By Mary J. Yerkes
The call about Brandon came late at night, the tall, lanky teen from
our youth group had stormed out of his home during a fight with his parents.
He’d slammed the door and threatened never to return. He planned to drive his
car into a tree, ending both his emotional pain and spiritual confusion.
Thankfully, Brandon never followed through with his plan. He has since
recommitted his life to Christ and is working hard to reestablish a healthy
relationship with his family. Raised by Christian parents, Brandon attended
church regularly. By all outward appearances, everything seemed fine.
Apparently, it wasn’t. What went wrong?
Adolescence is a challenging time—for teens and parents alike. Although you and
your teen may not experience conflict as severe as Brandon and his family, all
parents of teens will experience growing pains, as their teen transitions from
childhood to adulthood.
Christian parents face a far greater challenge than mood swings and hormones.
We’re called to transfer a living, growing faith to our children, one that
matures over time and helps teens stand firm against the storms of life.
What does it take to impart this kind of vibrant faith? How do our teens
transition from receiving our faith to owning their own? How do we help our
teens become on mission Christians?
The challenge and the call
Matthew 28:19 makes our call clear—we are to disciple our children, making the
most of our time together, weaving biblical truths into the fabric of everyday
life. And discipleship, at its heart, is about relationship. To reach our
teenagers, we need to walk alongside them through the difficulties of life,
learning who they are and what they think.
So, what does this generation of teens look like? And what are their
They are huge—81 million strong—the largest generation so far and the first
to grow up in a postmodern world where the dominant viewpoint holds that each
person forms his or her own “truth.” So widespread is its influence that even
“church kids” flounder in its grasp.
According to George Barna, 86 percent of teenagers claim they’re Christian. But
only one-third describe themselves as “absolutely committed” to Christianity.
Many teenagers embrace views inconsistent with the Bible. Forty percent of
born-again teens and half of all teenagers (52 percent) believe Jesus sinned
while on earth. Sixty percent believe a person can earn salvation through good
What accounts for this shift from biblical truth? Certainly, popular culture
and the media contribute to the problem. Nevertheless, the responsibility lies
with parents to counter this influence.
God told Moses to instruct the people to teach the commandments of the law to
their children. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, These words that I am giving you today
are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you
sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when
you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your
forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. God knew
the best way to teach was by the life you live—a consistent example of faith
does a whole lot more to impact the life of a child than a lifetime of
Think what your children will learn, consciously or subconsciously, by
observing mom and dad reading Scripture, telling the truth, doing what is
right. Children watch adults every day and they notice if we’re practicing what
we preach. It’s when parents are inconsistent that children become confused or
hardened to the message being taught.Stepping into their worldIt seems that in recent years
parents have grown lax in taking responsibility for their teen’s spiritual
growth, relegating it instead to the church or youth minister. A few hours at
church a week will do little to reverse the pull of today’s culture.
Biblically, parents hold the primary responsibility for their teenager’s
Partnering with our church, supporting ministry for our youth, and volunteering
our time and talents also help in our teens’ spiritual formation. It’s time to
make spiritual growth of our teens a priority, shifting our calendars and
schedules to accommodate involvement in ministry and an on mission
The majority of Christian teens long to impact their culture for Christ. While
we, as parents, sometimes separate the sacred from the secular, teens today
take their faith into their schools and world, recognizing they can’t affect
their world by staying within the four walls of the church. Eager to change the
world through service and evangelism, teenagers need and want a mission.
It falls to us, as parents, to provide ministry opportunities for our teenagers
both inside and outside the church.
Teens with a mission
John Bailey, Student Volunteer Mobilization director for the North American
Mission Board, identifies three key areas in raising on mission teens:
modeling, exposure and mobilization. Bailey encourages parents to model a
passionate, on mission lifestyle.
One obvious mission field for teens is the public school arena. Some of the
most effective youth ministry today occurs when teens minister to their peers.
But keep in mind that your teen’s evangelistic efforts will differ from yours.
“Young adults are much more likely to share their faith through ongoing
discussions with friends and through email and instant message conversations
than are middle-aged and older adults. They’re less likely to engage in means
that their generation finds offensive, such as street preaching or moral
confrontation,” according to George Barna. Give your teens a sense of purpose
by encouraging a missionary lifestyle at school. Your teens can find training
materials and evangelism strategies at www.studentz.com.
Experience is key. Get your kids doing ministry—this can have an amazing
impact. Find ministries in your church where they can get involved. Encourage
short-term mission trips for your teens. Some parents experience fear at the
thought of sending their child to a strange land or foreign culture. Still, few
things have the potential to influence your teen’s spiritual growth as much as
a short-term mission trip. Many good programs exist, including PowerPlant
and World Changers (www.worldchangers.studentz.com).
Bailey challenges parents: “At the minimum, teens should give one week per year
to missions.” That means each teenager will have an opportunity for six mission
trips during his or her teen years. He challenges those students with special
callings to consider giving a summer or semester to the mission field during
their college years.
You also might want to consider a family mission trip. Growing up as an MK
(missionary kid), Wendy Goldie knows the importance of families going on
mission together. She and her husband, Reg, thought a family mission trip would
be the perfect experience for their kids, Kristen and Kurt. “God has given Reg
and me a bigger perspective of our world,” says Wendy. “We wanted our kids to
have that perspective and open their eyes to other parts of the world.”
For more information about family mission trips visit www.namb.net/fom.
Bailey also encourages parents to expose their teens to missionaries and others
living an on mission lifestyle. He recommends inviting a missionary to your
home for a meal and conversation, allowing your teen to see that missionaries
are “regular” people, walking in obedience to God.
Encourage teens to view all of their activities as mission opportunities.
Extracurricular school activities, sports, neighborhood events—all provide
avenues for ministry. Who needs a word of encouragement? How can we show Jesus
to those around us? This kind of encouragement teaches teens to view all of
life through a biblical lens.
Clearly, much has changed in recent years. Yet, God’s Word remains the same.
You might look at your child and wonder if anything you’ve said or done has
sunk in. When you faithfully seek God in your life, your children will notice.
When you give them the chance to be part of the incredible work God is doing in
the world, they will rise to the occasion. When you take a genuine interest in
them and build a heart connection with them, they will cherish it.
As parents, we stand at a crossroads, faced with a challenge and a choice. Are
we willing to do whatever it takes to help our teens become on mission adults?
It won’t be easy. The cost is great—it requires our very life. Nevertheless,
the reward is far greater.
Mary J. Yerkes is a writer living in Manassas, Virginia.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC