Archives For Parenting

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I have been thinking about my boys a lot lately. As a father I feel the pressure of leading my family spiritually, financially, and emotionally and many times the weight is almost too much to bear. Yet, God has given me these sons for a reason and it is incumbent upon me to raise them to the best of my God-given ability. I wanted to give you some things I believe sons need to experience with their fathers. They come in no particular order…

  • A son needs to hear from his dad those three words: “I love you” often.
  • Sons need to experience camping with their dads.
  • A son needs to hear from his dad, “You are a man!”
  • Sons need to hear stories about their father’s broken past.
  • A son needs to hear his dad cry.
  • Sons need to hear his father pray.
  • A son needs to watch his father show affection to his mother.
  • Sons need to sit down with their fathers and work on a budget.
  • A son needs to hear his father rejoice when the son does something amazing!
  • Sons need genuine criticism that points not to perfection but to become a better person.
  • A son needs to do mission work alongside his father.
  • Sons need to exercise with their dads if at all possible. ‘
  • A son needs to work alongside his dad.
  • Sons need to hear about what happens when we die and why we die.
  • A son needs to attend church with his father.
  • Sons need to be there when their fathers defend them when they are wrongfully accused.
  • A son needs to hear his father ask for his forgiveness.
  • Sons need to be able to cry in their father’s arms…
  • A son needs to be able to hug and even kiss his dad, no matter what the age is.
  • Sons need to be taught the basic skills of life like driving, working, and planting a garden.
  • A son needs to learn how to treat a woman from his father.
  • Sons need to watch their fathers wrestle in conflict and come out victorious.
  • A son needs to see his dad on his knees, when the father is not victorious.
  • Sons need to know that everything is going to be all right.
  • A son needs to hear Scripture read often and applied in daily life.
  • Sons need to hear sex talks (not just one) from their dads
  • A son needs their dad to interpret life in this world
  • Most of all, a son needs to look at a father and think, “I love that man. How great is the one who created him.”

What would you add?


Can you be me today?

September 5, 2012 — 4 Comments

My wife woke me up this morning with these words: “Can you be me today?” Not the kind of wake-up a husband wants to here. Apparently she had been up all night feeling sick so she could not do her normal routine this morning. Since my wife watches other kids in our house I said, “Did you call the kid’s parents?” She had already called them and so I sighed in relief because there is no way I could do all of that! But I had to get up and make the kid’s breakfast, get their clothes and make sure they had everything in their backpacks for school. Now as I am writing this my youngest is with me playing on my office floor.

“Can you be me today?” The answer is, “I’ll try but it’s going to get ugly!” I am not as thoughtful, caring, patient and energetic as my wife when it comes to the kids. I can handle teenagers all week but toddlers, and young kids wear a brother out! I also thought about something when it comes to my wife’s question: I can barely be me let alone try to be her. It is so difficult! So here’s what I want you to think about today.

Think about all of the single parents out there who do this every single day. Pray for them. Send them a note to encourage them. Heck, buy them dinner! I am doing this one day and I am already stressed out (current time 9:16am!!!).


Let me start with my story so that you can understand where I am coming from. First, I have to give a disclaimer. I was taught to be careful when disclosing information about my past as it might give license for people to justify their actions. Sort of a “Well Robbie went through it so can I” mentality. I think the readers of this post know better than that so please do not misinterpret my story as license. Secondly, I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story. I have been ashamed of my past and have told very few people but now I am no longer ashamed because the past is what has made me into the man I am right now. In the words of Paul:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

I hope this post (albeit long) will help you if your child is using drugs or if you are using drugs and are reading this. I certainly did not get mixed-up heavy into drugs but nonetheless…

My Story

I was in the sixth grade when I first tried marijuana.

Let that sink in a bit.

I was 12 years old. Some neighborhood buddies and I had skipped school and we had gone into the woods when a guy pulled out this little bag filled with what looked like grass clippings to me. I remember he pulled out this weird looking pipe and put the “grass clippings” into this pipe and inhaled as he lit it. The stuff smelled like body odor with a hint of the smell when one burns leaves. It was my turn to take a “hit” from the pipe. I inhaled and coughed my brains out. I felt nothing… My friends were acting like idiots while I felt nothing.

