I’m highlighting CWR’s line of devotions for children and teens for a few reasons:
1. Theologically solid. My exposure to these devotionals over the years has never failed to impress. The writers of these devo’s are rock-solid theologically and cover a broad range of biblical topics, themes, and books through their materials.
2. Accessible themes and language. I wish I was half as creative as these writers! Every month they do an excellent job of tying together biblical themes with cultural currents that make for easy engagement. The tone and language of the devotionals are straightforward, punchy, and fun.
3. Easy of access. Although produced in the United Kingdom, all of these devotionals can be shipped to your door via a subscription service.
Here are the notes from yesterday’s message which I co-taught with Derek Hisson.
1. A snapshot of life in the teens
A time of ENORMOUS transitions.
Teens more than just ‘high school’ (jr. high to 3rd year university).
-“a living hell”
-Social and academic pressures
-Lack of support systems
-Others trying to strike you down so they can rise up
-Time of searching/questioning/rebellion
-Spiritual interest is often high during teen years
-Individuation from family of origin
-“A foot in two worlds” (adult and child)
-Mixed messages: “Don’t do drugs, but try new things”
-Fluctuations (on top of the world vs. bottom of the it)
2. What are the major spiritual challenges?
What is happening? (Big Picture: Identity Formation). Teens are looking for answers to the major worldview questions:
Who am I?
Where am I?
What’s the problem?
What’s the solution?
What is happening? (Ground Level)
Grindstone Guys Top 3 issues you deal with Porn, Drugs, Friends
Grindstone Girls Top 3 issues you deal with Body Image, Self-esteem/worth, Sexual pressures
Teens are challenging their beliefs, trying to figure out what they believe and why, instead of passively accepting what they’ve been taught. They’re looking for places that allow them to question and offer a patient, safe space to work through their struggles.
3. The Bible and Teens
Scripture addresses the questions teens are asking!
Who am I?
What really matters in life?
How do I get the most out of life?
Am I important?
Am I loved?
Does my life have a larger purpose?
When teens ignore the Scriptures, they’re ignoring the most powerful resource for addressing those questions! No other resource tackles those questions head-on in such an affirming and powerful way for teenagers.
Jesus’ disciples were teenagers, which is so important to highlight because it shows us that Jesus was very eager to invite and involve teens to front-line kingdom work–then and today!
1 Timothy 4:12 : “12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” The passage is saying is that as teens it is completely reasonable to want to be an important and active part of the church, so long as you are setting a Godly example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Teens are being called to act in ways that are Godly, not just to be examples and not let people put them down.
4. Our Advice to Teens: Enter the Jesus Dojo
A dojo is literally “a place where one learns the way,” usually of some kind of martial art. In this case, this dojo teaches the way of Jesus. And, similar to a martial arts dojo, this community teaches not just by lecturing, etc. but by actually practicing together the way of Jesus.
We enter the dojo through new experiences and by moving from ideas to action.
A Dojo is where you train, not simply try.
40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)
7 train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25)
“Spiritual training” is a core aspect of true discipleship.
NOTE: This is not a matter of being “good enough” or earning favor with God. There is nothing that we can do that will cause God to love us more than He already does. Training is not a matter of earning extra credit with God. It is about discipleship to Jesus and becoming more like Him. We are not trying to earn God’s salvation or earn God’s love, we’re training because now that we are living for Jesus and his kingdom agenda, we need to reshape our lives accordingly.
How to train: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength
Every teen in this church should have a weekly HSMS traning plan. It should address the four dimensions Jesus included as part of the great commandment.
Heart: relationships, compassion, joy, love, forgiveness. What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?
Soul: prayer, self-awareness, spiritual disciplines. What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?
Mind: Biblical knowledge, Christian worldview. What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?
Strength: sacrifice, serving, giving, other-centredness, delayed gratification. What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?
Do you have a HSMS training program? If not, why not? Spiritual growth and vibrancy never “just happens” anymore than becoming a fit and competition-ready runner “just happens.”
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
5. How can our church support teens in their spiritual journey?
Heart: Encourage teens and take time to listen.
Soul: Pray for the teens in your life and in our church.
Mind: help create environments where they can work through their questions and doubts, while being guided deeper into God’s Word.
Strength: Look for ways to tangibly bless teens you know.
New York Magazine has a series of articles exploring the effects of pornography in their latest issue. All of the articles are interesting to read, although most contain explicit language and highly sexualized content–be warned. The lead article “They Know What Boys Want” is a very sad but important read for everyone, but especially parents of junior high students. The article looks at the effects of a “pornified” junior high culture and how girls in particular are paying the price for the normalization of porn amongst teens.
Some “highlights” from the article:
Of the dozens of kids I interviewed over several months and in various neighborhoods around New York every one of them said he or she had seen “inappropriate material” online, sometimes accidentally through pop-ups or Google searches, sometimes not. There’s no doubt that some kids, and even some schools, remain far more sheltered than others. But the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is widely cited as 11.
