Tag Archives: youth group

Should I keep my kid out of church as a consequence?

Is it wrong to pull your child out of church as a consequence?

I’ve been asked two different questions that both center around the idea of keeping a child out of church or church activities.  Both are actually important questions, and come from different circumstances.  But the ultimate conclusion is similar, so I’ll try to grapple with both of them today.

Scenario 1: My child either didn’t do something they were supposed to, or the did something they weren’t supposed to.  They actually love coming to church (mostly because of friends) and I feel like grounding them from church as a consequence.  But I feel like a terrible parent for doing this.  What’s the right thing to do?

Let me begin by saying that I’m replying in general, and each specific situation is different.  But I’ve been thinking about this question for twenty years, and have been all over the place.  Here’s where I am today:

I’m a youth pastor and a parent.  As a youth pastor, I want all of “my kids” to be in all of our church meetings all of the time.  I know that the best discipleship happens over a long period of time with lots of reps together, not just in worship meetings but in life-on-life activities.  As a parent, I know that some of my kids would LOVE to skip church and some of them would take it as the worst punishment I can give them.  First, for the children who don’t really want to go in the first place (social anxiety, rather sleep in, lack of spiritual interest) I don’t want to give them a reward for poor behavior.  For the ones that really love to go, I want to be wise in the Lord.  So perhaps I let them go, but they have to sit with me instead of going to youth (pretend I’m not the youth pastor), or perhaps they must volunteer to serve with kids for a while, or perhaps they don’t get to go to the “fun” activities but are still allowed to go to the primary worship and discipleship meetings.  If they are getting into trouble with another child in the church, I want to be extra careful to set up boundaries or cut off access to their partners in crime.

Through all of this, my dilemma is that I want to remove them from them from environments that seem like a reward so that they feel the sting of what they are doing, but I also want to be very careful not to pull them out of what is hopefully the most encouraging spiritual and character enrichment time of their week.

So, in the realm of using church as a consequence, I’d say there are times and places for it (as a pastor I have occasionally banned kids from coming to certain activities for a period of time because of dangerous or rebellious behavior).  Trips, camps, retreats, and overnights are a privilege, not a right.  But I think those times should be rare, limited, and thought out in the council of other shepherds in their lives.

Scenario 2: My child is overwhelmed at school or is a slower learner than others.  They just really need to spend more time focusing on their schoolwork.  Should we prioritize school over youth and church activities?

This is a hard question and perhaps a little more challenging.  “Overwhelmed” and “slow learner” can mean SO MANY different things to different people.  Let me start by 1) affirming your predicament.  I’ve got at least one child that takes all kinds of special help to learn even basic concepts.  But I also want to 2) encourage you to not feel sorry for your child.  Don’t give them permission to play the victim or moan and cry because things are harder for them.  Every single one of us will have to face life scenarios that are harder for us than other people.  Perhaps school is your child’s scenario.  Instead of letting it because an excuse, learn to look at it as a tool.  So they’re going to have to work hard.  That’s a gift from the Lord, which will prepare them for life much better than if everything came easy.  It’s the super smart ones who often give up too easily when they finally hit a brick wall.

So, should you prioritize school over youth and church activities?  Let me offer another suggestion:

  • Prioritize time and task management.  If your child is a slower learner, they’re going to need to be a better scheduler their entire life.  Now is a great time to start.  Learn to sit down on Sunday evening and make a schedule for the week, blocking out what needs to be done and when it can be done.  Or, learn to get together Friday after school and spend 20 minutes with your child going through what homework assignments need to happen.  There is RARELY a time when your child legitimately CANNOT make it to church on Sunday because of homework.  It’s usually because they were doing too many other things on Friday and Saturday.  Maybe you can’t stay for both services, but with a little bit of advanced scheduling there’s almost always time for one.  If there are special youth activities coming up in the future, help them learn to look ahead and plan in advance.
  • Prioritize margin.  If your child takes longer to do things, perhaps you should help them pick just a couple of things and do them well, instead of encouraging them to be involved in 5-10 different activities that are going to pull them in so many directions.  If the school load is heavy, perhaps they get to choose ONE extracurricular activity.  This might help them to have quality experiences instead of running ragged.  Don’t transfer your own FOMO onto your kids.  They’re going to miss out on FAR more activities in life than they can do.  Encourage them to pick a few and truly BE THERE.
  • Midweek services may be too much.  I get it.  Kids are busy and loaded.  There’s not a ton of time after school to get work done before the midweek services.  This is part of why our church switched our primary youth service to Sundays.  Don’t live in guilt.  Kids can’t be everywhere and do everything. Living in guilt doesn’t enhance your spiritual standing with Jesus.