The next time I tried it was when I was in the 8th grade. My buddy and I went to the top of a hill by the elementary school I attended and I tried it again. Only this time I felt something. I felt good. I felt relaxed. It was amazing. They tell you “Nothing beats the feeling of your first high” and you really don’t understand what that means until you experience it. From that moment on, I was hooked.

I would smoke on and off maybe once or twice a week but I remember longing for the moments where I would be able to smoke weed the next time. After my 8th grade year I moved to Chattanooga and I thought maybe my bad times were behind me but sometimes your past catches up with you and you find the same people just in a different context. I continued smoking on and off. I started attending a Christian high-school and I thought my past was behind me.

I met some Christians who smoked weed as well and my past was not behind me.

The last time I smoked weed was the fall of 1998. I met this girl whose father was a youth minister and I became a Christian and suddenly weed was not important to me. I am not sure if I was addicted to it because I usually did it with other people and it was more social for me. But I did like it. I could share countless stories of staying up at night, running from the police, my parents finding out and all sorts of other stories. I tried LSD once and drank some alcohol but weed was my drug of choice. I did it to escape. I did it because it felt good. I did it because my friends did it.

Shortly after that, I received the news that one of my best friends growing up (who I smoked with) overdosed and died from drug use. I never got to say goodbye.

I was walking in San Francisco this past weekend leaving a Giants-Braves game and I caught a whiff of weed someone was smoking among the crowd. Even almost 15 years without touching the stuff my body had tingles and my mind traced back to those many days.

So why this post? Why my story? I hope to give you advice on what to do based on experience with what my parents did but also watching and learning from others.


First off, don’t panic. I saw a stat that said that teen marijuana use is actually more than teen cigarette use. I know that your child using drugs is difficult and somewhat hard to fathom but your child needs your careful, objective and loving guidance and that takes some discernment and patience. I knew of a guy whose parents sent him off to rehab because he had tried some weed. Maybe there was more to the story but it seems it would have been better for them to discern then to panic and make rash decisions.  That does not mean minimize what they have done but don’t maximize it either.

Secondly, understand this could be a long road. Depending on their drug (mine was small in comparison) they could be in for a long road to recovery. Especially if meth, heroine, crack, cocaine and other highly addictive drugs are involved. It takes some patience, love and support to walk them through this. Remember, you are wrestling against evil and dark forces and every part of them does not want you to win. Seek the Lord’s counsel and help.

Thirdly, trust has to be earned. They broke trust when they started using drugs and it has to be earned and gained in order for them to have certain privileges. So the questioning of who they are talking to, where they are going, what are the text messages, let me see the Facebook, what did you do at school, and others are legitimate exercises to learn and earn trust.

Fourth, context is key to help. What I mean by that is what helped me was finding the right friends and purging myself of old ones. As harsh as that sounds I knew that if I was going to be clean I had to remove the unclean context. They were close friends but I knew that they would find new ones and maybe down the road when I was more mature and the time was right we could be friends again. I don’t understand why people who struggle with drugs go back to their druggie friends. That’s like saying you hate cold weather and want to rid yourself of it so you buy a house in Fairbanks, Alaska. Makes no sense. Context is key.

Fifth, find a support group, specifically one that is Christian. Ideally your home church network should be that support group but you also need to network among those parents who are struggling in a similar manner. Nobody wants to be alone and it helps to have fellow travelers who have been there and done that and can share the wounds and the victories.

Sixth, love your child unconditionally. They may scream at you. They may run away. They may struggle for years. They may cost you thousands of dollars. They may do unthinkable amounts of evil. But you love them. Unconditionally as Christ loved you. That doesn’t mean they go undisciplined or that they drain your savings but it means you relentlessly pursue them until they live a life of glorification to God. Sometimes we lose the ones we love the most but more often than not teenagers find healing and sobriety from relentless parents and a relentless God.

I hope this helps and has encouraged and strengthened you. What would you add?

