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I have a friend that often talks about the 4-14 rule. He believes that the most fragile population within and outside our churches are those between the ages of 4-14. The individuals in our communities and our world who know the least about Christ are between the ages of 4-14. The opportunity to reach individuals for Christ is most fruitful in those age 4-14. It would be difficult to argue that this wasn’t true. And yet, I would argue that we sure don’t lift these children up as the most important or even critical members in most of our congregations.

Oh sure, we have Sunday school and youth groups for your students. We often allow them up front for special programs during the service and maybe even have children’s sermons. But do we look at the children in our church and those just outside the walls and feel a sense of urgency? Not usually.

I would like to place the focus on those 4-18. I would add high schoolers to this list of the most critical members of our church and community. How much of your congregation’s budget supports the 4-18 population? When your congregation has visioning sessions and looks at priorities and its future, how much time is spent on the 4-18 group? Shouldn’t this take up most of the time?

I realize that if we have youth leaders asking churches to spend more financial resources and focus more on youth, it seems self-serving. I’m not sure what to do about that, because if those with a passion for youth don’t raise this issue, who will?


I think the urgency of this issue is certainly lost in most churches - definitely not in my church - but the result is the obvious and staggering statistic that 72% of youth leave the church after university/college. The problem with most churches is 1) they don't realize the urgency & importance and 2) when they do realize it, they're asking it in the form of the quesetion that I hear repeated excessively, "Why are they leaving?" and "What can we do about it?" It's almost too late at that point. As you know, I'm a huge proponent for Christian Education and the biggest statistic there that touches on this topic is the amount of knowledge acquired in the 1st  7 years of a child's life, will take to the age of 40 to learn, if it isn't taught to the child in those 1st seven years.  Churches should chew on that statistic for a while and once they do, they'll realize it's a "no brainer" how urgent it really is to teach those important foundations. Those are the things the youth fall back on in times of trouble, pain or brokeness....once you're out of the boat and scared you always go back to where it is safe and comfortable.....those early foundations....

While it's fair to ask why youth are leaving the church, and it's certainly appropriate to minister to them in focused ways, I cannot agree that they are "the most important or even critical members in most of our congregations".  They aren't.  Nor should we continue to encourage the overweening narcissism to which our young people are so frequently tempted.

When we spend so much energy telling 15 year olds they're so much more important than the parents and grandparents who pay the bills, sacrifice for the Church and for them, and pray so diligently for them, we also encourage contempt for age and the hard-won wisdom of years lived, and thus consign them to learn through their own pain what they could have learned through the pain of their elders.

We are told not to exasperate our children or provoke them, but to bring them up in the discipline of the Lord.  We are not told to idolize them or grant to them a status they have not yet earned.  The Church, American society in general, and our youth would be better off if we honored age and tradition a bit more and youth and novelty a bit less.

Paul Boice on March 19, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wow, you completely misread my blog.  The critical point is that the individuals who are most open to the Gospel and the population that most urgently needs to hear it are between the ages of 4-18.  That includes children within and OUTSIDE the church.  It has absolutely nothing to do with telling 15 year-olds that they are more important than their parents or grandparents.  That's absurd. You can make honoring  age and tradition the focal point in your church, and I suspect you'll be doing so in a shrinking congregation with fewer and fewer youth and very little significance to those outside your walls.

Eric Verhulst on March 19, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I only know what you wrote - "the most important or even critical members in most of our congregations".  I'm glad that is not what you meant.

Or is it? "You can make honoring  age and tradition the focal point in your church, and I suspect you'll be doing so in a shrinking congregation with fewer and fewer youth..."  In other words, we should surrender to the youth culture, the American fascination with novelty and inexperience or we will be that most dreaded of all things [portentous music here] - irrelevant.

Mind you, I've nothing against reaching out to young people, both in and out of the church (though you said "members...of our congregations", not simply "youth").  I've nothing against accommodating, at least to some extent, the different tastes in music or style.  Far from it.  Nor would I say I'd make age and tradition the focal points of the church, though I think we could do far more to honor it than we do.  I am no hide-bound traditionalist.

But what are we reaching out to youth with?  It is an ancient truth, a gospel now over 2,000 years old, and the experience of the Church over those centuries as it has faced persecution, hardship, sacrifice, prosperity, temptation, and all the other vicissitudes of life.  And one of the key lessons the Church has learned is that humility is appropriate, even necessary.

Telling teenagers they're the most critical, most important members (and you said "members", not objects of our ministry) is not going to teach humility.  It is also a mindset that begins to think that the gospel must be alterred for this present age.  You might not, yourself, have gotten to that point yet but the Church as a whole has long since trod down that path in its adulation of youth culture - and the further we go down that path, the more irrelevant and pointless we will be.

If you want a better notion of what I'm getting at, see this Craig Ferguson clip:

Great Clip, Eric....maybe It can be useful for a youth devotional I have....thanks 4 sharing!!!

I rather agree with Paul Boice on this, although I understand Eric's concern.  Paying attention to the youth does not mean pandering to them;  it means treating them as a gift and responsibility from God.   God is not a special God of the youth, just like He is not a special god to the poor.   God is special to everyone.   But God gives the elders, olders, and more mature a responsibility to ensure that they are providing the education and instruction and welcome and respect for the youth and youngers who are God's treasure, loved by God.  We must allow these children of whatever age, to come to Christ and sit on his lap, and receive His love.  This should be part of the wisdom of the elders and the tradition we create.  If we do not do that, then we do not deserve the respect for either the elders, nor for the traditions.  

It is not that the youth are more important than the elders.  But they are not less important either, to Christ.  

Eric Verhulst on March 19, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Granted - the youth are not less important.  They are human beings in need of the Gospel, and we should welcome and incorporate all God's children for the promise is to you and your children, to all who are afar off, to as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Although, I understand what Eric is trying to get at and many times it is true, I don't think this is what anyone (at least I hope not) is trying to say. There is a lot of wisdom in what Eric is saying, but that probably is an entirely different subject. I already see Paul and John have responded - appropriately - so I don't need to beat a dead bush... :>)

PS The importance is that this age group seems to be in our age the most needful of the Gospel message or it may fall on deaf ears, more apt to tune the message out due to many other "distractions/temptations".... the most crucial age group that we have a responsibility to be sure that they hear it over and over again.

 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  

We often think this only refers to the poor and sick and downtrodden.   But if in our minds, our children are somehow less important than older people, then this verse also applies to the children.   If we neglect the children, then we are neglecting Christ, in essence.   And if we care for the children, then we have done it for Christ. 

But is it just the gathering church as a group that is responsible?   How does this apply to the parents?   Often parents do pander to children, and thus spoil them rotten, and teach them that materialism and education and sports and feelings and music and texting are more important than obedience to Christ.    Where are the examples of a present day Eric Liddell who refused to run on Sunday because Christ was more important to him than a national or Olympic medal or the approval of his earthly government?   How often do we find elders and Christian men spending more time watching the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup than they do leading their sons in spiritual walk with Christ?  How often do we find christian men neglecting devotions and prayer in order to spend more time making more money at their career?   Do we think that our youth do not notice this? 

In our example, and in our priorities, we often neglect the impact on our youth, and we will reap the results.   And when we do not neglect the children and their relationship to Christ, then we can also reap the rewards. 

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