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Dear _____________,

I need to get something off my chest.

When I first came to this church, you told me how excited you were that I would be showing your kids what it means to love Jesus, be part of His Church, and grow as a Christian. You told me you were praying for me and that you had my back. You had high hopes for the youth ministry.

I had high hopes too. But I must confess that I am frustrated right now because I feel like you’re working against me, not with me.

The desire for your teenagers to be on fire for Jesus and all about His kingdom is what wakes me up every morning. I long to see a group of passionate, unashamed Christians ready to live on mission. I thought we shared that desire, but I’m not so sure anymore.

It seems to me that you see youth ministry as a supplement to your kids’ lives – not something vital. I’m like a vitamin you hope will keep your kids out of trouble, not part of your weekly exercise routine. You’d never say it like that, I know, but based on your priorities, I can’t help but feel that way.

I got a text from your middle-schooler on Sunday, telling me how much he wanted to be at church, but how you were making him be with the team. He doesn’t know when he can come on Wednesday nights, because he always has practice. He tells me he can’t wait till he can drive, so he can come to church more often.

At the very least, I wish I had the opportunity to equip and deploy your son as a missionary to the sports fields, but there’s just no time left in his schedule. I recognize that sports can be a good character-building exercise, but sometimes I’m not sure whether all these activities are for your kids or really for you. If this pattern continues, you shouldn’t hold on to any expectations that your children will find a good church once they’re in college. When your kids have to ask what you’re doing this Sunday, it’s already game over.

What’s more, your daughter told me recently that you have a “no-toleration policy” when it comes to alcohol, but you’ve given instruction on how to avoid pregnancy in case she was going to have sex. Well, let me tell you that I have a no-toleration policy for both those activities, the first because it’s illegal, and the second because it’s immoral. I want your kids to follow Jesus, not the world. That’s why I am so surprised that it seems like you are more concerned about your children embarrassing you than disobeying God.

When we first met and you told me that you wanted me to help your kids love Jesus more, I guess you were really saying, “Help my children be moral, respectable and religious.” I should have leveled with you then. I have no interest in helping you raise nice, moral hypocrites who love ball more than God or chase pleasure more than His kingdom.

I want to work together, but that means we’ll need to be seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, not our kingdoms or self-righteousness.

Please know that I’m still committed to your kids. I just hope to see them again at some point.

Your friend,


* Trevin’s note: This is not a real letter, but a compilation of frustrations I’ve heard recently from those who work in student ministry. It is intended to prompt conversation on the responsibilities and roles of youth pastors, their relationship with parents, and the expectations we have of students. If you leave a comment, please make sure you are civil, thoughtful, and seeking to further the kind of gracious conversation this post is designed to create. Thank you!

** Please see the follow-up post that continues the conversation with additional questions for discussion: Continuing the Conversation Begun by the Anonymous Youth Pastor

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122 thoughts on “Anonymous Youth Pastor’s Letter to a Parent”

  1. Jon says:

    That’s gonna leave a mark….I hope!

    1. Nicole Richie says:

      Mr. Wax, I think you are gravely wrong!! It is NOT your job or any youth group leaders job to train, disciple or “help” our children. Your are not responsible for how they turn out. God is. This letter undermines the authority of the parent. No one should make a parent feel guilty or make them feel like they should put their children in youth groups or allow them to go. It is the parents soul responsibility to train and disciple their children, NO ONE ELSE. Shame on you and every other youth group leader for thinking this is your jurisdiction! Why don’t we reach out to those kids who don’t have parents who are believers or a father or mother. A family should come along side them and help, NOT a youth group. Its the church as a whole, the body of Christ who should help. As a FAMILY!!!!

      1. Mark Friestad says:

        Two questions: was leaving the discipleship of youth to the parents-and-the-parents-only the model that Jesus followed? (After all, some of the disciples were thought to be teenagers.) Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.” How does that square with the model of discipleship you describe above?

  2. Chet Andrews says:

    Amen and AMEN! I am teaching a class to parents on home discipleship and one of the biggest issues that thwart intentional discipleship time via home Bible Study is sports schedules. One of my parents said their 8 year old has been involved in 10 seasons (when you look at both spring and fall ball). Hopefully, I think their eyes are beginning to open a little.

    Chet Andrews

  3. Wow. Sure glad you said this. It’s time somebody did.

  4. Joe Mullarkey says:

    Does the role of the youth pastor change today? As a youth pastor, I see parents not taking their role as spiritual leader seriously – should we seek to target them instead? Train them to be leaders and then our student ministries can actually supplement what is taking place in the home? What about the students who have parents that don’t know Christ? How do we reach those parents and still provide spiritual leadership to the student?

    1. Jason Field says:

      This is the conundrum! If parents were the spiritual leaders God’s words commands us to be would youth pastors even exist? Are we then addressing symptoms or the disease? Certainly there is a necessity to provide a stop-gap in the interim, but performing triage provides no end to the causation.

