We learned very quickly that there was no youth group at Beaverton Grace Bible Church and it was a fact that was broadcast from the pulpit. Our church was unique. Most churches had youth groups and the impression was that having an established youth group was for entertainment purposes, provided little spiritual growth, was a waste of time, and cultivated an environment that enabled the sins of the youth. Because our church didn't have a youth group, it was commonly understood that our youth would be better off spiritually. I'm sure that thought was comforting to many parents. Having no youth group is not something new - especially in homeschooling communities. We actually agreed with much of this concept. We, as parents, wanted to be the primary influence in our children's lives spiritually, not peers. It appealed to us and we were glad to be a part of a church that outwardly addressed this issue and seemed to want to take an active role in the hearts of our youth.
Although there was no official youth group, there certainly were unofficial youth groups. (I can hear the collective gasps now.) The unofficial youth groups at Beaverton Grace Bible Church were far worse than the organized and well-staffed "social" groups from other churches which were so strongly looked down upon. While other youth groups most likely had a youth pastor or volunteer leaders, our youth pretty much had free reign of their activities. Our youth were able to spend hours of free time together in homes of church members while their parents spent hours talking, watching sermons, spiritual videos, researching spiritual wolves, etc. Our youth took advantage of these opportunities and sin did rear its ugly head. When our youth were taken on snow trips, trips to the river, or to the coast, our kids did drugs (and later got suspended or expelled from school), got in trouble with the law (homemade bombs), shoplifted, and participated in sexual activities with each other. Isn't that an amazing picture of a divided house?
Parents did eventually find out. The pastor and elders eventually found out, too. Teens were brought to the pastor for "counseling", one after the other, regarding their horrific sins against themselves, against others, against the church, against their God (does that lingo sound familiar? sometimes I can't help myself). Our youth endured hours and hours of meetings, sometimes multiple meetings. Our youth were spanked by their parents and suffered other consequences. Chuck was in a continual battle with these youthful congregants who were in sin. And you can be certain that for each sin, the rest of the church body endured series of lectures on Wednesday nights correlating with the sins of those with whom he had recently met. Sometimes these lectures would make their way into Sunday sermons. If teens were caught in sexual sin, we heard sermons and teachings on sexual sin for weeks. We all knew the pattern.
Something happens, though, when you hold on to an idea so tightly that you lose common sense. I believe there was a sense of pride in the fact that the church had no youth group. They set themselves above other churches by putting down churches that did have youth groups and expressed why not having a youth group was better. Idolizing concepts and ideas is wrong. They missed what was really important: finding appropriate ways to shepherd the hearts of our youth.
In our final meetings with the pastor and elders, I mentioned that I noticed the youth lacked a spark of joy in their eyes. This comment was not well received. I teach my children that if someone criticizes them, it's important to see if there is any truth to that criticism. If there is, use it as an opportunity to correct the situation, if there is no truth, then forget about it. The leaders' response to my observation was a strong defensive reaction that I was absolutely wrong. Why did they not take a look at the condition of our youth to see if there was any truth to my statement? It seemed to me they were more preoccupied with protecting their reputation and image than making an effort to make sure our youth were having proper guidance and care.
Red flag alert: when religious leaders look to protect their own image and reputation rather than looking at the condition of their hurting sheep, there is a problem.
The very sad ending to this story is that many of the youth who are now young adults no longer have anything to do with church or Christianity. That is some rotten fruit.