When Kids Learn Bad Habits at Church

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I recently spoke with a mother about the negative influences her children have received from other children at church. I could relate. I remember the night that our daughter Bethany called me from a teen girls’ sleepover at the home of a church family. The girls were watching a movie that she did not want to watch because of inappropriate content. “What should I do?” she wanted to know.

I suggested that Bethany hang out in the kitchen with the mom in charge of the gathering, but the incident was a turning point for us. This was not okay. Our youth group involvement had to change radically — and it did.

Our children were deeply involved in church — after all, my husband was its minister, for crying out loud! Though he was the church’s preaching minister, he did not call the shots for the entire church. Ray served under our elders and the youth minister was in charge of the youth group.

We were on our own about how to handle this, just as any other member would have been, except that the church had higher expectations of us than it did for other folks. We decided we had to do what we believed was right for our family. If it caused friction, it would just cause friction. I am hesitant to share how we handled this because I don’t want it to come across as, “Hey! Look here at all the good stuff we did!” But, I think practical ways to handle this issue might encourage you, so here is a summary of ways our children were involved in church as teenagers without letting the youth group lead them in a way we didn’t want (some of these activities were before the incident described above and some were after).

  • The youth group provided our son John with opportunities to lead other teens in devotionals. He seemed to be handling that okay and we let him continue to be involved.
  • Our girls quit their involvement in the youth group, even in its Bible classes. Instead of going to youth classes, they taught young children, often serving as co-teachers with godly young mothers. They also volunteered in our Bible class teachers’ workroom. They organized, made visual aids, and helped in lots of ways.
  • Bethany volunteered at another church’s mothers’ day out program.
  • Each of our children volunteered in a different public school as helpers to Christian teachers. I might not do that again today because of physical danger in some schools, but it worked out okay for us in that place and time. John helped a Spanish teacher, Bethany worked with a special education teacher, and Mary Evelyn volunteered in a second grade classroom.
  • Sometimes we and our children participated with members of our church’s senior citizens program. We maintained close relationships with a couple of special older friends. One even helped us with geography, as I wrote about back in 2013.
  • Bethany and Mary Evelyn became involved in an active children’s library at our church. Still in her teens, Bethany became its librarian. She purchased and cataloged books, decorated the bulletin board, worked at the desk checking out books after many church services, and planned and executed a reading program each summer.
  • Ray began an age-integrated Sunday School class that had students in their forties down to a newborn.
  • When the youth group went on two different foreign mission trips, I went along the first time; Ray and I both went along the second time.
  • Our children wrote and acted in elaborate plays and invited members of the church youth group to be involved in them. This experience was one of the influences that led to Mary Evelyn doing the same thing for homeschoolers, an activity that she has done every year since. This is the eighteenth year of the Homeschool Dramatic Society which she leads in our area.

I think a key to a positive church experience for our children while they were teenagers was that they learned how to give and were actively giving rather than simply taking in what was offered by the youth group and what was offered by the youth involved in that group.

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come and the years draw near
when you will say, “I have no delight in them” . . .
Ecclesiastes 12:1


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  1. Charlene, thank you for such wise words. I wish I had known you when my older daughters were growing up. I was a single parent, we were in a large mega church. When we started going to that church I was in 8th grade, we had just moved to that area. We did not have youth back then and it wasn’t a mega church then. I loved the church and my church family. But, being a single mom when my older girls were in youth, trying to do the right thing, I was highly criticized. I didn’t agree with things that went on, but I was causing trouble. It was a horrible experience, and one that hindered deeply the spiritual walk of my girls. I am much, much more selective, wiser, in what goes on with my youngest. I know lots of families needed to hear and heed your words of wisdom today.

  2. Those are some excellent ideas! And your children learned to serve within the Body of Christ. Learning to have enjoyment (fun) within the context of work. Love it!

  3. We made the same decisions. My girls taught children’s classes with me. Thus training Mikayla for her role this summer as the VBS director and heading for further training in a ministry school. The boys served in men/boys ministries. We avoided children’s Sunday school after grade school, and they joined us in the adult lessons. These were the best decisions for our family at the time.