This is the paradoxical fear of many heterosexual 14-year-old girls: that the Internet is making boys more aggressive sexually—more accepting of graphic images or violence toward women, brasher, more demanding—but it is also making them less so, or at least less interested in the standard-issue, flesh-and-bone girls they encounter in real life who may not exactly have Penthouse proportions and porn-star inclinations. (“If you see something online, and the girls in your neighborhood are totally different, then it’s, um … different,” one 14-year-old boy tells me.) This puts young women in the sometimes uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the gap.
Samantha, 16, flashes her dimples. “You can learn a lot of things about sex. You don’t have to use, like, your parents sitting down with you and telling you. The Internet’s where kids learn it from, most of the time.”
This article emerged from interviews with teens living in New York City, but I doubt that any of the realities and issues discussed are much different in other contexts. The pervasive influence of pornography is creating a social environment where the mores of sexuality are rapidly changing and leading to a very dehumanizing view of sexuality. The article seems to suggest that while young men are victimized by pornography’s corrupting influence, it’s the young women who suffer the most.
As a father of two girls, articles like this hit close to home. How do I wisely prepare my daughters for the techno-sexual realities they are inevitably going to face? How do I help instill within them a biblical framework that emboldens them to reject these dehumanizing influences while at the same time avoids the temptation to vilify sex in and of itself? What role can the church play in helping to prepare both students and parents for this brave new world?
Lots of questions. Few answers. It all seems very daunting to say the least.
But I’m up for the challenge, and I hope other parents and youth workers out there are as well. The children and teens in our lives deserve our best efforts when it comes to this complicated and harrowing issue.
It might be difficult for some parents to read through, but here’s a top ten list that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Over the next several days I’ll be expanding on each of these in succession, but for now, here is my top ten mistakes Christian parents of teens make:
10. Not spending time with your teen.
A lot of parents make the mistake of not spending time with their teens because they assume their teens don’t want to spend time with them! While that’s true in some contexts, teens still want and need “chunks” of one-on-one time with parents. Despite the fact that teens are transitioning into more independence and often carry a “I don’t need/want you around” attitude, they are longing for the securing and grounding that comes from consistent quality time.
Going for walks together, grabbing a coffee in order to “catch up,” going to the movies together, etc., all all simple investments that teens secretly want and look forward to. When you don’t carve out time to spend with your teen, you’re communicating that you’re not interested in them, and they internalize that message, consciously or unconsciously.
9. Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family.
The number of parents who wrap their lives/schedules around their teen’s activities is mind-boggling to me. I honestly just don’t get it. I know many parents want to provide their children with experiences and opportunities they never had growing up, but something’s gone wrong with our understanding of family and parenting when our teen’s wants/”needs” are allowed to overwhelm the family’s day-to-day routines.
Parents need to prioritize investing in their relationship with God (individually and as a couple), themselves and each other, but sadly all of these are often neglected in the name of “helping the kids get ahead.” “Don’t let the youth sports cartel run your life,” says Jen singer, author of You’re A Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either). I can’t think of many good reasons why families can’t limit teens to one major sport/extra-curricular activity per season. Not only will a frenetic schedule slowly grind down your entire family of time, you’ll be teaching your teen that “the good life” is a hyper-active one. That doesn’t align itself to Jesus’ teaching as it relates to the healthy rhythms of prayer, Sabbath, and down-time, all of which are critical to the larger Christian task of “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
8. Spoiling your teen.
We are all tempted to think that loving our kids means doing all we can to ensure they have all the opportunities and things we didn’t have growing up. This is a terrible assumption to make. It leads to an enormous amount of self-important, petty, and ungrateful kids. A lot of the time parents are well-intentioned in our spoiling, but our continual stream of money and stuff causes teens to never be satisfied and always wanting more. Your teen doesn’t need another piece of crap, what he needs is time and attention from you (that’s one expression of spoiling that actually benefits your teen!).
There are two things that can really set you back in life if we get them too early:
a. Access to too much money.
b. Access to too many opportunities.
Parents need to recognize they’re doing their teens a disservice by spoiling them in either of these ways. Save the spoiling for the grandkids.
7. Permissive parenting.
“Whatever” — It’s not just for teens anymore! The devil-may-care ambivalence that once defined the teenage subculture has now taken root as parents shrug their shoulders, ask, “What can you do?” and let their teens “figure things out for themselves.” I think permissive parenting (i.e., providing little direction, limits, and consequences) is on the rise because many parents don’t know how to dialogue with and discipline their children. Maybe parents don’t have any limits of boundaries within their own life, so they don’t know how to communicate the value of these to their teen. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to, because their own self-esteem is too tied up in their child’s perception of them, and they couldn’t handle having their teen get angry at them for actually trying to parent. Maybe it’s because many parents feel so overwhelmed with their own issues, they can hardly think of pouring more energy into a (potentially) taxing struggle or point of contention.
Whatever the reason, permissive parenting is completely irreconcilable with a Christian worldview. I certainly do not advocate authoritarian parenting styles, but if we practice a permission parenting style we’re abdicating our God-given responsibility to provide guidance, nurture, limits, discipline and consequences to our teen (all of which actually help our teen flourish long-term).