And Finally…

The concluding thought I have is just the encouragement that YOU are the primary shepherds of your children, not your youth pastor or your church.  If you can’t “make it to church” for some reason, BE the church together.  Don’t use this as an excuse to skip your church’s services all the time, but if some life circumstance prevents you or your kids from attending, remember that we are a Kingdom of Priests!  Spend time together in worship, fellowship, prayer, and sharing the word.  You can do it, God will be with you!

When Your Child Suffers

April 14, 2017 will mark three years since the day we were told my son had leukemia.  I remember so many details from that day.  Mindlessly sitting by his hospital bed when we just thought he had pneumonia.  The look on the doctor’s face as he gave us the initial news.  The scream of shock from my wife.  A conversation with the paramedic in the back of the ambulance about the body of Christ when the bomb goes off in your life.  The pale face.  Other people’s blood pumping into his body.  Laying beside his bed in the PICU at St. Mary’s, weeping through the night.  The fear of looking up leukemia on my phone because I didn’t want to go down 1,000 hypothetical roads.  Praying.  Silence.  Praying. The feeling that I am numb but that my heart might burst at any moment.  The fear of what will happen to my little boy. This was a long, grueling day.  But it wasn’t the worst day of my life.

Twelve and a half years earlier I remember the worst twelve hour span of my life.  I had lain down after a brutal day of bringing my wife home from the hospital, too sick for surgery.  Running on fumes in the realm of sleep, hope, and joy, I drifted off early in my mother-in-law’s bed with my 3 year old daughter sleeping beside me.  Minutes later, my wife’s mother runs into the room to tell me that Christy had collapsed.  Within minutes we are performing CPR on her lifeless body.  The ambulance ride.  The waiting room at the ER.  The grim news from the doctor that I already knew.  Going back home.  Roaming the streets of my hometown in the middle of the night.  Finally crawling back into bed beside my daughter just before dawn, who had slept through the entire ordeal, not knowing what I could possibly say to her when she woke.  Getting up, sitting in the living room with grandparents.  My little girl finally wandering out of the bedroom, crawling into my lap, and asking “where’s mommy”?  This is the very worst moment of my life.

The worst moments of my life haven’t been things that have happened to me.  My worst moments have revolved around the suffering of my kids.  I hate it.  I feel powerless to fix it.  I want to take it away, but I can’t.

This may very well be the hardest part of parenting, and the one that stretches your faith the most.  How are you going to respond when your child is suffering?  Maybe you’re there right now.  What should you do?

I can’t fix your problems, but I do want to try to offer you a little bit of perspective.  I would have never picked the particular formats in which my kids have suffered, but I do know one thing to be true: every single person I’ve met in life that has the kind of character I want has suffered deeply.  They’ve been wounded in a profound way, and somehow the grace that comes out of their healing is the most attractive character quality in the world.  God’s working something into you, and in your kids, that just can’t get there otherwise.

So let me encourage you with a few thoughts as you or your child goes through a time of suffering:

  1. Be Honest – You don’t have to pretend that things aren’t bad or that they don’t hurt.  Just because other people have been through worse events doesn’t make your pain any less real.  And being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from suffering or make all of the pain go away.  Jesus Himself, when he was minutes away from calling Lazarus out of the grave, wept at the funeral.
  2. Be patient – We live in an instant everything society, but there are some things that just don’t fix quickly.  God seems to really enjoy taking His time with the most important things, and you don’t want to spend your life wishing away every moment as you seek relief from the suffering.  Things might be bad, but there is good happening in the bad.  Look for it, soak it up, and don’t be in such a hurry.
  3. Be hopeful – Remember, it’s not always going to be like this.  Nothing is.  My worst days of despair are when I start thinking that it’s always going to be like it is today.  But that’s just never true.  Loneliness isn’t always going to be like it is right now.  Neither is pain.  Even if a condition persists for this life, we are eternal creatures.  It WILL get better.
  4. Be a blessing – The best way to life your eyes off of your misery is to put your eyes on the needs of someone else.  This is a great practice for your kids as they suffer to.  Rather than wallow in the self pity of the moment, look for ways that you can offer hope to others that are going through hard times.

Ultimately, I think that it’s not suffering that’s the problem, it’s the idea of meaningless suffering.  But as God’s children, there’s nothing He allows us to walk through that’s meaningless.  Seek out the meaning, soak it up.  And take heart.  The sun will rise again in the morning!

LPOP 10 When Your Child Suffers

One of the hardest things to walk through as a parent is the suffering of your child.  How do you make the most of a terrible situation?

What’s Your Parenting Style?

What’s your parenting style?