I got the opportunity to interview Jim Burns who is the President of Homeword.  “HomeWord seeks to advance the work of God in the world by educating, equipping, and encouraging parents and churches to build God-honoring families from generation to generation.” Jim is a three time Gold Medallion Award winning author and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. He speaks in-person to thousands of people each year around the world with a message of hope for families. We talk about family ministry and how to engage youth ministers with the families.

Dear Parents,

Without you ministry is impossible.  I would like to thank many of you who have chaperoned activities, volunteered at various functions, cooked at retreats, taught bible classes, counseled young teens and sat in with me as we cast vision for the future.  Solomon said, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12) and our team has remained in tact not because of anything we as youth ministers have done but because you agreed to work together with other parents and with us.  Thank you also for entrusting your children (your whole world) to us allowing us to get to know them, teach them and mentor them as an aide in what you are doing at the home.  I do believe it takes a village to raise a child and thank you for allowing us to be in your “village.”  We have shared many memories and have done many good things in the name of the kingdom of God and someday (although it is already happening in part) we will experience the New Heavens and New Earth together as we feast with Christ forever.

But, I want to be honest with you and take this letter not as a rant, complaint or bitter diatribe but as a genuine request to help the team known as our youth ministry.

First of all, we are not mind-readers.  As surprising as that may sound the gift of mind-reading was not bestowed to us in a youth ministry class or by the Holy Spirit.  If you expect us to do things for your teenager or if you expect us to not do things for your teenager then you need to tell us.  Unvoiced expectations are always going to be unvoiced expectations.  That sounded so good I want to repeat it.  Unvoiced expectations are always going to be unvoiced expectations.  Some of you parents give us information on your children like schedules, do’s and dont’s, birthdays and other information while some of you give us nothing then you get mad because we missed a birthday or a sporting event and your child was upset.  If you expect us to do something for your child, tell us.

Secondly, we need your help.  Youth ministry is tough because we have to wear so many different hats.  We have to make schedules, reserve retreat facilities, collect money, follow-up on elder’s meetings, meet unvoiced expectations (see above), study for bible classes, study for devotionals, mentor students, attend games, attend recitals, attend graduations and on top of that some of us have four children five and under.  We can’t do it all so we need your help.  We need you to come and pray with us or offer to host a devotional or even teach a class.  We need some of you to chaperon an activity.  I know you don’t want to because they may think you are a nerd but the truth is that you are a nerd because God made you that way and everyone older than 22 is a nerd anyways so love and appreciate that roll.  Please, please help us.

Thirdly, we are not babysitters and activity directors.  I despise the term “Youth Director” (might just be my own issues) because it implies we are simply organizers of a program that keeps kids busy.  The truth is that we are trying to disciple students (as an aide to what already occurs at home) to engage the Word and the world in a mission of God to battle the powers of darkness.  That’s not directing that is ministering.  Also, please do not just simply “drop-off” your child without ever engaging the youth ministry.  We need your participation and when you drop your child off you are saying, or implying, “you spiritually direct my child because I do not want to.”  You might not be saying that but that is what you are implying.

Fourth, like Amos (7:14), we are not prophets nor the son of prophets but do not be surprised if your son or daughter leaves the church if you are not spiritually rearing them.  I would also add to this that if they do leave the church (this is blunt but the truth) there might be a lot of factors for their departure but you might want to start by looking in the mirror (again, this is not always the case as some leave the faith even with excellent rearing).  When you invest hours and hours and hours and hours and hours into football, baseball, tennis, gymnastics, softball, chorus, and every other extra-curriculum activity yet do not even cross the threshold of the church building then the teenager is going to place his or her focus exactly where you do…on the field.  Another caveat to this discussion may be your own issues of trying to live vicariously through your children giving them opportunities you “never had” in hopes that they will make it big in the pros even though 99% do not.  I am not against sports at all (see What do you do with athletes in your group?) as some parents attend a lot of sports but STILL spiritually lead their children.  Sporting events, to them, are opportunities to evangelize and fellowship instead of obligatory moments of training to “make it big.”

