Christian Family, Community Outreach, Parenting

The Secret to Retaining Youth in Church


The church’s desire to connect and retain teens is an age-old battle.  However, as the church continues to suffer considerable losses in membership, this problem takes on greater significance.  The church may see youth as the one group that can rescue a bleak future. “If we can just stop the youth from drifting away after High School, then we have a chance to reverse the decline.”  Look around, this is a very different generation.  Their values have shifted.  What matters to them is different than previous generations. What matters to their marginally committed parents has changed.  This post will be based on some research by Barna on the different goals for youth ministry between senior pastors and youth ministers and the parents of those elusive teens.  But just look at the unexpected changes to culture and notice how little time it took for the changes to occur.

Surveys in 1986:

70% of high school grads leave the church, never to return
65% of evangelical teens never read their Bibles
33% believe religion is out of date and out of touch
40% of all teens believe in astrology
30% read astrology column daily
93% know their sign
58% of Protestant teens believe students should have access to contraceptives.
25% of high school students contract some form of V.D.
42% of protestant teens say there are many ways to God.
60% question that miracles are possible
28% feel the content of the Bible are not accurate.

According to surveys in 1990:

65% of all H.S. Christian students are sexually active
75% of all H.S. students cheat regularly
30% of all H.S. students have shoplifted in the past 30 days
45-50% of all teen pregnancies are aborted
3.3 million teens are alcoholics
1,000 teens try to commit suicide daily
10% of H.S. students have experimented with or are involved in a homosexual lifestyle.

-Bruce Wilkinson, 7 Laws of the Learner.

Imagine what the survey would discover today.  As church leaders what are you trying to accomplish with young people today?  When I asked this question of a young couple one striking observation was shared with me.  “After High School, the church had nothing for us to do.  We weren’t a part of their planning and strategy.  There was no space nor place for us or our friends.  So, we just drifted away.”  Church, what is your plan to reach post-High School students? Do you have a ministry plan for the youth you claim you desire desperately to engage? If you are not intentionally planning and preparing to connect with youth and their parents, it probably will not happen.

It is my prayer that this post and the ones that follow will give you encouragement and direction.

One of the questions the Barna researchers asked was: “What are the goals of the pastoral leadership team?”

The goals of the pastor and youth leadership team?

The Barna researchers found that senior pastors and youth leaders were fairly united with the goals they were seeking to accomplish.  Barna’s research discovered this:

  • The top two goals of youth ministry for a substantial majority of church leaders were: “discipleship and spiritual instruction.” Also, seven in 10 senior pastors (71%) and three-quarters of youth pastors (75%) say this is one of their top goals.
  • “Building relationships with students” is a primary objective for about half of youth pastors (48%) and two in five senior pastors (40%), while “evangelism and outreach to youth” is selected by roughly one-quarter of each group (29% senior pastors, 24% youth pastors). “Evangelism to the parents of teens,” on the other hand, does not appear to be as important (7% senior pastors, 4% among youth pastors).
  • Even if most church leaders don’t prioritize reaching out to parents, many express a hope that parents will reach in. One in six senior pastors believes “getting parents involved with spiritual formation” is a top goal of youth ministry (18%). And youth pastors are even more likely to say so: One-quarter identifies this as a priority for their ministry (23%).[1]

One of the shocking revelations is that most pastors and youth do not rank evangelism to the parents as a high priority.  This may explain why youth groups have become a safe house ministry more than an outreach opportunity.

Two other interesting facts came out of the research involving engaging youth in community outreach.

  • Similar percentages of senior pastors (12%) and youth pastors (10%) feel that providing a “safe and nurturing environment” is an important goal—which, as we will see, is a much higher priority among parents.
  • Senior pastors (17%) are more likely than youth pastors (10%) to emphasize “serving the community”— but “serving the church body” is at the bottom of both groups’ lists (6% senior pastors and 4% youth pastors).

