I was teaching at Recess at Mt. Hermon this last weekend for some youth workers in Nor Cal and during a Q and A session, the subject of being restricted from youth group came up.
Whenever this comes up in my ministry or in a question from another, I have 2 primary thoughts.
FOR PARENTS: A parent restricts their son or daughter from youth group because their child likes it. If they didn't, they wouldn't restrict them from it. It's not like anyone is ever restricted from math class or from eating their vegetables. But I would say that like grape flavored cough syrup, just because your kid likes it, doesn't mean it's not helpful. If you tell your student they can't go to church when they are telling you they want to, this will eventually backfire when they don't want to one day and you try to force them to go. It is also totally possible to be an A+ student and a D+ Christ-follower. Take away their cell phone. Unplug the computer. Ban them from the school football game. Give them chores at home. Just don't tell them they can't go to church. There are tons of families who are forcing their son or daughter to go because they won't go on their own who would trade seats any day of the week.
FOR STUDENTS: So glad you you like our youth group. So glad you come. But evidently whatever is making it fun is not making a transformation at home either. If every time you came home from being at youth group or small group, your parents saw a difference in you, then you probably wouldn't be restricted from it. Oh, and it's not possible to be an A+ Christian and a D+ student. Just because you are striving to love Jesus doesn't mean you can fail at home or at work and God doesn't care. Faking that you hate it won't help either. Just put away your cell phone, lean into youth group, and go home a different person. The more transformational your faith becomes to your real life, the less time you'll spend fighting your parents over it.
So then what? What should a youth pastor do when a student is restricted from youth group?
- Talk to parents. Find out what really is going on at home. Don't tell them they are wrong. Just shut up and listen. You don't live with their son or daughter and it's totally possible they are different at home than they are with you. Be a learner.
- Commit to praying for their family. Be sympathetic to the difficulty of raising a teen who loves Jesus in the midst of the world we live in today.
- Meet up. If you can, offer to meet one-on-one with the parents or their student. Meet in a safe public place like starbucks and talk about life. Let them know you care and that you want to be a help to making youth group not just fun, but helpful too. See if you can't agree on some good action steps together that could bring about mutual benefit to their home, the student, and youth ministry too.
- Keep at it. When they get to come back, don't assume things will just automatically changed or are fixed because they came back. Keep asking how things are going and give reminders to the student when it's appropriate. Like when they walk out the door every week to go get in their parent's car!