Finally, if you have a problem with us, do the biblical thing and come to us.  I mentioned this in the “open letter to elders” post but I am compelled to mention it again.  There are two terms in Scripture that describe someone who talks behind your back to other parents, elders and church members: gossip and dissension.  When you talk about a youth minister (or anyone for that matter) behind their back about issues you disagree with him about you are sowing discord and eventually saying to other people that you can’t work your problems out like civilized human beings so you are just going to talk about them.  We are fallible individuals and at some point we are going to be wrong about something (remember Peter the apostle?) so the biblical thing to do is to sit down with us (prayerfully) and talk with us one on one.  I had a parent who did this with me and my ministry grew because of it.  I was wrong and I needed to know about it.  They did not sow discord but confronted me.  There are groups of people who talk about others yet never confront people about their issues.  You want to know who they are?  Middle schoolers.  This goes for youth ministers as well (I will post this later).

Once again, thank you parents for all that you do and I will argue (rightly of course ;)) that Main Street has the best parents and all of you should be jealous that I have such a good group.

Deo gratias

Finding Balance

March 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

Close up of scalesI was in the airport in Las Vegas when  a man walked by talking to another gentleman and said these words: “We got to ride on a train and see some poverty. It was fun to see what it was like.” My initial reaction to this man was disdain because since when does viewing people barely scraping by become viewing pleasure?  Since when does watching people in economic hardships become akin to watching the nightly news?  I was upset with the man and I wanted to say something to him.  Upon reflection  (and a little Spirit-guidance) I thought about the opposite ends of the spectrum how some people who live and work among the poor often scathe those who are wealthy.  I am not sure that is helpful either.  Then I think about raising my children and how some people brag at how disciplined they are with their children almost running their home like a Ranger Training School.  Then I hear some people who do not have a clue as to what their child does as they let their child run the house as the parents heed to their every demand.  In politics there are some people who say we need God in every aspect of our government then there are people who say God needs to be completely out of the equation.  In youth ministry there are those who say we need to have a missional focus whereas other say it needs to be a family-oriented youth ministry.  In teaching and preaching many say we need to preach the old paths and have a steady diet of doctrine, doctrine and doctrine whereas others opt for a more story-telling/narrative approach to preaching.  On the same line people say that we need to preach more from the Old Testament and then I hear people say we need to preach more from the New Testament.  Some say that youth ministers need to be more relational with kids where as some say we need to teach them more about the bible.     I listen to the commercials on TV and hear people tell me that I can eat whatever I want if I take this little pill and then all my fat will vanish away and then I watch another commercial that advocates a slow, methodical properly-proportioned diet that uses the right foods with healthy exercise.  Some people say we need to go to college to get a degree whereas some people say not everybody needs to go to college.  Which is it?

The lines of dichotomy are not so visible the older I get  I used to believe all things were black and white but now I am not so certain.  It seems the operative word that has kept me going is the word “balance.”  We need balance in everything don’t we?  We need people who are ministering to the poor being place-sharers with them but good grief we need people ministering to the wealthy don’t we?  We need to hear people in politics from both sides of the fence whether you are red or blue.  We need balance in raising our families.  We need balance in preaching the Word.  We need balance in teaching our young folks.  We need balance in our relationships with other people.  We need balance in our approach to discipleship.  We need balance in how we approach college.  We need balance in our relationships with our fellow man.  We need balance in our relationships with our church folk.  We need balance in being the kingdom of God.

It seems to me that any point we look at someone else and say, “I am better than you” from any theological, political, practical or foundational position it seems to only come from a perspective of pride.  Balance gives us perspective on how we deal with mankind and the events put in front of us by God almighty.

Again Philippians 4:10-13 is on my mind…

10 I am very happy in the Lord that you have shown your care for me again. You continued to care about me, but there was no way for you to show it.11 I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens.12 I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough.13 I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.  (New Century Version)

Paul was a man of balance…

The Marvels of Music: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Propelled the Teenager

By Joe Wells

Rock and Roll, in all its forms, gives us a microphone to communicate with the world. It has the power to bring nationalities and generations together, to elect world leaders, and to move people.  No other art form has the social significance of Rock and Roll. You simply cannot understand Western Culture without taking a serious look at this music.[1]

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH, is set to capture in time the people and events that have contributed to this genre of music. In it’s 150,000 square-feet , there are thousands of pieces of musical and cultural history on display. However, as the above statement claims, rock and roll is more than simply the music. It represents a morph that captured the American society as rhythm and blues combined with folk music, gospel hymns, blues, country, and bluegrass to ignite a fire throughout the younger generation following the second World War.