In my mind I’m a pretty rational, consistent guy.  I make choices based on logic and reason, and I can be counted on to do what’s right and most logical in a given situation.

But in reality, I know that sometimes my parenting “technique” has a lot to do with my mood, the time of day, what I’ve had to eat, which kid is in front of me, and a whole assortment of other issues.

The truth is we are all much less consistent than we’d like to be.  But we do have general patterns that we fall into.  In their book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay discuss three general parenting styles and the effects they have on kids over the long term.  Check these out and see where you fit:

The Helicopter Parent – Helicopters are excellent for emergency situations, but in general they make a lot of noise, wind, and chaos.  It’s hard to get “normal” life done with a helicopter hovering overhead.  Out of tremendous love and concern for their children, the helicopter parent will tend to hover over their kids, swooping in to save the day.  Helicopter parents are afraid of their child’s failures, both large and small, and swoop in to rescue them, whether it’s a broken bone or a missing homework assignment.  What are some consequences of helicopter parenting?

  • Kids don’t learn to do things on their own and lack confidence needed to thrive in the real world
  • They develop the habit of blaming others for their failure
  • Resentment develops between parents and kids.  Parents expect kids to be super thankful, but kids resent the nagging, the constant presence, and the times when mom and dad don’t swoop in an rescue them.

The Drill Sergeant – Drill sergeants motivate through fear and intimidation.  They get things done, but it’s generally not because their soldiers want to do the work.  They’re just afraid of getting yelled at and punished.  Drill sergeant parents work much in the same way.  They can get their kids moving, run a tight ship, and perhaps even for a time keep the kids out of trouble.  But soldiers don’t really ever develop a fond relationship with their drill sergeants, and kids live emotionally distant from drill sergeant parents.  The motivation for doing right and wrong is “am I going to get caught, and what will happen”? Consequences include:

  • Decisions are not based in wisdom of what’s right, but rather “will I get in trouble?”
  • Kids lack trust in parents to admit when they’ve messed up.
  • Parent looked at as the aviary to be avoided or appeased.

The Consultant – In grown up land, consultants are not brought in to do other people’s work.  They also don’t cannot make anyone do work.  They analyze, enlighten, and advise.  But at the end of the day, it’s up to the business to put in the effort to make changes.  The consultant can remain honest and encouraging, but they’re not emotionally attached to every move their client makes – the consultant gets paid for the analysis and advice, not implementing the plan.  In the same way, a parent can strive to be their child’s consultant, especially as they age.  Parents can point out the reality of the situation, advise on options, but leave the implementation-and the consequences-to the child.  It’s certainly harder in the short term than swooping in and saving the day, or unloading one’s emotions until the child conforms in obedience, but over the long haul it’s not only easier, it’s more enjoyable.  Benefits of a consultant parenting style include:

  • Freedom from emotional manipulation by the parent or child to get what they want.
  • Open dialogue and a lower level of fear to reveal mistakes.
  • Kids that are molded to make decisions based on what’s wise and right, not based on what they can get away with.
  • A release for mom and dad from feeling like they have to save the day when things go bad.  Empathy and natural consequences work WAY better to change behavior than anger and emotion.

I’ll talk more about these in the future, but that’s a quick overview.  Feel free to listen to the podcast of this episode for more insight.

What about you?  What style describes you best?  Where do you want to be?  I’d love to hear from you!

Seriously Funny

Michael Jr. is a fantastic comedian who also really loves Jesus.  In this Ted Talk he shares how his struggles and trails became the setup for offering something good to the world.  This would be a really fun video to watch with your teens (the humor will go over the little one’s heads) and talk about how God might use the challenges in their life to be a blessing to many.


LPOP 5 Enabling in a Good Way

What if we’re complimenting the wrong things in our kids?  Here’s a great way to enable your kids to go over, around, or through the brick walls in their life.

Enabling your kids (in a good way)

I have a dilemma.  Back when I only had one child, she was easily the smartest kid in the universe, which naturally made me the best parent in the universe.

But then I had other kids.  And they can’t all be the smartest kid in the universe.  Also, I’m not allowed to keep telling my oldest that she’s the smartest kid in the universe, now that the others are old enough to communicate and build resentments.  Nobody wants to be the sibling of the smartest kid in the universe.

Besides, I began to have this sneaking suspicion that my firstborn might not actually be the smartest kid in the universe.  Definitely top ten, but I noticed that other kids were better than her at certain things.   Obviously this was a huge blow to my self esteem.  But I also began to realize that it wasn’t exactly healthy to my daughter to be told she was the best before she had actually put in any work.

