The Youth Leader as a Parent

father with son on his shoulders

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Children tend to become lifetime disciples when they live with parents who love Jesus, exude Jesus, talk about Jesus, and connect like Jesus. Each of these five factors merits careful attention.

  1. Parents who love Jesus supremely

The heart always is the key. Youth leaders can be parents who:

  • Respond with gratitude for grace and the Gospel
  • Adore Christ and experience awe over His grandeur
  • Abide in Him, grow deeper in Him, and enjoy Him

Youth leaders likely desire to see children who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the supreme majesty of the Son, responding to His majestic reign over all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.

The most important step in that direction is parents who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, are spending a lifetime embracing the supreme majesty of the Son, responding to His majestic reign over all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.

Mostly, who parents are today is who their children will become.

Everyone knows that far too many teenagers leave the church after high school. But the vast majority that leave grew up in homes with a lukewarm faith. For the most part, their “faith” never was there to begin with. Here is a remarkable fact: When teenagers grow up with parents who follow Christ (even imperfectly), 89% walk in faith as adults.

  1. Parents who exude Jesus

Faith, hope, and love can be real but can be hidden from children. Youth leaders can be sure they:

  • Allow delight in Him to be visible to their children
  • Invite the Spirit to exhibit His fruit in their lives
  • Imitate and follow Jesus in private and before their children

Children and teenagers are influenced by seeing parents in church every Sunday. They are even more influenced when they see that public faith lived out in the privacy of the home.

Everyone enjoys a good movie based on a best-selling novel. Here is an analogy. The Bible is the book—the “novel.” The “movie” based on the Bible is the daily lives of parents. Parents have the great privilege and the great responsibility to unfold for their children the intriguing drama of real life in Christ. They turn the truth of Scripture into high-definition “video” that is easy for their children to see and absorb.

The more spiritually vibrant and alive the parents are, the more this will overflow onto their children. And the more transparent parents are about their own spiritual journey, the more their children will tend to follow in similar directions.

  1. Parents who talk about Jesus

The heart of the parent opens the heart of the child. That opens the door to conversations about Christ. Youth leaders can ensure they:

  • Initiate spiritual conversations when they rise up and lay down
  • Talk spontaneously about Jesus as they walk in the way
  • Gather the family to worship Jesus as they sit in their house

Parents cannot stop with loving Jesus and being transparent about their faith. They also must take the lead spiritually at home. According to Rob Rienow, Sunday school and youth groups did not exist until the late 1800s. For the first nineteen centuries of Christianity it was understood that parents were called by God to disciple their children, and that the home was the primary place for this to happen. A youth leader might ask:

  1. If my children knew nothing about the Bible other than what they had heard from me, how much Scripture would they know?
  2. How many Scriptures would they have memorized?
  3. How many principles of Scripture would fill their minds?
  4. Will my answers to these questions be different a year from now?
  5. Parents who connect like Jesus

A heart connection is the pipeline that connects the hearts of the parent and child. Youth leaders can ensure they:

  • Turn their heart toward their children as children turn theirs toward the parents
  • Strengthen heart connections as they love, bless, and encourage their children
  • Demonstrate the Gospel through family relationships marked by undeserved kindness, forgiveness, patience, and love (Eph. 4:32).

Spiritual impact flows from one generation to the next through a relational pipeline. Parents who keep that heart connection warm and strong usually see visible evidence that their faith and values are passing to their children.

The Old Testament ends with: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:6). God intended that the preaching of the Gospel, symbolized by John the Baptist, would lead many to salvation. Only in that new life in Christ would parents and children form the deepest of heart connections.

Once that warm connection is formed, spiritual life can flow to a young generation. Researcher Bengtson reports: “Our data show the affective (emotional) dimension of parental behavior is very important in influencing religious transmission. Parents who are warm and affirming are more likely to have children who follow them; parents who are cold or authoritarian, ambivalent or distracted, are less likely to do so. . . Particularly important, according to our data, is the role of father’s warmth.”

Parenting methods matter. But the most important thing youth leaders can do to see young hearts alive in Christ is to see their own hearts increasingly alive in Christ. No church pizza party can match the transforming power of living in a house with a parent who is dazzled by Jesus.

Parents who increasingly love Jesus supremely, exude Jesus, talk about Jesus, and connect with the hearts of their kids like Jesus likely will see their adult children:

  • Join Christ in bringing His kingdom on earth, in the power of the Spirit
  • Make disciples who make disciples among all peoples, down through the generations
  • Multiply worshipers before the Throne forever

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