With America being deeply segregated, the early pioneers of rock and roll didn’t always get their due. Individuals such as Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, black musicians who played jazz music, were just as talented as some of their white counter-parts such as Glenn Miller; however, America was not ready to accept on equal grounds the black-musician nor the strong, pulsing rhythms, designed to stir a dancing crowd, often associated with rhythm and blues. Songs such as “Don’t Want No Skinny Woman,” “Gotta Give Me What-cha Got,” and “I Want a Bowlegged Woman” made it very clear that the message of this brand of music was highly sexual and nothing that a respectable teenager would dare hear coming out of the family radio, at least not when parents were around to listen.

Even with the adults pushing against it, “race music” as some called it, began to pick up steam through the airwaves as more and more radio stations begana girl hiking devoting programming time to it. Disk jockeys became a more powerful influence, as teen audiences would form relationships with their favorite, generating a loyalty and a following that would set the scene for the rock ‘n’ roll explosion.

In 1951, out of Cleveland, OH, a radio disk jockey named Alan Freed launched the “Moondog Show” on WJW radio. It was designed to be a show that would attract teenagers from all walks of life and from every race, capitalizing on the huge market. While there were beautiful songs atop the charts, songs like the Weavers’ “Good Night Irene” (1950) and “Tennessee Waltz” (1951) by Patti Page, none would cause the dancing stir that could be found playing in the “Moondog House”, a term used to denote Freed’s show. As the music played, and with the microphone turned on, Freed would drum along on a telephone book and shout with the music, encouraging the teen listeners to dance along. [2]

With his popularity and following growing amongst the teenagers across racial lines, Freed launched out into the area of hosting live concerts, most notably “The Moondog Coronation Ball”, held on March 21, 1952.  A crowd of over 9,000, most of them teenagers, poured into the Cleveland Arena for a night of music and dancing. While the music played inside, there were twice as many outside that didn’t want to be left out, so they stormed the gates and crashed the concert. Billboard and Cashbox magazines covered the story, generating national publicity for Freed and this brand of rock’n’roll, a term he started using to describe the music he was promoting.[3]

Enter “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”!

Born in 1935, Elvis Presley taught himself how to play the guitar. He would frequent Gospel singings, where he would soak in the styles and abilities of those who sang the spirituals as well as listen in on the radio to various blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Arthur Crudup, much to his parents disapproval. In 1955, Elvis entered into a contract with RCA Victor that would forever change his life, the scene of rock ‘n’ roll, and the teenagers who would flock to see “The Pelvis” perform, a name given to him because of the provocative movements Elvis would make while performing. Even with this seemingly good fit for the time and the music, Elvis was labeled a rebellious individual in the way he dressed and the music he would sing. It wasn’t until 1956, with Ed Sullivan’s compliment that Elvis was a “real decent fine boy”, that both he and rock ‘n’ roll were propelled into the popular market overnight. [4] Aided by Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, with it’s whole-some image of teenage life, what was once considered rebellious teenage music, quickly became a mass money-making machine that steam rolled its way into mainstream America, forever changing the teenage culture.

Now fast forward to today – the success of marketing to teens in the area of music has propelled the American teenager in the area of technology. The ear buds found in every teens ear and the iTunes accounts overflowing with music and videos are all a result of a purposed and focused effort. When you consider where most teens are first introduced into technology on a major way – music is usually what attracts.

So why look into the history of music as it pertains to the teenagers of today? The answer is simply, because it’s a lesson of how money talks in a culture and how many will conform to what the culture pushes. That push has not stopped to this day. It’s just intensified as the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s has become pure in the shadow of the rock ‘n’ roll music of today. Regardless, the message is the same, we must not allow culture to set the bar! Paul wrote in Romans 12: 2, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (NASB).

