A useful reflection from Brian Kirk on a dilemma that faces many parents. Get past the Americanisms and you’ll find this really useful.
Should we force youth to go to church?
The professional pastor in me says “Yes, of course! How else will we ever have a chance to teach them about the gospel and Jesus and Church?” But the former teen in me says “Wait a minute. That’s not how it happened with you. Nobody made you go to church as a teen.”
It’s true. My parents dutifully took us to church as children. My brothers and I went through confirmation and then decided we hadn’t heard enough yet — we weren’t ready to join. Then a falling out with our youth ministers in middle school ended with my brothers and I dropping youth group and church altogether. For the next four years, my parents never made us go to church…and we didn’t, even though my dad was a retired pastor who continued to go every Sunday.
Then, a funny thing happened. In my senior year of high school, somewhere around early spring, some friends invited us to visit their Sunday night youth group meeting. My twin brother and I went, we liked it, and we kept attending. The group was preparing to go on a mission trip. We had not been around for the fundraising and planning but the youth pastor said “It doesn’t matter. You are welcome to join us.” So we went on the trip — which turned out to be the experience that influenced me to go into teaching and eventually the ministry. I haven’t been out of the church since. While all my friends were dropping out of church during college (some never to reengage), I was returning to the Church ready to get my hands dirty for Jesus. But my devotion was not a result of my parents pushing or forcing me to attend Sunday services or youth group meetings. Rather, I attribute my longevity in the Church to a personal decision I made on my own and without coercion at the age of eighteen to choose a life of faith.
Does this mean I’d like to see all the youth in my church drop out and wait a few years before deciding whether or not to come back? Well, no, but it does make me wonder: We expect teens to wait until they are older to make lots of important decisions. Why not do the same with the decision to commit to a life of faith?
What do you think?