Saturday, April 7, 2012

Youth Groups? Not at Our Church!

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.


  1. What went on with the kids is a symptom of hypocrisy. The hearts of people were not reached with the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. The law cannot change the hearts of people it only brings the knowledge of sin. As long as the kids looked outwardly righteous everything was fine. They learned to wear masks.

    For people who claim to so thoroughly believe the doctrine of election why is there so much emphasis on the outward appearance? " For the Lord does not see as man sees;for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

    A thorough study of Matthew 23 as well as the book of Galations will help those who have left as well as those still under the bondage of BGBC.

    Matthew 23:23-28

    23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

    25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.[a] 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

    27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

    We have repented of so many attitudes and actions since being at BGBC. Of course, this is a lifelong process. Praise the Lord for opening our eyes and for His severe mercies.

    As for the kids not walking with the Lord....until they die or He returns...we pray for the salvation of their precious souls. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see!"

    1. Vs 27 really resonated with me - hypocrisy and lawlessness! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Legalism vs. Grace

    * Legalism emphasizes externals more than internals and people learn that appearance is more important than what they are on the inside and one's life becomes a performance benefit for those who may be watching.

    * The men in legalistic groups may abdicate their role since the church leaders make the rules. As a result their wives may lose respect for them; yet legalism teaches that women should be "in their place" and submit to men.

    * Children in legalistic families become overwhelmed with the rules and restrictions of their legalistic lifestyle. Children are usually well-behaved but they may lose their individuality, creativity and curiosity as they become smothered by the demands of the system. They may engage in self destructive behavior as their inner rebellion grows.

    * Starting with the leaders of a legalistic system certain subtle techniques are used to ensure that the people in the group conform to the unwritten rules.

    * Guilt, shame, fear intimidation and illogical reasoning are all used to bring the members into submission.

    * There is likely to be dishonesty, secrecy, shunning and threats.

    * Any immoral or dishonest behavior by the leaders is covered up.

    1. I remember a time where we questioned whether the church was really legalistic. When you are in it, it's so easy to be blinded, yet now on the "outside", it's clear as can be.

      That's a great list. Thank you!

  3. So sad. I remember a time when the youth ministry was meaningful. There was a good core of leaders that cared about the teens. Activities were supervised, relational, relevent, and spiritually engaging. Of course that was before the current pastor was there.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to hear there was a time when the youth ministry was positive. I've seen pictures from those days.

      It would probably be very eye opening to take a look at the lives of all of the youth from the past decade and see where they are today.

    2. I was a youth leader at the church in those days before Chuck came on staff and it was the youth that drew me to join the church. They were smart, inquisitive, passionate and whether it was a youth meeting, a rally trip, one on one discipleship or a fun (supervised) activity, it was a delight and a privilege to serve them. The others in youth leadership were rock solid in their faith and commitment to ministry. It makes me so sad to hear what has gone on since that time but I see how the spirit of the Lord is moving through it all and am encouraged by that.

    3. Evidently Chuck thought he was improving things by not having youth groups. I beg to differ. What I saw was very sad.

  4. Julie Anne, you and I have already had quite a few discussions about the challenges of raising teens. While I believe that it's a good thing for teens to have positive groups that provide example and leadership, I also believe that teens are developmentally and anthropologically wired to be rebellious, to seek both acceptance and excitement, to find their own path... which makes them bristle at being told what to do. It's a fine line to walk as a parent -- respecting their inherent needs as they become individuals, yet still guiding them.

    As you know, there was a group of extremely religious kids in my kids' high school. (Mostly Mormon, also fundamental Christian.) These were "good kids, from good families." Only problem was, they had secrets -- so many secrets! Those secrets ranged from early sexual experimentation (without birth control, because they "didn't do those things..." except they did) to drunk driving because they had a very strict curfew and very strict parents -- and a fifth of vodka. These were not bad kids, and today, ten years later, most have gone on to become responsible adults who are raising their own families -- but they were curious and hormonal and secretive and guilty -- a very dangerous combination, if you ask me.

    I'm not sure it's a question of youth group or no youth group. I think the real issue is that teens inherently crave independence, individuality, and excitement. It's a dangerous combination. I've found that the best way to help them through it (and to keep a strong relationship with them throughout)is to keep communication and trust WAAAAAY open -- and the only way to do that is to earn their respect and their trust... and I don't think that's possible when they're consistently being told how to behave, how to dress, what to think, what to say, and what to believe.

    I'll bet if those kids who left the church had just been left alone to find their own way (or at least respected and communicated openly and kindly with if/when they brought up qualms and questions), they would have either stayed with or gone back to the church. It's the control, the guilt, and ultimately the mistrust at such a critical time in their lives that probably contributed to them leaving for good.


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