Joe Wells has a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a heart for sharing that Truth with teenagers. He has worked with young people as a youth minister and has spoken at various youth events. Joe has traveled extensively on mission trips and has also served as a pulpit minister and education minister. He holds a BS from Middle Tennessee State University and has done Master level work at Bear Valley Bible Institute and holds a Masters of New Testament from Freed Hardeman University. Joe and his wife Erin reside in Spring Hill, Tennessee and are the proud parents of two children. He works full time for FOCUS Press and is the editor of Kaio Magazine which is a publication geared towards teenagers.

[2] Palladino, Grace. “Great Balls of Fire.” Teenagers an American History. New York: Basic, 1996. 121. Print.

[3] Jackson, John A. Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll. New York: Schirmer, 1991. 3-5. Print.

[4] The Ed Sullivan Show, January 6, 1957.


Man doing push-upsWe as ministers, parents, and even the government (whether admitted or not) know it… after all, the Bible says it and studies [Must Read Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers, Sylvia Rimm, PhD.] show it.  But, do we as parents cultivate it?  What I’m talking about is the simple truth that parents are the most influential instruments in the faith and social development of their children’s lives.

Every day a young person wakes up with the challenge to face his day in his life.  This day will undoubtedly be filled with peer-pressure, heart-ache, joy, excitement, sadness, anger, peace, difficult decisions about respect and actions, easy decisions about food and music… and then there’s the indescribable, awkward, difficult, crazy, embarrassing, difficult to deal with parents and family.  Ok, so maybe that’s a little over stated on paper.  But if we’re honest with ourselves as adults, we remember all too well the horrendous roller-coaster ride called adolescence, coupled with the job of trying to “cope” with our parents.  Simply put, there’s nothing easy about the mixture of teen life and family.  However, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it ceases to be worthwhile.  And just because your teen may NEVER admit his parents’ influence in his life, doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent.

So, back to the question at hand… Do we as parents cultivate our influence in the lives of our children, or do we make our children’s lives more difficult by refusing to be understanding in all that they are facing on a daily basis?

[PS –Parents, don’t quit reading just because I’m picking on you right now… Teens, don’t get self-righteous as you read this portion directed at your parents.  Both parties are going to be addressed in this discussion!!!]

As a parent, it’s so easy to remember the words of the Bible (It’s one of the 1st verses I taught my four year old to memorize), “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother…” (Ephesians 6:1-2). We expect obedience regardless, and it’s fair that we should.  We are responsible for the training and development of our children, and as best as we can, we guide them in our feeble wisdom and experience.  We do know a little bit about a little bit, right?  They are, after all, still children living under our roof.  But that doesn’t make it easy for our teens to simply swallow our demands on them.  So, I encourage you to look a little further into this simple passage.  Paul goes on to say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT).  In other words, Paul is encouraging us as parents – especially fathers – to consider the feelings of our children in our dealings with them.  Maybe we need to step back from time to time and try to remember how difficult our own teenage years were…  When our teen comes in from a rough day at school with a chip on his shoulder (not justifying a negative behavior in the least, just asking “why?”), it might benefit the entire household for us to step back and consider the source of the problem before escalating it with attitude speeches and behavioral lectures.  We must continually consider whether or not we are cultivating our influence in the lives of our children (over-bearing and pushy impatience does not cultivate influence).  Above all, that influence must be salted with the discipline and teaching of the Lord.  If we are going to push our children in any way, let’s make sure we push them toward the Lord, or else we might push them away altogether.

Teens, let’s get right to it… We are called to be better than we often are as we “cope” with our parents.  I like the way the New Living Translation states Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.” Simply put, God never said that we could base our responses and attitudes toward our parents on whether or not we like what they ask of us or how they treat us.  We respond and behave in a way that is becoming of our relationship with God.  We respect because of who we are, and not because of what they have done or said to hurt us or make us angry.  I know that curfews can sometimes be unfair (yet necessary).  I know that parents can be impatient and demanding (yet lovingly hopeful).  I know that they embarrass you thoroughly in front of your friends (I can’t wait to do this with my two kids).  I also know that they love you more than you will ever understand, and they deserve a little more from you than an attitude that attempts to “cope” with them.

