One of the most significant results of the American Homestead Act was the Dust bowl with its extreme poverty many decades later. The Homestead Act was a Domestic policy and gigantic economic decision made to bring opportunity and independence to those
who had little but a good work ethic but regrettably for many this policy would make their families far worse off then before. Don’t get me wrong the Homestead Act was a good idea but it was able to so change the landscape of America so quickly that it was literally destroyed at its roots. The church today is facing a far more serious spiritual dust bowl in which our young people are fading away quicker than any crops during the dust bowl. Like the Dust Bowl, this drought in our churches has come from our incomplete attempts to solve an issue. This deadly supposed cure has turned out to be the rise of professionalized children and youth ministry to the neglect of in home discipleship.
It’s easy to forget that children and youth ministry as we know it has only really existed for less than fifty years. Sure, wonderful programs like Awana go back a century or so and Sunday School can be traced back to 19th century England but for generations these existed more for outreach than for discipleship. Children and youth ministry began taking sizeable chunks of church budget and office space starting at some point in the 1970s. These early and intense pushes for a professional ministry targeted at children and youth came with intentions of being a savior. Youth Group, Children’s Church, and Youth Sunday all came into existence with a shared goal of keeping young people in church and getting new young people to church. Prior to this recent push local churches rarely made intentional plans to disciple the next generations according to their unique needs. It’s right to argue children and youth ministry in the church filled a clearly neglected hole. One would think these new ministries would have solved the problem of churches losing young people but we know now the problem has only gotten much much worse.
Children and youth ministry is a very good and important thing in a church but sadly often it can lead to the neglect of something far more important. With the rise in church programs for children and youth came a sharp downturn in parents instructing their children spiritually in the home. Some Christian leaders have actively taught that a parents job is now to drop off not to teach but this neglect of family discipleship is probably more implicated than taught. When a church has a pastor or director and program for every one of your kids it’s easy to see how one would decide to leave spiritual teaching to the professionals. Whatever the exact connection is, the church has gained something very good in children and youth programs but lost the far better act of parents teaching the faith in the home. When pastors and church volunteers began to be the only ones doing what God created parents to mainly do we made the sickness of losing our young people turn into a plague.
God is clear in scripture teaching children and youth is first the responsibility of parents. I’ve given the arguments more clearly in other articles but look to passages like Deuteronomy and Ephesians 6 and the 78th Psalm. God intentionally designed the home to be the primary place children and youth are taught the great truths of God. Parents aren’t professional educators or Bible scholars, but they are one better, they are shepherds God has chosen to guide developing sheep. Children and youth leaders in the church are important but they can’t do in a decade what a faithful parent can do in a year. If we as parents don’t reclaim this great task the exodus of young people away from our faith will get worse and our churches will wrongfully decide what’s needed is a new approach to church based discipleship until that one too fails to do what God never intended it to do.
Some argue the only solution to this mess we are in is to abolish all children and youth programs in the church and abandon the age-based discipleship programs of the past few generations. Clearly if choosing between parent only discipleship and the drop off approach, the home is always the way to go. This said, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We can have both and if we are dedicated to showing the main role of the parents we should have both. No matter what programs your church has for our kids and youth lets decide to take back chief responsibility for discipling our own children. Let’s decide to take up the task God has so clearly first given to us and intentionally instruct the next generations in the things of the Lord over the dinner table or before bed. Let’s stop treating church programs like a replacement for discipleship in the home and start seeing them as an important ally in raising up Godly young people. We can actually fight back against the trend of losing our young people by God’s grace and Gospel centered children and youth ministries are important weapons in that war but only when parents are discipling their own children on a regular basis do we have access to the big guns we need to win this. Praise God our churches now are committed to creating ministries, professions, and events designed to reach young people with both lost and saved backgrounds but lets always let parental discipleship take it’s primary role.