Wednesday, March 7, 2012

what church and place should I raise my kids in?

How do you choose a church and place to raise your children? There was an interesting discussion on my Facebook wall about this quote, which came from an article about the benefits of raising kids in urban areas:

I have often said that the best thing you can do for your teenage children is not to have them in a great big youth group (of other teens as clueless and confused as themselves), but to have lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends. - Kathy Keller Why the city is a wonderful place to raise children
Here's what people said (with names removed). Please add your thoughts to the discussion.

M said, "Thanks for drawing my attention to this post. Encouraging at SO many levels."

T said, "Lots of cool, young adults the best thing you can do for your kids? As someone who has spent the majority of his ministry ministering to 'cool, young adults' - even the 'ardently believing' kind - and raised three kids to near adulthood...well...I'm not so sure Jean."

I said, "Yes, it probably depends on the 'cool, young adults'!! I think she's got a point, though. There's a prevalent myth in Christian circles that your kids won't turn out as Christian adults if they don't hang around with lots of Christian teens when they're teens."

T replied, "Both models, when offered up as panaceas, are myths. Give me a Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids. Couldn't care less how young, cool or urban they are. The bigger issue is the flattering of certain demographics. Don't know about Australia but the American evangelical world is swimming in that right now."

M said, "I'm loving this conversation. Please keep talking! I think 'Give me a Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids' is probably key here. But I think Kathy Keller provides a good corrective to 'Gospel + youth group = children growing up to be Christian adults.' But as you say, T, we need to make sure we don't just put something else in the Gospel + _________ blank space."

I said, "In Australia, it's the youth group paradigm that I hear all the time, and that's what caught my eye about what Kathy said - that, just possibly, there might be other ways to raise Christian kids. But I think you're right: what matters is that it's a 'Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids', whatever the demographic. I find that a huge relief, because I've been told over and over that what matters is that our kids go to a family church with a big youth group (or else...).

"And on the suburban vs. urban issue - yes, again I agree; but once again, what Kathy is doing is countering a paradigm I'm all too familiar with: 'You have to bring up your kids in a nice suburb and send them to nice schools (or else...)'. Again, good to hear someone saying you can actually make Christian parenting work in a different kind of environment! Our suburb is neither 'urban' nor 'nice', but we are teaching and training our kids to live for Jesus in this place - and, I hope, in any place they may live in years to come."

L said, "Don't they see sin in the backwaters of Melbourne Suburbia? I just have to walk out of my front door to see selfishness, envy, lust and lawlessness: empty bourbon and coke cans strewn on my nature strip, rude neighbours, speeding, reckless cars on the way to and from work. I can go to church in my own suburb if I want to see adultery, unfaithfulness, greed, gossip and slander. Why waste petrol? I'm just sayin'."

I said, "Yeah, true! Or country Victoria will do it for you nicely as well. Although the 'sin' and the results of it in broken lives are more obvious in some areas than others, and Christian parents tend to avoid these places and live in the 'nice' suburbs. And I posted it 'cos I liked the bit about youth group..."

S said, "Jean, I would love to have the pros & con conversation about youth group. I am not convinced another program is going to disciple, encourage and challenge my kids. The stats of kids who are still Christians post youth group days is pretty discouraging."

JA said, "Well, one of my kids' friends from school became a Christian last night at a youth group thing. I'm happy they go to youth group and the young adults who lead are great role models."

G said, "What sort of youth group would they have had in Thessalonica? If they are so important, why aren't they mentioned more in the Pauline epistles or, really, anywhere? You could maybe stretch 1 Cor 15:33 to talk about peer group pressure. Parenting, however, gets spoken of a lot."

I said, "G, It occurs to me that, even though youth groups aren't mentioned in the Bible, neither are Bible studies or even church 'services' in the modern sense. What you say is a helpful corrective. But it doesn't mean that we can't create structures to teach and encourage God's people, including youth groups: just that they're not essential and shouldn't be treated as such.

"S and JA, I'm sure it can work out well for kids either way. I went to a very good church with few young people and a very bad youth group - you can guess which one helped me! But there are good youth groups out there and I'm more than happy for my kids to go. My problem is when a church with a certain demographic is made to seem essential to raising Christian kids - which it often is in pointed questions I'm asked about the church we take our family to."

G said, "Tangential I know, but so are many of the questions around raising kids as Christians, including whether the location is urban or not."

I said, "I gets lots of those kinds of pointed questions too *sigh*."

G said, "Shame."

And V said - in perhaps the most helpful comment of all -

What is a 'family church'? We wouldn't say a married couple who cannot have children are less family for the absence of children. Churches can vary greatly in their demographics, but it is relationship with Christ that makes the family.

I've never attended youth group, having become a Christian at 18 in a small church only two other young adults. As a new Christian, I was in a bible study with the spectrum of ages. I was taught, accepted and prayed for (not always perfectly). I have a friend who came to the church and to know Jesus through an invitation to largish youth group as a young teen. Both are acts of God's sovereign grace, the same sovereign grace that I pray is/will bring my children to know Jesus. How it will look in terms of place, people circumstance I don't know.

As a parent, I do have a responsibility and desire to make wise decisions by my children, but I suspect that decisions concerning our choice of church, school and neighbourhood can loom larger than they really are. The harder things I find are daily issues of living my life in relationship with Christ before my children, training, commitment to and love for other believers etc...
Continue the conversation here.

image is by AllStarsYouth at flickr


onlinesoph said...

I'm not sure I understand why there necessarily needs to be a distinction between having youth groups and young adult friends. To me, her description of "lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends" describes the youth group leaders at our church if you add to the mix "godly, faithful, caring, enthusiastic, etc". And the relationships kids foster with their leaders is just as important as the ones they foster with other kids.

I don't think youth groups work by osmosis - i.e. "my kids will turn out christian because of the kids around them". Nor do I think there is one model of how to raise Christian kids. As she says, lots of teenagers can be just as clueless as an unbeliever. But I'd be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or am I reading Kathy incorrectly?)

I owe many things to youth groups - my own growth as a Christian, the example godly leaders set before me, the equipping I received in biblical theology, valuable friends I've made. The biggest thing I owe is the conversion of my husband, who became a Christian after being welcomed by youth group kids (yes, even the clueless ones!) and lovingly taught the gospel. For this reason, I'll always see the value of youth group.

Anonymous said...

I love hearing how youth groups have been so valuable to people coming to know Christ. However I have sadly discovered that youth groups are not for every youth. Some are too over-the-top for a quiet young person. In my experience there seems to be an expectation that youth group should be loud and boistrous, but that is not suited to every young person. I have found there is also pressure to attend and only interest in a young person if they are attending youth group activities.