  4. Oh what an encouragement. I have thoughts too when I am looking at how teenagers at our church are doing. Negative influences. My son is 6 year old though so he is not that much involved with the teens. But I am surely worried when he is older and reach that age. And we are the minister at this church too. But we are involved with the youth group too and with their mentors. We are able to supervise and guide them during the church hours. But outside that hours these teens are quite wild…

  5. The Lord used you at just the right time with your message here. Timing is perfect! Another mother and I have been discussing the very same topic. Our teen program has many issues. Our daughters are supposed to begin in September attending the classes and programs but we are not going to allow it. I was thinking along the same lines as you here in coming up with alternatives for my daughter. We already have a single mom that has not allowed her teens to attend. She is looked at negatively by the majority of the church members, but she has stood strong on her convictions. So, your sharing here confirmed in my heart that no matter what, I will stand by my convictions, gently share with anyone who questions, and provide alternative serving opportunities for my daughter to be involved in. We are reaping the consequences of my son being involved. He was influenced so negatively in teen group and it has unfortunately hurt our family and his walk. It shocks me this goes on in our churches, but appears to be in our “Christian” culture in general. But, we do not HAVE to follow; we can lead down a new path. Thank you again for this encouragement. It was a blessing to read!

  6. Hello! I enjoyed reading the options you all set up for your family in this situation, and I think it is worth noting that you developed different action plans for your different children. However, as it was not mentioned in the article, I wanted to ask if anything was discussed with the leaders of the youth group or the adults in charge of the sleepover in question. If not, may I ask why you chose not to do so? If it was done, was it done before the decision was made to remove your daughters from the group, or was it done afterward? Also, was it done with a goal toward possibly rejoining the group should there have been a change in the types of events or activities encouraged or permitted during these events?
    Please understand, I in no way want to seem accusatory or combative in these questions – I truly do want to know how you went about coming to this decision. My husband is the volunteer Youth Director at our church, and we have both been heavily involved in youth ministries at prior churches. We know full well the mistakes that can be made in youth ministry, both because we’ve seen others make them and because we’ve made them ourselves. Having been made aware of the lack of any true discipleship in past groups (some of which we were involved with, others not) and the overall tendency in a lot of churches toward entertainment over biblical teaching and mentoring, we have radically changed how we approach many things in our ministry and we happily include the preaching/teaching pastor at our church in all of our youth events in order to be sure that we are doing our best to be biblical in our approach and our teachings.
    My husband and I are not delusional – we know that we are FAR from perfect, and we try to always be teachable in how we serve in our churches. But, we have found that people (group members, parents, other church members) rarely come to us with any concerns about situations like the one you mention, and when they do, it is only to inform us that they and/or their children will no longer be participating with our group. Sometimes we are simply not aware that there is a problem until members have left or parents remove their children from the group; we know a lot about what happens at our group meetings, but we are just never going to be aware of everything. Truthfully, I cannot recall a single instance where someone came to us with a true problem that needed correction and said, “We’d like our children to stay in the group, but we can’t allow it if _________________ continues to happen. What can we do to help resolve this?”
    I think I have said a great deal of the above because I’m not sure I can express in words how much my husband and I truly LONG for teens in our group who come from homes where they are taught biblical truth and where they can bring some of that truth to the group – teens who could maybe even help lead the group in a better direction when others might want to watch/do/enjoy unlovely things. We do not have that in our current group; the majority of what we end up teaching is to fight against most of what our group learn in their homes and at their schools about the world and how it works, and that kind of presence/influence would be invaluable to us.
    I know not all teens can do this – especially in what can be very difficult years. But if they can – if they are firm in their own faith and knowledge of the Word – would it not be excellent training ground for living in the world and not of the world? For speaking biblical truth in love to their peers? Especially in a home where they have parents who can support and guide them through the process of questioning teachers and leaders and those in authority over them when they feel what is being done is not in accordance with the Word and the will of God?
    Forgive me for the long post and the barrage of questions – as you can see I am a bit passionate about this subject, and I’m afraid I may have unloaded a bit of that in this comment! I pray that it comes across in the loving way in which it is intended. 🙂 And I would still certainly like to know the process behind your decisions, if you are willing to share that with us. May God bless you and your family as you continue in ministry! 1 Peter 4:8 🙂

    • I am grateful to you, Marci, for helping me to think of this from the perspective of those who plan youth activities. I am sorry I did not talk openly with those folks when our children were experiencing the things I spoke about. However, I am still grateful for the direction we took for our children. I do believe it was best for them, though perhaps we could have blessed other children more if we had shared openly with those in leadership in the youth ministry.

  7. Thank you for giving me ideas on other ways for my son (age 11, and in his first year with the “youth” at church) to be actively involved in ministry. Just blindly going along with what someone else deems appropriate for our children is not the best decision, yet sometimes we have tunnel vision and just go along to the next scheduled event/activity, simply because we want our children involved at church, with friends who love the Lord, etc. There have already been things this year which have caused me to be uneasy about his participation, and now thanks to you I have a fresh way to look at the situation as well as a new way to approach ministry with him.

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