Church, you are missing the boat if you ignore involving youth in service outside their church.  Studies also show that teens are flocking to churches that are involved in the community.

 One bright spot in the research is that teenagers are flocking to the local church when they feel the urge to volunteer. The desire to be a part of a community that is making a difference in the world is our doorway.  What are the most common forms of service for teens?

  • The most requested form of service is feeding the hungry/helping the homeless (35%)
  • Second are educational opportunities (31%)
  • Then environmental/cleanup (28%)
  • Less popular are volunteering with animals (20%), service trips (18%), social advocacy/political (11%), or medical or healthcare (10%).[2]

Retaining young people today is not low hanging fruit.  It will require the church working hard to find a way to connect with them and their families by creating a community that engages their passion to serve outside the walls of the church.  What a tremendous opportunity.  Here is your assignment:  Do you have youth ministry as a priority in your church?  If so, what are you doing to connect with them and their families?  If you don’t what will you need to change to make youth a priority?   Let’s start a discussion of what is working.



Christian Family

Was The Apostle Paul a Male Chauvinist?


It is funny how God prepares you for life. I remember my last year at graduate school. It was before my first call to serve Berea in Detroit. I wrote my first published article. The subject of that piece was the relationship between husband and wife. Who knew at the time that I would need that biblical understanding of marriage so soon in my young career?

The first wedding I had to perform was with a lovely African American couple. As we went through the marriage counseling, I noticed something interesting about this pair. The wife was, how do I put this in the best light? The bride to be was a strong, opinionated black woman. Observing the interactions between this young couple two things became evident. One, she was going to call all the shots in this marriage. Second, the wedding counseling and upcoming ceremony were going to be trying. When I would ask the fiancé any questions, she would answer for him. I watched as she made unchallenged suggestions about every aspect of the wedding arrangements. I desperately wanted to lean over to this quiet young man and give him a piece of advice. You need to either speak up for yourself or “RUN.”

Once we finally got around to the planning of the wedding service itself I feared we were going to have a showdown of biblical proportions. During the review of the marriage vows, we hit a snag on the word “Obey.” This proud, strong black woman was having no part of that in her marriage vows. Her exact words to me were, “We are not using that term in my wedding. You see dogs ‘obey’ I Don’t!” I wanted to look at the groom to be and say with my eyes, “Run NOW.” I was young, and competition is my number one strength, so I was not going to be intimidated. One man in this room had to stand up to her. I was armed with my well-researched article about the role of husbands and wives from the apostle Paul in the letter to the Church in Ephesians in which Paul said, “Wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife as Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body.”

Was I confident that she would respect my knowledge and the authority of the Word of God? Nope. Her response was classic and entirely unexpected. “Well, I am not marrying Jesus am I?” It was my first experience with culture clashing with theology as a pastor. How do you argue with that? Armed with more experience let’s try and address this issue again.

What Does Submission Mean in Ephesians?

Let me begin with some historical context. It is crucial to understand the audience. Paul was writing to believers. He was in no way suggesting that women are inferior to men. Nor was he suggesting that all women must be in subjection to all men in every situation. Quite the opposite, Paul was in elevating women to a place of honor and respect.

Ancient world philosophers of the day spoke of a Household Code. The roles in this code were explicitly defined. The men ruled the household as the Patriarch, the head of the household. The wife was called to support that reputation publically because in that culture honor and shame were of the utmost importance. The children if there were any, were controlled and regarded as less than fully human. Any servants or slaves were considered below the children; they were at the subhuman level.

Women in Middle Eastern culture faced an uphill climb when it came to honor and respect. The fact that Paul uses Christ and the church as his illustration is evidence that he has the Christian home in mind. Paul was framing the Christian family with a new foundation. Every member of the household has dignity and a role to play in the family.

What is the role of Husband and Wife mutually living under the Lordship of Christ?

