The Power to Counteract a Godless Culture: A Revolutionary Approach to Parents
The culture is at the heart of our worries about young people and the church today. Consider the nation of Judah on the eve of being taken captive into Babylon (present-day Iraq):
- Some saw rampant sexual immorality in every facet of life, even the temple.
- Moral reformers were strident in their attempts to legislate morality.
- Ruthless soldiers poised themselves to terrorize and destroy the nation.
- Idol worship, materialism, oppression of the poor, lip service toward the Lord, and regular religious observance all coexisted nicely.
- The Word of God had been tossed aside by the previous generation and wasn’t being passed on from parents to children.
As a result of this culture, many claimed the people of God had become morally indistinguishable from those who around them. Even though Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Rack, Shack, and Benny to Veggie Tales fans) were held captive in the ruthless and anti-Jehovah culture of Babylon:
- They were greatly blessed while their contemporaries were destroyed.
- They lived out their faith with obedience to God’s word.
- They refused to defile themselves by following the examples of those around them.
- They powerfully revealed the living God while risking their lives to do so.
- They were raised up to positions of influence where they impacted the culture in which they lived.
- They were kept safe by God even though living in a contrary culture.
- They preserved the Word of God for future generations.
Wouldn’t we all want our students to be the ones who rise above the corruption of our culture? What was the key to these young people being able to live in a corrupt culture without becoming corrupt? I searched the Bible to see if it revealed anything that could help us rescue our generation from the cultural impurity in which we are immersed. I think I found the “secret weapon” that made the difference.
When King Josiah rediscovered the Law of Moses, he called everyone in Judah to hear him read it aloud. He outlined the curses to come upon those who didn’t heed the message and the blessings to those who did love the Lord with all their hearts and passed on God’s commands to their own children in the course of daily life. Calculating the dates of this public pronouncement with biblical and historical accounts, Daniel and friends were most likely nursing infants at the time. Did their parents who heard the call make the change to obey God wholeheartedly and that’s why Daniel and the others received the blessings? Did they become the primary spiritual influences in their children’s lives? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Could it be that the key to the young people we meet in the Book of Daniel being able to powerfully serve God and resist the destructive pressure of their depraved culture was the godly influence of their parents? In youth ministry we hear a lot about how Timothy had Paul to guide him, a role we youth workers rightfully look to play in a student’s life. However, let’s not forget that Timothy also had Lois and Eunice (his mother and grandmother). Might we be far more influential as youth workers if we would expand our job descriptions to include helping to call, encourage, cooperate with, and equip the parents of our students to fulfill their God-given role in the lives of their teens?
I believe so. You’re probably familiar with the challenging statistics Barna Research Group presented about how people in the church today are practically indistinguishable from the culture in which we live (including teens who give the right answers regarding moral questions but don’t follow through in their lives—cheating as much as their peers, etc. No doubt those of us who have toiled so long and done our best to communicate God’s Word are saddened when we see this. It seems to indicate that we’re not as influential in the lives of our students as we’d hoped or that our results aren’t commensurate with our efforts. Barna says there are “sources of significant influence” that powerfully impact our students. What made the list as having the kind of significant influence we as youth workers want to have?</p>
While Barna is still conducting research regarding the identity and impact of those sources, they revealed that the early returns from a year of research show the leading influencers in American society are movies, television, the Internet, books, music, public policy and law, and family. The Christian church, the research shows, isn’t among the top dozen influences these days—a far cry from the way things used to be. On their Web site, Barna says they hope to provide information to be used for developing a strategy that will enable Christians to have greater effect on society through those sources of influence.
Unfortunately—and not for a lack of loving diligence on our parts—Christian youth workers didn’t make the list either. But that doesn’t mean youth workers can’t find a way to use some cultural influences for the good of our students and God’s Kingdom. I see two ways to make our way onto the SSI list through a back door:
1) Influence the family, parents in particular, to influence your students, and 2) engage the culture—when appropriate—with the students, then redeem it by relating it back to the Gospel. The second one is important, but I think the first possesses the greatest potential: getting parents to increase their participation in their teenagers’ spiritual training.
Today’s parents are typically not fulfilling their God-given roles to pass on God’s Word to their children or to be the primary spiritual influences in their lives. At a recent meeting of Parents of Teens, I asked how many had read the Bible with their children. Apart from the parent who organized the meeting, no one raised their hands. Everyone looked sheepish. I believe both our hectic lifestyles and the church’s well-intentioned desire to help fill the gaps in spiritual training contribute to this. Parents don’t even realize that the spiritual training of their children is primarily their job. Rather, most churches are structured to have a professional minister attend to each age group. Those parents who do realize their responsibility in this matter often feel woefully ill-equipped. We need to help parents progressively assume their roles while we continue to take up the slack and enhance their children’s spiritual growth.
What might happen if you as a youth worker revised your job description and ministry goals to call, encourage, equip, and motivate parents to become powerful spiritual influences in their children’s lives? I hear you: “What, in my spare time?” I know this idea requires re-envisioning your mission. However, I’ve become convinced that this is one of the best ways youth workers can combat the negative cultural influences in the lives of their students. Reach the parents, and you reach the gatekeepers of all other cultural influences that impact your students.
