Youth Ministry's Family Blind Spot
"I wish your eyes would light up like that when you talk about becoming a mom."
My husband's words were piercing. We had been discussing a potential future in overseas missions, and the prospect of being a world-changer for Jesus had become more exciting to me than the baby already in my womb.
Like many young Christians, I grew up in a church culture that emphasized foreign missions and certain exciting aspects of the Christian life. Today's church presents a lively and passion-filled message to youth, encouraging them to serve around the world and take up vocational ministries. "To the nations!" is their battlecry.
We see churches growing to serve and mobilize young believers in bigger, more powerful ways than ever before. They plan short-term mission trips for youth during school vacations, and some even offer programs for high school graduates to spend a gap year as a missionary in another country before college. Additionally, countless summer camps and conferences regularly gather Christian youth together on a large scale. The two Passion conferences I attended were worshipful, mobilizing, and beneficial. I know that God has used these kinds of ministries to reach hundreds of thousands of young people like me.
Yet, as young, married Christians seeking God's will one step at a time, my husband and I found ourselves announcing "We're pregnant!" instead of "We're moving to Africa!"
My son was born when I was 19, and we remained involved in our church and faithfully attended a weekly college-age small group. However, since the church structure did not organically integrate our lives with people outside our age group, we sort of fell through the cracks. No one brought us a meal when our son was born, and we almost felt like we had to fend for ourselves as we figured out marriage and parenting.
I couldn't help but wonder what the church's support would have been like if we were serving overseas instead of beginning to raise a family at home. It seemed like loving missions and quoting dead theologians was cool, but starting families and feeding babies was not.
A 2012 Barna study found that only 22 percent of youth pastors in Protestant churches intentionally expose their students to healthy families in the church as a major part of their ministry strategy. Yet, nearly all of these students will find themselves as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers one day. They need to be ready.
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