When both husband and wife are living under the Lordship of Christ, there is harmony. Headship is not a dictatorship. Each partner is there for the other, and they are both there for the Lord.

Reverence for Christ entails his followers living in mutual subjection to the Lordship of Christ. Paul approaches the idea from a gospel-centered place. Not from an absolute, top-down point of view. Both members of this union willingly give their authority to Jesus Christ. This compliance is based on a mutual respect across every aspect of this marriage relationship. In this new marriage covenant, Paul uses a metaphor of Christ as the head of his body, the church. This biblical concept provides a sacrificial love-based model for this beautiful marital relationship where husbands and wives become “one flesh.” As “one flesh” wives subject themselves to their spouses. And husbands love their wives with the kind of self-sacrificial love Christ had for the Church. Christ was willing and did die for the church.

Paul was not degrading women. He was elevating marriage.

Other posts on the Christian family:






Christian Family

Fatherhood: Only Real Men Need Apply



“He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking.” Luke 1:17b

Fatherhood is not for wimps.  It is a tough job, with a huge upside, but littered with pitfalls. One piece of advice that I would give to young fathers don’t work so hard that you forget to be there for your children.  We as bread-winners get sucked into the rat race mindset. The trap is so subtle.  It draws you in rather quickly. It convinces you that providing for your family is all that matters.  Beware of what I call the Cats in the Cradle Syndrome.

The Cat’s in the Cradle Syndrome

 The “Cats in the Cradle” is the title of a famous song sung by Harry Chapin but written by Harry Chapin’s wife, Sandy, as a poem long before their son was born. Once Josh was born,  it was turned into this song. It is a haunting song with a powerful message to fathers. The most important lyric in the song is:

“I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”

 Here is an illustration of that disease.

Doctor Potter tells the story of a young man who stood at the bar of a court of justice to be sentenced for forgery. The judge had known him from a child, for his father had been a famous legal light and his work on the Law of Trusts was the most exhaustive work on the subject in existence. “Do you remember your father?” asked the judge sternly, “that father whom you have disgraced?”

The prisoner answered: “I remember him perfectly. When I went to him for advice or companionship, he would look up from his book on the Law of Trusts, and say, ‘Run away boy, I am busy.’ My father finished his book, and here I am.” The great lawyer had neglected his own trust, with awful results.—T. De Witt Talmadge[1]

“If left to themselves, children will be rebels, so it is necessary for the parents to train their children.” Unknown

If you are an older father and your kids are grown, you may feel like a bad father.  Guess what? You are not alone. The Bible records a long list of parents who struggled to make healthy choices in raising their children.   Some made bad decisions either by being bad examples to their children or by failing to discipline them properly. Here are just a few compiled by Warren Wiersbe:

  • David pampered Absalom and set him a bad example, and the results were tragic.
  • Eli failed to discipline his sons, and they brought disgrace to his name and defeat to the nation of Israel.
  • Isaac pampered Esau, while his wife showed favoritism to Jacob; and the result was a divided home.
  • Jacob was showing favoritism to Joseph when God providentially rescued the lad and made a man out of him in Egypt.

You can’t go back in time and undo all the missed birthdays, baseball games, music recitals, but you can be there for them now.  For younger fathers learn from our mistakes.  Don’t put your career ahead of your children.  Don’t justify the long hours in place of something that is best for them.  Your presence is best for them.  Your place in the life of a child goes back centuries.

 Father’s You Plan a Critical Role.

 In Paul’s day, the father had supreme authority over the family. When a baby was born into a Roman family, for example, it was brought out and laid before the father.

If he picked it up, it meant he was accepting it into the home. But if he did not pick it up, it said the child was rejected. It could be sold, given away, or even killed by exposure. No doubt a father’s love would overcome such monstrous acts, but these practices were legal in that day. Men don’t take your role lightly. Don’t underestimate just how important you are in the life of your children.

[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 431). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.


