I know much has been written on this topic and the distinction between a parent's role in a teenagers life and a youth leader/pastor's role in a teenager's life has been made quite clear.
But I've never read a student's perspective on this particular topic. And to be honest, I feel like it is very important that teenagers, parents, youth leaders, youth pastors, etc all understand the difference.
In my own walk with the Lord, my youth group was a HUGE blessing. I feel like it was the place where I did the most growing in my eighteen and a half years of life.
However, my parents are the main people responsible for my walk. They encouraged me to get involved in youth group. They prayed for my heart to grow. They prayed for my leaders hearts to grow. They loved on and encouraged my leaders.
So, if I had to say some things to parents and youth leaders alike, it'd be this:
1. You are first and foremost the spiritual leaders in our lives. You are the ones who decide which church we attend, and what events we partake in. You are the ones who encourage us to get involved. You are the ones who pray for our hearts and ask us about our walks. YOU. God gave us to you for this very reason.
2. Be actively asking questions about our lives. Oh my goodness will we push you away like we never have before. We will ignore you, give you a quick smile and tell you everything is okay when it is not. But keep pushing and poking at us. We may get mad, but believe me, it shows us more than anything that you care and love us. Even if it takes singing the Barney theme song to make us laugh and stop crying (yes, my Daddy did that and it worked) then do it.
3. Don't just tell us you want us to be involved in church, show us how to be involved in church. Be active in your Sunday school classes or ministries you participate in. Show us how to greet strangers and love anyone who walks through the doors. Show us how to differentiate between gossiping and actually showing concern for people's problems. Show us how to lead someone to the Lord. Show us how to pray. The list can go on and on.
4. But most of all, know that we know the Lord placed you in our lives for a specific reason. Know that we are blessed to have you as parents. We may not show that very often (I'm definitely guilty of that), but we couldn't do life without you. Don't beat yourself up when we fall into sin (I'm not saying don't be disappointed or don't discipline. But don't sulk in self-pity and think you are a failure), cause it's going to happen whether you want it to or not. Instead, discipline us in love and show us how to fight sin.
1. You are not our parents. And please don't try to be. I know that sounds harsh, but the minute you start trying to be our parents, we stop listening to our own. Also, you are all at different stages in your lives. Some newly married, single, have little babies, etc and you aren't meant to be parents to teenagers yet. And that is totally okay. You will stress yourselves out and take on too much which prevents you from being content where the Lord has you.
2. Instead, encourage our parents to step-up, and for us to respect and listen to them. Sometimes, us teenagers are prone to listen to anyone but our parents first and if you are encouraging us to go back to our parents, we will get the point.
3. Let our parents encourage and love on you. They really do appreciate everything you are doing for us. Don't shove them away. Let them in and make relationships with you. They are a few steps ahead of you like you are a few steps ahead of us. These relationships will pay off when times get hard or when joyous occasions happen. You never know what God is doing when He brings people into your lives.
4. Be genuine and honest about yourself to us. Don't try to show that you have it all together. We know you don't and while we might expect you to, what we are watching for is how you react and respond to those hard times. Showing us that you are human and that it's okay to not have it all together all the time speaks volumes. How you show us to rely on God and His promises will help us do the same when hard times come in our lives.
5. Most importantly, don't try to do everything. We know you are only capable of so much. You can't meet one on one with everyone, but those little side conversations after church on Sundays or spontaneous lunches/dinners after youth group mean the world to us, even if they don't happen often. Love us where we are at and be there for us when we need you. Just showing us that you are willing will help immensely.
I understand that not all situations will play out like mine did when I was in youth group. But what I'm trying to get across is that this distinction has a real impact on teenagers. I was blessed with amazing parents and an amazing group of young adults who truly care for the students they work with.
The only reason this all was able to happen was because God moved and is moving. He was steadily at work even when none of us acknowledged it. By fully relying on Him and knowing the differences that must be set, the church will grow and my generation will move.