It turns out that she started to develop a peculiar habit: there were certain areas where she was naturally gifted, and in these areas she went all in.  But in most areas of life, humans don’t come out of the womb already talented.  And if she wasn’t always perfect at something, she avoided even trying it.  I later learned that this is a classic example of what educators call a “fixed mindset”.

You see, as parents we love our kids and want to build them up.  But we often build them up in ways that can ultimately paralyze them.  When we tell a kid “you’re really smart” or “you’re really pretty” or “you’re so athletic”, we are describing things that they really don’t control.  It might work well in our homes or in the early years of school, but at some point they come up against people that are smarter, prettier, or more athletic than them and they often shrink.  The thought can be, “that person is just more naturally talented than me, how can I compete?”

I want to share with you one area you can start complimenting your children that can help them get smarter, prettier, more athletic, and (believe it or not) more spiritually mature:

Compliment their work ethic.  

We are all born with a certain amount of brains, brawn, and resources.  But these things are not as finite as we often think.  A kid (or adult) can come upon a task that they are not good at, but if they have a strong sense of confidence in their work ethic, they will rise to the challenge.  We need to build into them the knowlege that if they work hard, they’re not stuck.  Remember those smart educators I referenced?  They call this attitude a “growth mindset”.  In a growth mindset, I may not be there, but I’m on my way.

How do we help enable a growth mindset and strong work ethic?  Try this:  instead of simply complimenting the results, congratulate them on the process.

Instead of “wow, you got straight A’s, you’re so smart!” try “wow, you got straight A’s, I’m so proud of you for working and studying hard!”

Instead of “you’re such a great athlete” try “I can tell you’ve been practicing really hard, your skills are really growing!”

Instead of “you’re so beautiful” try “I am so proud of the way you take care of your body but don’t feel the need to advertise your assets to the world”.

You can even try “I am so proud of the way your character is growing, I see you’re working hard to make the right choices and spend time with Jesus”.

I still tell my kids they are strong, smart, and good looking all of the time.  I also want them to know they don’t earn my love or their salvation.  But I’m learning to invest in their confidence to get over brick walls.

It’s time to start enabling our kids.  In a good way.

A “simple” definition of womanhood

I have to admit, I am not a woman.

I find women to be wonderfully complex.  In the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray pictures the minds of men to be like waffles and the minds of women to be like spaghetti noodles.  In the waffle-like mind of men, everything has its place, things are easily compartmentalized, and we can have relationships based on one single commonality and happily ignore all of the dissonance and difference between us and others.  Ladies, however, see the interconnectedness of every aspect of life.  Single commonalities don’t work for relationships, because everything affects everything else.  This is oversimplification, but I find it to be generally true.  Neither are bad, both are necessary for different aspects of life, but sometimes it’s hard for one to understand the other.

In so many ways, I am unqualified to come up with a definition of womanhood.

The thing is, I have two daughters and a wife.  As a student pastor, I shepherd more young ladies than young men.  And I do so in a world that wants to devour them, so I can’t sit this one out.  I feel compelled to help offer my girls a compelling vision of womanhood, because if we don’t do it as parents, some wolf will.

And so, unqualified as I may be, I offer this simple definition of womanhood:

You’re a woman.  That means God made you graceful to heal others.

I choose “graceful” instead of “beautiful”, not because I don’t want my daughters to know that they are beautiful.   They are, and I tell them all the time.  But at the core, there’s something about grace that changes the world, and I see it reflected in the best women I know.

What is grace?  A ballerina is graceful.  A football player can be graceful.  This kind of grace is describing a simple elegance, a refinement in movement or skill.  I see this in the best women.  But more than that, it’s the Biblical definition of grace that I’m getting at.  Grace is the undeserved favor of God.  It’s the fierce boldness to love those who are unlovable, to get at their heart and soul through kindness and favor when force would just repel them.  You see it in 1 Samuel 25 when David is persueded to put away his sword by the graceful words of Abigail.  You see it when the All Powerful King and Creator of the World is born in a manger and dies on a cross.  We are saved by grace.

As we tease out what a REAL woman looks like, we say a REAL Woman

  • Rejects Worldly Identity
  • Expects God’s Greater Reward
  • Acts with Strength and Wisdom
  • Loves Others Boldly

This isn’t weak-willed living.  This is the hardest job humans will be called to.  To love the unlovable, to push through fear and short term gain to see God’s long term redemption, this is the stuff of warriors and heroes.  This is what I want in my daughters.

So it’s not as simple as defining manhood.  But that’s probably for the best, because women aren’t simple.  They are amazingly, wonderfully complex.  And they are central to God’s Kingdom coming to every broken corner of this earth.

Share this with your girls.  Take it, improve it, practice it.  Let’s have ladies that heal the world!