Other posts in this series:



Christian Family

Mothers You Are the Backbone of the Family


There’s an old saying, “God couldn’t be everywhere at once, so he made moms.”

That statement has horrible theology in it.  But it attempts to convey the importance motherhood plays in our lives.  Mothers hold a special place and role that no one else can fill.

This post is the fourth in a series on the Christian family.  Our focus turns to the importance of motherhood. The foundation text is the famous account of the Wedding at Cana.

On the third day, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. John 2:1-2

 The Background

Weddings in Palestine were a cause for great celebration. These events would last for several days. A crucial part of the celebration was the lavishness of the wine. Wine aplenty wasn’t because everyone attending the wedding wanted to get drunk. To clarify drunkenness was a social disgrace. The Jewish social custom required that there be plenty of wine for everyone. Hospitality was sacred in Jewish culture. And running out of wine would have been a humiliating experience for the wedding host.  In a culture of honor and shame that would be devastating.

Mary understanding the situation came to Jesus and said, “They have run out of wine.” Jesus’ answer may seem abrupt—almost rude—if we don’t read it in context.

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4

Being from the South, I would never address my mom that way.  The term “Woman” is not disrespectful. Jesus didn’t speak to his mom in English; he was talking to her in Aramaic. The term Jesus used was one of honor.  It should be translated,“Dear Woman” or “Gracious Lady.” The phrase “What have I to do with thee” is a Hebrew idiom.  Accurately, translated that means “Leave things to me, and I will settle them my way.” Mary said to the servants…

(v. 6) Do whatever he tells you.

There were six 20-30 gallon stone water jars nearby that were used for ceremonial washing. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water. They did, and then he told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet. The master of the banquet was not the bridegroom; he was more like a head-waiter. His job was to make sure the feast ran smoothly. The servants drew water from the stone jars and took some to the banquet master, and he said…

(v. 10) Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.

As we look at how Jesus and his mother related to one another, there are three faith lessons that both parents and children can learn from this story. The lessons that this miracle is teaching are about a mother’s faith and how that faith can impact our lives. The first lesson we can learn is:

  1. Remain A Part of Your Child’s Life.

Parents often make jokes about how much they’re looking forward to getting the kids out of the house.  And that day the kids are out of their hair forever.  Kids often make jokes about getting out from under their parent’s control as soon as possible.

The fact is, however, the closer we remain to our parents or our children, even in adult years, the better off we’ll all be.

Mothers, the second lesson in this story is:

  1. Believe in Your Child’s Capacity

 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:11

I ran across this story to illustrate. The need to be aware of your child’s potential.

Wendell Burton is an actor and musician. In the early 70’s he was in “The Sterile Cuckoo,” and he played in some television dramas. Sometime in the mid-seventies, he became a Christian, and he recorded a couple of albums of contemporary Christian music.  We met when he performed at my church.

Wendell’s mother is a Christian, too. She was in a Home Bible Study at her church in Los Angeles, and a member of her Bible Study group was Bob Dylan. When she met him, she said, “Oh, Mr. Dylan, you should meet my son. He’s a songwriter, too. I’ll bring you one of his albums.” When she told Wendell about it, he was embarrassed. He said, “Mom, please don’t bother Bob Dylan. He’s not interested in my music.” Wendell’s mom said, “Sure he is! [How could anyone not like your music?]” So, at the next Bible study, she gave Bob one of her son’s records.

A couple of weeks later, Wendell got a call from Bob Dylan. He said, “I listened to your album, and I think it’s good. In fact, I’m working on a song right now, and I would like your input. Can you stop by my house and listen to it?”

Wendell said, “Only a mother would assume that Bob Dylan and I are on the same level as songwriters.”

When Mary was at the wedding in Cana, and the wine suddenly ran out, immediately she went to Jesus because she knew he could do something about it.

Mary was the one who recognized his potential.

That’s the kind of mother every son and daughter needs—one that realizes her child’s potential, even before everyone else has a chance to. Look for the strengths in your children; remind them of the good they can do.

