, children are to be “nurtured” or provided with the teaching, guidance, and instruction they need. At the same time, they are to be provided with “admonition of the Lord,” that is, the correction and discipline they need.
It is noteworthy that these commands are directed primarily to fathers, the spiritual leaders of the home. Fathers are the “providers” for their families’ physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8), but they are also the spiritual leaders in at least three significant ways: 1) they model consistent and disciplined living, 2) they supply nurturing and guidance from the word of God, and 3) they provide essential correction when things go awry.
In God’s spiritual family, the church, there are those of all ages, talents, abilities, and needs. The young people bring great enthusiasm, strength, excitement, and optimism to the church. They remind us of the future, and the need to prepare well for it. They challenge us to study and re-study why we do what we do, and they ask good questions.
Wise leaders consider the young people in every work and activity of the church. They are encouraged and involved if possible. They are given specific jobs to do, and are held accountable for doing them. When they do a good job, they are commended and encouraged to do even more. The leaders observe that the young people are maturing and growing. They are given greater and greater responsibilities and challenges. At the same time they are taught the humbling lesson that they are not yet equipped to do everything. They are taught to respect their elders.
Too many congregations treat the youth group as a group who simply need to be entertained. There is a constant struggle to come up with activities, and amusing events for them. Activities are good, but it’s about far more than having fun or being entertained. It’s about growth, discovery, and gaining spiritual maturity. It’s about noticing others and learning to serve them. It’s about learning to assume their rightful place in the church.
I am thankful for our precious young people. I grew up in a congregation where the youth group was very small, but we always felt we were loved. We were encouraged to be involved, and our youthful insights were appreciated. We learned that the Lord’s church is where we belonged.
Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God,” (Mt. 19:14). Our Lord noticed the young people, and was a friend to them. May we always cherish our precious young people, and remember the special place they have in our Lord’s heart. Let’s do all we can to help them follow Him.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.