In January of 2004 I attended the National Network of Youth Ministries Forum. In an affinity group led by Richard Ross we focused on the role of parents in the spiritual lives of young people and hammered out “A Call to Youth Ministers and the Church.” It declares:
“Whereas God intends for parents to serve as the primary spiritual instructors of their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and
Whereas God intends for those He calls as ministers to equip His people for service (Ephesians 4:11-13), and
Whereas many parents in church fail to fulfill their responsibility for the spiritual development of their children (Judges 2:10, 14), and
Whereas the church makes its greatest impact upon unbelieving youth and families when its own youth and families are healthy spiritually (1 Timothy 3:1-13), and
Whereas we as church and organizational leaders too long have failed to equip parents for their vital role in the spiritual instruction and leadership of their teenage children,
We call for youth ministers to take on their rightful role as pastoral ministers to parents, acknowledging parents as the primary spiritual leaders of their children and serving parents in that role.” (A Call to Youth Ministers and the Church)
We made the call. Hundreds of denominational leaders, educators, local church leaders, and parachurch organizational leaders have signed on—including the editor of YouthWorker Journal and the president of Youth Specialties. Now we need to live out the changes. The church culture in which we live isn’t flowing in this direction, and it’ll be difficult for youth workers to turn the tide. Youth workers tend not to have much clout, especially when it comes to addressing parents. There will also have to be a change within today’s youth ministry culture where animosity toward the parents is common, along with an inclination toward being a savior for the students. It’ll be difficult to sell the parents on adopting their roles when they feel inadequate to the task, when they think you do it so much better than they ever could. However—according to God’s design—helping parents play their roles in passing on God’s Word is the right thing to do. Therefore, it’s worth swimming against the tide.
Parents need to be introduced to this concept, encouraged along, equipped, and convinced of the positive benefits of such a change. They’ll also need to get support and persuasion from other ministers within the church. However, you—as someone who knows what their kids are up against in this culture—are in a prime position to convince them to make the most of their position of influence in their teen’s life.
Here is where the fear of negative cultural influences works to our advantage. Parents are terrified of the negative influence of culture.
According to The Washington Times (10/31/2002), American parents worry most about whether their children will have good character and values. They see America’s popular culture as their adversary. This is according to a parenting survey based on telephone interviews of 1,607 parents of children ages 5-17 by Public Agenda. The report titled “A Lot Easier Said than Done” notes that 89% strongly agreed with the statement, “Being a parent is wonderful—I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” But many parents feel cornered by a popular culture that many view as antithetical to their beliefs and values. For instance, the survey asked parents to choose their “biggest challenge” out of three choices: protecting their children from “negative societal influences,” finding enough time together as a family, and keeping up with household expenses. 47% said they were most concerned about shielding their children from “negative societal influences.”
This concern can be the hook you use to convince parents to become powerfully positive spiritual influences. Once they’re convinced, you need to plan how you and other members of your church staff can partner with them to make it happen. I know you already have more than enough to do, but here are some of the differences we have the potential to make:
We can be the catalyst and facilitator to bring together others ministering alongside you to make this a focus of your ministries: Men’s and Women’s ministries, MOPS, Sunday School, Adult Education, can all work together to encourage and help parents fulfill their God-ordained roles.
We can help by providing relevant books (such as What the Bible is All About for Young Explorers by Henrietta Mears, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna, and my own Walking Tall in Babylon: Raising Children to Be Godly and Wise in a Perilous World) and encouraging others to lead classes based on such resources or video tapes.
We can bring in speakers, like Jim Burns, me, and others, who have the life experience of raising their own children through teen years as well as youth ministry experience to gain credibility with parents. Such speakers can encourage parents to work with you in the best interest of their teenaged children.
We can create a library of trusted Christian resources for teens. Parents can check these out and hand them to their teen when they want to address a spiritual or moral issue they feel unqualified to personally explain. The “Tools” section of YouthWorker Journal provides reviews of books for parents and for teens in each issue.
We can start a “parents of teens” group, which meets monthly to learn, discuss topics of interest, and pray for teens and those in your youth ministry.
Parents made the list! They’re a source of significant influence in your students’ lives. Of all the things you could do to mitigate the negative effects of this culture, this one is central to God’s plan. Improve the level of spiritual parental participation, and decrease the negative effects of the godless culture on your students and their children. It’s win-win-win. In turn, this could have a significant effect on how this generation of Christian teens impacts their culture for Christ rather than having their culture undermine their walk with God. You, the youth worker, stand at the crossroads of a cultural convergence; and you have the opportunity to make a profound difference.
I know you long for your students to be the ones who aren’t defiled. You want them to be the ones who are blessed. You want them to be able to go into the world with out compromising their allegiance to the Lord. Even though it may require relinquishing a primary or even singular role as spiritual leader in your students’ lives, helping parents use their influences for the Kingdom of God may be the most powerful thing you’ve ever done in youth ministry. It may contribute toward making your students able to withstand the ungodly pressures of the culture in which we live.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.