I went to a training program this evening for a youth program that we have at our church. The National organization is The Logos Ministry. As training goes I have to say it was one of the best I've ever attended--it didn't feel like training and the time flew by. It started at 5:30 on Friday afternoon the weekend we are set to go on vacation so I can honestly say that is an accomplishment! I've participated in the program for two years and can see the difference it has made in my church. The part of the program that is most appealing to me is the emphasis on adults in the church developing positive relationships with the kids in the church. I've enjoyed eating dinner with the kids and learning more about them but hadn't thought much more about it.
Tonight we saw a portion of a sermon by the founder of the program. He talked about his experience growing up in church. He was the youngest boy and didn't live up to the fine example of his three older brothers. He said no one called him by name, he was that fourth boy who was trouble. He was kicked out of Sunday School, he wouldn't have been there if he hadn't been forced by his parents, 52 weeks of the year, 2-3 times a week. When you think about it, that's a lot of time to spend somewhere that you don't want to be and they don't respect you. Finally a new pastor came. He put his arm around him and asked him to help him with something. He knew Dale's name. It was a seminal moment for the boy who went on to get a doctorate and start a youth ministry program that is now in 1500 churches across 20 denominations.
Hearing the story made me think long and hard about my relationship with the kids in my church. It also made me think about relationships that adults form with kids in general. I guess I hadn't given much thought to what my interactions with kids, especially teenagers, outside of my own kids really meant. We have a very active group of little boys in our church. I know there are days when many of us have to steel ourselves to deal with them. Hearing this story made me think I need to work harder at creating and maintaining a positive relationship with one or more of those boys. The statistic I have heard is that 8 out of 10 kids stop going to church in their teens. A time when we could all use some adult influence other than our own parents (having our niece here this week made that clear). No matter how much they love their parents and their parents love them the growing up process is not an easy one. Its a lot easier to be deal with an adult who doesn't have to love them and who they don't perceive as trying to control them.
We have very few teenagers in our congregation, many families have left to find places that engage their children. Thankfully we have this program and my kids started while they are very young. I hope that they will develop those relationships and when they are teenagers they will want to go to church to be with those people who they know care about them--even if it means getting out of bed and doing something Mom and Dad think is a good idea. It does take a village, or in this case a congregation, to raise a child.