Parents and teens… influence and understanding will only ever be cultivated by communication.  Try it!  Listen and talk to each other in ways that divert anger and resentment and foster growth and compassion.  It may be awkward and difficult to talk about feelings and situations at first, but it will certainly be worthwhile in the long run.  Who knows… you may even enjoy (if that’s really the right word) riding the adolescent roller-coaster together!

Jon David Schwartz has been a Youth and Family Minister at  since 2002 most recently with the Church at Chapel Hill, TN since 2005.  Wife- Amy, Children – Abigail and Lane.  Education – BA, Bible (FHU); M.Min (FHU).  He says, “My only real qualification for writing about this difficult topic is that I have the two most patient parents a man could have, and I strive daily (and fail often) to be a godly father for my two children (Abigail – 4, Lane – 9mos).  It is the most difficult thing in the world to be a teen; it is the most difficult thing in the world to be a father.”

Teen Boy Using Megaphone, Front ViewLet’s say you have a bicycle.  You’ve had it for 12 years.  It’s comfortable, predictable.  One day you go outside and get on it and suddenly it has the power and handling capabilities of a motorcycle.  But…the high performance is not predictable.  You can get bursts where you feel great but just as often when you think you’re going to climb a hill or shoot through a gap the power surge leaves you.  Add to that, that no matter how hard you try the bike seems to always drift into a certain lane.  Oh you cruise along fine for a while but suddenly without warning, BAM you find yourself in this weird uncomfortable lane.

Welcome to adolescence.  Your kids’ bike of a body just got its motor.  The only problem is you can’t seem to control any of it.  And when things do start going well you keep getting distracted by the opposite sex.  No matter what you do it just won’t stay  in the right lane!!

The physical and emotional changes of a teenager are as much a function of hormones as they are neurology.  The adolescent mind is developing neurological pathways at an astounding rate…but they don’t connect to anything.  That’s why the young people seem to experience these mental thunderstorms.  Give a girl the body of a woman or a boy the body of a man and you get the bicycle kid who suddenly finds himself on a motorcycle.

Along with the physical changes of puberty come the mood swings and the worries about the changes—height, weight, facial hair (or lack thereof), in girls it’s developing breasts (or lack thereof).  With all this going on kids run at a 90 to nothing pace and the long hours, lack or rest and consuming vast amounts of  the four teen food groups (sugars, carbs, carbs and sugars) can lead to moodiness, gloominess, irritability and the tendency to let the emotions drive the bus instead of the student being in charge or the emotions.  In fact most teens seem to “feel” more than they “think”.  Ask a student “What were you thinking?” and you’ll get, “I dunno.”  Ask them what they are feeling and you’ll get a salad of emotions.

Changes in thinking do occur.  They can do abstract reasoning.  They can now imagine “What if”.  These new mental powers cause them to be convinced that: What’s important to them should be most important to everyone else.  They also have this delusional ego centric view that everyone is looking at them and talking about them.  They are also convinced that no one else has ever felt like they do.  This makes them very vulnerable to criticism and put downs even though they use these things in surviving the food chain at school.  They are easily embarrassed and thus respond to new or different situations with an assertive false bravado or an “I don’t care” attitude.

Mix all this in with the surge or drive toward independence and you’ll understand why the majority of the teen interaction with adults is either withdrawal (I’m going to my room) or confrontational—“why are you yelling at me” or why they are yelling at you.  At 16 a young person is as old as they’ve ever been.  So they have arrived.  They’ve never been bigger, older, stronger or wiser.  This creates that scenario of : I’m expected to act like an adult but still obey the kid stuff rules of curfew, homework, housework and having to have adult approval or permission to act, go, do or have.

The good news is that all these changes set up experiences which are vehicles for maturity.  That’s probably the code word here.  Bodies and minds are maturing.  They are developing more “power” and with more power comes more responsibility.  Once teens understand that responsibility is directly linked to independence (read FREEDOM) they often start learning to exercise self control.  The understanding that emotions are indicators of feelings and not pathways for behaviors allows them to feel, THINK then act.  Until that maturity comes in it’s just act like you feel.

They physical and emotional changes of teens is necessary for them to learn the basic skills described by Stephen Glenn: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Systemic and Judgmental skills.  Once these skills are developed young people are ready for maturity, independence, and self reliance.  The changes are like a thunderstorm but once they roll through you get the calm after the storm.