The third lesson in this story is:

  1. Give Your Child the Space To Grow.

Mary told Jesus about the situation regarding the wine; she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do; then she stepped out of the picture. Then Jesus solved the problem his way, using his method.

Mary said to the servants:

(v. 5) Do whatever he tells you.

Mary didn’t try to tell Jesus how to perform miracles or how to be the Messiah. She let him make those decisions on his own.Every parent must learn when to step back and allow their child to make his or her decisions. Sometimes they’ll make decisions you don’t agree with–decisions that you don’t understand–but you have to be willing to allow them to handle the details of their lives themselves.

When your child was little, you were the only one who could offer the kind of love, nurture, encouragement, and support that he or she needed. Now that they’re full grown, you still can do it. They may no longer live in your house, but they still need you. They need you to be involved in their lives. They need you to recognize possibilities that they may not be able to recognize in themselves. And they need you to stand by them in support as they make their way in life.

Other Articles in this series on the Christian Family:

Christian Family, Racial Healing

How to Raise Children Who Embrace Diversity


“Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”  Nelson Mandela

If you are reading this as a parent, you have an earnest and sincere desire to leave a lasting legacy in your family line that will improve the trajectory of diversity in the world.  But if you are also like many parents that do not have diversity in your current ancestry, the glaring question is, “Where do I begin?”  Let me start by asking you some questions to ponder.

  1. What attitudes did the members of your family and your friends in school have toward people with a different nationality?

This may be a very sensitive topic, but I pose this question because you will need to dig deep to figure out what bias you are bringing into the picture.  If the answers to this question are difficult to hear, do not lose heart.  The amazing thing about what God does in the individual heart is that the attitudes of your family and friends are not necessarily yours.  While it is true that these beliefs were influential because they came from family and friends whose opinions we valued, these attitudes were often the result of misinformation, possibly based on some bad experiences with other people.  You have recognized that this is not what you want to instill and engrain in your children.  Now, you have an opportunity to take what you have learned and seen and be a blessing, a light to those who still carry negative views, while at the same time teaching your precious little ones to embrace people who are different.

If, on the other hand, those aspects of family and friends were positive, take the time to explore what mindset or family attitude led to that approach. It could be a good model to replicate with your family.

  1. What role are you playing in widening the racial divide in America? Are you passing along generalities and stereotypes that further this division? Are you judging a whole group of people based on the words or actions of a few? Have you remained silent when you could have spoken up to stop divisive talk?

You may have heard it said, “Do what I say don’t do what you see me doing?” Yeah, that sounds good, but the most impactful sermon you preach to your children is the one they watch you modeling daily.  You can speak all the flowery language you want, but if your actions don’t match your words, you are wasting your time and theirs.  They will follow your walk far more closely than your words.

Here is a very practical exercise for you and your family. Identify one person of a different ethnicity, national background, skin color or that you would typically struggle to love and begin building or improving an existing relationship. Add the person to your family’s daily prayer list, and ask God to open your eyes to opportunities and give you the wisdom to build a relationship with that person.

Make a list of ways you can reach out to this neighbor. Look for areas of common interest, ground on which you can stand with this neighbor.

It is my heartfelt belief that many people have good intentions, that they care about the racial divisions in our country. I also believe many have no idea how to help and where to start. And deep down, many think the racial division has reached a point that it is too far gone to save. I hope that is not true. If we give up, the outcomes are bleak.

Parents, you have a tremendous opportunity to share the hope we Christians have in Christ, the Light of the World, with your children as we create a foundation for future generations who embrace the beauty of diversity.  Help your offspring become that vessel that shines brightly in the lives of all God’s people. The forces speaking against unity and reconciliation resist the light of Christianity because it is a threat to their way of life. It is a threat to the darkness of sin. So, the world will hate Christians just as it hated Jesus. But remember Jesus, who rose victoriously from the grave. The expectant joy of the resurrection is a source of comfort for Christians. Jesus is saying, “Look to the clouds; your Savior will return.” Keep your ears open to the voice of the Bridegroom and drown out the voices in the world. “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29).




