No age group in a church congregation is “easy” to shepherd. But many agree that the hardest group to impact is the teenager. No longer a child but not quite an adult, the teen presents special challenges to all in leadership; parents, school, and assembly workers. Sometimes one hears the lament that the young people grow up and leave the assembly. It seems that the number who go on for the Lord is small, and of those who remain in active assembly fellowship smaller still. What can be done?
It is clear from Scripture that the home, not the school or church, is to be the primary sphere for the training of children. According to both Old and New Testaments, fathers have the front line responsibility (Prov. 13:1; Eph. 6:4). The church must support whatever godly training is being done at home, a challenge for the best of elders! Ideas that help church leaders break down barriers and draw young people into closer fellowship should be considered carefully. Here is one that has been a real blessing to the work here in Connecticut.
Most assemblies have some type of Sunday School program on Sunday mornings. A significant part of the congregation is dismissed just before the teaching portion of the Bible hour. Now the idea of Christian education is a good one. Small children benefit from simple lessons broken down for young minds. And thank God for those who teach them!
But we have found that there are many benefits derived from incorporating high schoolers into the regular teaching service on Sunday morning. First is the blessing of having teens and parents hear the same message. On the way home from the meeting, or at the dinner table, parents can discuss with the older children not only the subject material, but its application both to personal and assembly life. This provides a substantial period of transition from 4 to 6 years in which parents (and elders) can prepare young people for the day when they will head off to college.
Instead of going from the Sunday School room to being completely on their own, they are learning (as young adults) with their parents the truths of Scripture including the distinctives of gathering in a way that allows the parents to continue as teachers (or disciplers), long after the meeting is over.
Just as important as the education of our youth, is the training of our workers in the assembly. Too often some of our most promising future leaders are absent from the main ministry of the local church, as they are (understandably) the ones chosen to teach Sunday School. Yet they too need solid ministry of the Word to grow.
Undoubtedly some will object, saying they would miss working with the kids, and in many cases, tapes of the message are available. Consider the following:
1) The Scriptures presented in the teaching service of the church are relevant to the assembly not only as to content (what was spoken), but also as to timing (when it was heard). These things ought to be discussed at the time of their being sent by the Lord. Too often important points drift away as we mean to “catch up,” but other things were pressing, and crucial ministry that may not be visited again for some time was missed.
2) Those burdened for youth ought to listen to the ministry on Sunday morning along with them, and then meet with them to question them about their understanding, the implications and applications of the truths presented. Here is an ideal way to help elders relate to teens on a topic of mutual interest. Questions like: “How was this subject helpful to you?” or “Were you able to follow this speaker’s presentation?” can open the door for meaningful discussion, as well as helping the elders plan future “food” for the flock.
Logistics can be worked out. We prefer that young people sit with their parents, but we realize that is not always possible. Instead, we welcome them to sit anywhere they wish – except the back row. Then we agree that an elder should sit in the back row every Sunday. This encourages teens to listen rather than engage in whispering or other distractions.
This idea is something like an apprentice system, and will help to train future leaders for God, giving them instruction in the doctrines of the Word and how to support and defend the practices of the Christian assembly from the Scriptures.