Lonnie Jones is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Alabama and is involved in speaking at conferences, retreats and seminars.  Lonnie is a chaplain for the Huntsville SWAT team and currently worships at the Maysville church of Christ.  Most of all, Lonnie is a devoted child of God, husband, father and a great mentor to me personally and so many other youth ministers.  Many of us thrive because of Lonnie’s sound wisdom.  You can visit his website  at

African American teenaged student holding Help signWhen it comes to the faith formation of young people, we can confidently make two observations. First, parents matter most. Second, peers matter a whole lot too. Study after study has shown that adolescents who experience a vibrant faith at home are much more likely to stay devoted throughout life. However, we know that peers make a significant impact as well. Quite simply, if the closest friends of a teenager are people of faith, he or she is much more likely to be a person of faith, and the opposite holds true as well. This much we have learned from research.

Now, what does the Bible have to say on the influence of peers?

Let’s start with the wisdom of the Proverbs writer. He tells us that those who seek the wisdom of God will “walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous” (2:20).

Later, the writer goes a step further with a contrast: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20).

Now, let’s throw in this ancient Greek adage the Apostle Paul employs: “Bad company ruins good morals” (I Corinthians 15:33).

The Bible, as we can see, clearly tells us that choosing the right friends is important because they hold sway over our decisions.

There. Now we’ve got our sociological and our theological reasons for hanging out with the right crowd. But you already knew this was true, right? Even without the witness of survey research and the Scriptures, we instinctively know that the company we keep matters; that our friends can greatly impact and even alter the paths our lives will take. This is unquestionably true! However, believing something is not the same as practicing it. How well do we let this reality inform our ministry to young people? Here are three suggestions for ministry, based on the truth that peers make a big difference on faith:

First, let’s hang on to and defend the fun, social events in youth ministry. The great influence of peers on faithfulness validates these! Current forms of youth ministry are being critiqued by many voices. However, one of the things we’ve gotten right is this: there is value in simply “getting these kids together.” Since peers make such a substantial difference on the faith of young people, every journey to Six Flags is justified, every tiring lock-in is warranted, and every trip to the bowling alley is vindicated. These and other fun events give kids of faith a chance to be with other kids of faith. Being together forms bonds which grow into friendships and young Christians need to have friendships with other young Christians to increase the likelihood that they will profess Christ throughout life.

Second, it may be helpful for churches and youth ministries to focus their ministry efforts on clusters instead of individuals. This game plan would match up better with the current social landscape of adolescents. Young people today join themselves together in tight-knit peer groups that Chap Clark calls clusters. Listen to his explanation: “Today, high schools are populated by smaller groupings of friends, or clusters, who navigate as a unit the complex network of social interdependence with a loyalty similar to that of a family” (Chap Clark, Hurt, 74-75). We lose far too many kids for this stated reason: “I just don’t have any friends in the group.” However, if we reach out to entire clusters of friends, we can potentially change this perennial problem. And if we just can’t reach an entire cluster, then we must aim to create new clusters of Christian young people within the church.

Third, let’s remind our young people of the greatest peer of all: Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, scripture tells us that the Lord would speak to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). That’s a pretty close relationship. But now through Jesus Christ, God brings Himself nearer than at any other time in history. Jesus is not only our Savior and Lord, but also our Friend. He can help us in temptation because he suffered through temptation himself (Hebrews 2:18). He intercedes for us, going to God on our behalf and cleansing us from sin (Hebrews 7:25; I John 1:7). Jesus’s friendship can compensate for lackluster and imperfect friendships on earth. To be sure, teenagers need to know that Jesus is their definitive Lord. But they also need to know that He is their perfect Peer.

What do you think about these suggestions? What are some other implications for ministry from the truth that peers greatly impact the faith of young people?

Joseph Horton has been the youth and family minister at the Winchester Church of Christ for nearly four years now. He graduated from Freed-Hardeman University and is now working toward an MDiv at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He is married to Lauren and they have a six-month old daughter, Elise. Above all, he loves the Lord and seeks to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.