Christian Family

The Homefront Is Crumbling


When John Foster Dulles was secretary of state, he called General Douglas MacArthur’s home one day. Mistaking Dulles’s voice for that of an aide, Mrs. MacArthur snapped, “MacArthur is not here. MacArthur is where MacArthur always is—down at that office!” With this, she hung up abruptly. Within minutes the general received a call from John Foster Dulles saying, “Go home at once, boy. Your home front is crumbling.”1

As we look at society today, you get the impression that we have, for the most part, just lost our minds.  Husbands and wives are divorcing each other.  Children are rebelling against their parents.  Employers are looking for ways to keep workers happy to avoid another workplace incident…all the while keeping their companies profitable. We have tried all kinds of fixes to solve our problems.  We have tried tearing down and rebuilding our educational systems.  We have passed more and more legislation to allow more liberal behaviors.  A freer society surely will make for a happier society, right?  How is that working out so far? No matter how creative the approach, nothing seems to work. Wiersbe said, “Paul’s solution to the antagonisms in the home and in society was regeneration—a new heart from God and a new submission to Christ and to one another.” 2

Biblical Keys to Raising Your Children

“As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the land.” Eph. 6:1–3


You may have heard parents say, “I want to be my children’s friend.”  My mom had a great counter-argument for that.  “You can find friends.  You need a parent.”  Today it seems we have turned this opening verse in Ephesians on its head.  A modern translation of this might be: “Parents, obey your children, for this will keep them happy and bring you peace.”  If we take this approach, I have one question for you to contemplate: “Who is laying the foundations of right and wrong in the hearts of your children?”

What Are the Foundations God Establishes for Children?

Paul laid out for children four reasons they should obey their parents. This instruction was shared by Paul with Children in the public assembly.

  1. Children are “in the Lord,”

When a person becomes a Christian, their faith in Christ should translate into being a better child at home and aboard. The Christian home should be one of harmony, but not in a utopian sort of way.  If the people in the home; husband, wife, and children are all seeking to live out their faith, there should be less chaos and rebellion. Imagine a household that aims to live their daily lives with Colossians 3:20 as its foundation, “…for this is well pleasing unto the Lord”.

  1. God Expects Obedience  

I used to live with the expectation that I would be obedient.  My grandmother told my adult father once when he was disrespectful, “I brought you into this world, and I will take you out.”  There is a divine order in nature.  At the heart of that divine order is that we are answerable for our actions.  God placed parents in this world to guide us.  We may think we know everything, but we don’t.

  1. Obedience is Instructed By God

Paul draws on the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16) and applies it to the New Testament believer. He points out that honoring our parents is deeper than blindly obeying.  It means showing parents love and respect. It means to care about and for them as long as they need it.

There’s another, selfish side of taking care of your parents when they’re old. If we put our parents away, our children watch and remember. The example we live out before them in treating our parents with love and regard is the example they will follow in treating us when we reach old age. If we mistreat our parents or ignore them in their time of need, our children notice that as well. The example we set may be our undoing. [3]

Honoring them is about bringing honor to them so long as God has given them to you. You get to be a blessing to them as they hopefully were a blessing to you. 

  1. Obedience brings blessing

Paul reminds us that there are promises attached to this fifth commandment. “That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12).  This promise was given to the Jews as they entered Canaan.  Paul now brings it to us today as a reminder of the kingdom impact being faithful has in the life of the believer.

All this is about laying a good foundation.  I leave you with the wisdom of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  You have an opportunity be a blessing to your children don’t give that responsibility to someone else.

Other posts in this series on the Christian Family.


[1] Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (p. 136). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament

[3] Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (p. 26). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.