6. Trying to be your teen’s best friend.
Your teen doesn’t need another friend (they have plenty); they need a parent. Even through their teens, your child needs a dependable, confident, godly authority figure in their life. As parents we are called to provide a relational context characterized by wisdom, protection, love, support, and empowerment. As Christian parents we’re called to bring God’s flourishing rule into our family’s life. That can’t happen if we’re busy trying to befriend our teen. Trying to be your teen’s friend actually cheats them out of having these things in their lives.
Sometimes parents think that a strong relationship with their teen means having a strong friendship—but there’s a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed. You should be friendly to your teen but you shouldn’t be your teen’s friend. They have lots of friends, they only have one or two parents—so be the parent your teen needs you to be.
5. Holding low expectations for your teen.
Johann Goethe once wrote, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat as man as he can and should be, and he become as he can and should be.” All of us rise to the unconcious level of expectation we set for ourselves and perceive from others. During the teenage years, it’s especially important to slowly put to death the perception that your teen is still “a kid.” They are emerging leaders, and if you engage them as such, you will find that over time, they unconsciously take on this mantle for themselves. Yes, your teen can be moody, self-absorbed, irresponsible, etc., but your teen can also be brilliant, creative, selfless, and mature. Treating them like “kids” will reinforce the former; treating them as emerging leaders will reinforce the latter.
For an example of how the this difference in perspective plays out, I’ve written an article entitled “The Future of an Illusion” which is available as a free download from www.meredisciple.com (in the Free Downloads section). It specifically looks at my commitment to be involved in “emerging church ministry” as opposed to “youth ministry,” and it you may find some principles within it helpful.
4. Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement.
This one is one of my personal pet peeves (but not just because this is my professional gig). I simply do not understand parents who expect and want their kids to have a dynamic, flourishing faith, and yet don’t move heaven and earth to get them connected to both a youth group and local church.
I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret: no teenager can thrive in their faith without these two support mechanisms. I’m not saying a strong youth group and church community is all they need, but what I am saying that you can have everything else you think your teen needs, but without these two things, don’t expect to have a spiritually healthy and mature teen. Maybe there are teens out there who defy this claim, but honestly, I can’t think of one out of my own experience. As a parent, youth group and church involvement should be a non-negotiable part of your teen’s life, and that means they take priority over homework (do it the night before), sports, or any other extra-curricular commitments.
Don’t be the parent who is soft on these two commitments, but pushes their kid in schooling, sports, etc. In general, what you sow into determines what you reap; if you want to reap a teenager who has a genuine, flourishing faith, don’t expect that to happen if you’re ok with their commitment to youth group/church to be casual and half-hearted.
3. Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation.
While youth group and church is very important, another mistake I see Christian parents make is assuming them can completely outsource the spiritual development of their child to these two things. I see the same pattern when it comes to Christian education: parents sometimes choose to send their children/teens to Christian schools, because by doing so they think they’ve done their parental duty to raise their child in a godly way.
As a parent–and especially if you are a Christian yourself–YOU are THE key spiritual role model and mentor for your teen. And that isn’t “if you want to be” either–that’s the way it is. Ultimately, you are charged with teaching and modelling to your teen what follow Jesus means, and while church, youth groups, Christian schools can be a support to that end, they are only that: support mechanisms.
Read Deuteronomy 6 for an overview of what God expects from parents as it relates to the spiritual nurture and development of their children. (Hint: it’s doesn’t say, “Hand them off to the youth pastor and bring them to church on Sunday.”)
2. Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen.
It’s sad that I have to write this one at all, but I’m convinced very few Christian parents actually express genuine love and “like” to their teen. It can become easy for parents to only see how their teen is irresponsible, failing, immature, etc., and become a harping voice instead of an encouraging, empowering one.
Do you intentially set aside time to tell your teen how much you love and admire them? Do you write letters of encouragement to them? Do you have “date nights” where you spend time together and share with them the things you see in them that you are proud of?
Your teen won’t ask you for it, so don’t wait for an invitation. Everyday say something encouraging to your teen that builds them up (they get enough criticism as it is!). Pray everyday for them and ask God to help you become one of the core people in your teen’s life that He uses to affirm them.
1. Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not
cultivating within yourself.
When I talk to Christian parents, it’s obvious that they want their teen to have a thriving, dynamic, genuine, life-giving faith. What isn’t so clear, however, is whether that parent has one themselves. When it comes to the Christian faith, most of the time what we learn is caught and not taught. This means that even if you have the “right answers” as a parent, if you’re own spiritual walk with God is pathetic and stilted, your teen will unconciously follow suit. Every day you are teaching your teach (explicitely and implicitely) what discipleship to Jesus looks like “in the flesh.”
What are they catching from you? Are you cultivating a deep and mature relationship with God personally, or is your Christian parenting style a Christianized version of “do as I say, not as I do”?
While having a healthy and maturing discipleship walk as a parent does not garauntee your teen will follow in your footsteps, expecting your teen to have a maturing faith while you follow Jesus “from a distance” is an enormous mistake.
You are a Christian before you are a Christian parent (or any other role). Get real with God, share your own struggles and hypocrisy with your entire family, and maybe then God will begin to use your example in a positive and powerful way.
If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating below to help offset the costs of running this site! Thanks! 🙂