  5. Mike Harvat says:

    As a youth pastor who has seen plenty of blog posts like this one, I’d love to see this conversation get beyond the us-versus-the-parents mentality that all too often prevails…

    1. Travis says:

      Thanks for saying this Mike. I also think it would be nice to have more articles that focused on the positive side of youth ministry. So much good is being done and we can focus on the negative portions forever. Let’s talk about what is good and focus on that and making that abound more and more.

      1. Carissa says:

        You guys might check out if you haven’t already. Dr. Ross is a major advocate of parent/ older-generation involvement in reaching youth and he has a lot of great resources. His passion for seeing Christ exalted is extremely encouraging!

  6. lisakay says:

    I’m on a church’s staff, and a few years ago I would have applauded this article, but now that I actually have a daughter in youth group, I’m seeing the parent’s side of things. I know this is one of those “wake up call” type pieces, and we certainly need those from time to time, but in my experience, the realities of who is and who isn’t involved in any one church’s youth group are far more complicated that what’s presented here. Also, I’m having a hard time with the accusation that discussing contraceptives with your teen is necessarily motivated by the desire to avoid embarrassment. I’m not advocating handing out condoms to our teenagers, but wanting your son or daughter to avoid disease and unwed pregnancy is a very strong motivation. Saving face need not be a factor. Maybe some advice on how and why to handle this subject would be better than an attempt at some stinging indictment.

    I imagine being a youth pastor is hard, especially when you feel like the parents are working against you and not with you. But how about we encourage youth pastors and parents to really discuss these matters rather than assuming we always understand each other’s reasons and motives.

    1. slvick says:

      Thank you!

    2. Jun says:

      I’m a pastor and i’m a parent, and i’ve lived a crazy youth life (not proud of this, just saying). i’m sorry to say this, but your definitely wrong! You’re a staff of a church, straighten your priorities

      1. LisaKay says:

        Jun- That was an incredibly unhelpful reply. As a parent and a member of a church staff I am interested in improving both my own parenting and youth ministry. I am interested in dialogue not indictments. I don’t even know what you think I’m wrong about. It is unfortunate that you are making snap judgments about my priorities instead of sharing wisdom from your experiences as a pastor and a parent.

    3. Solomon Tingsam Li says:

      Lisa, your point is well taken about parents and pastors working together. However, the reality there is that more often than not Trevin is not only right but that the parents don’t want to see anything wrong with it.

      That’s because you are discussing their child/baby. You’re saying that whatever they’ve been doing to raise their child hasn’t been working or just straight up wrong. As a parent, I’m sure you understand how incredibly embarrassing that would be. The pastor wasn’t there for your first steps or the first day of school, but is in effect saying he knows your child better than you do.

      Often, it’s not until the kids hit some sort of rock bottom when the parent comes to you in desperation or looking for someone to blame.

      1. LisaKay says:

        I agree. It is very difficult to hear criticism as a parent. We love our children and want to believe we’re doing our best by them. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to create meaningful conversation between parents and pastors. Again, I understand that the original post was meant to say things that a flesh and blood youth pastor may want to say, but doesn’t feel that he/she is allowed to. I get that. I just wish that it promoted dialogue not blame.

    4. Lorrie says:

      I agree with you Lisa. I felt that the letter was something I would have totally agreed with before I had older kids. Now that my seven children are all 10 and older and are also very athletic, I’ve realized the struggle parents face with deciding do we force a kid to go to church and miss a game that they want to go to, or do we let them skip one or two Sundays? The letter acted like it’s the parents forcing the kids into sports, but in our case it is the kids who really want to go to their game. Will they love God more by being forced to miss their game and attend church? I’m not sure. My husband is a pastor, so we’ve definitely struggled with this. We also have a daughter who has an illegitimate son. I thought it was terrible that Christian Moms gave birth control to their kids, and refused to do that, even after finding out my daughter had lost her virginity. I did not want to give her an excuse for sin. After she got pregnant, I wondered if I had made the right decision. I’m not sure you can be as black and white with all this as the “Youth Pastor” wants to be.

      1. Savannah says:

        I see what you are saying…however, is it ok to model for your children that Soccer/Football/Baseball/Dance/Cheerleading (whatever the “sport” may be) can have precedence over GOD? I should think not. My children are not teenagers…so I haven’t dealt with this yet. BUT, I will not allow my children to think that ANYTHING is greater than God. We will give to Him first and foremost…anything else is secondary at the least. I do believe it is important that the parents regain superiority in the home and quit letting teenagers run the house.

  7. Alisha says:

    Minister vs Parents…
    will it ever end?

    Yes, parents need to be more active in getting there children inline with the Lord, teaching their kids to know him and set them up for success.

    And it is wonderful to be blessed with the youth pastor who wants to help kids know God. But far to often the youth pastor has assumed the role that parents are suppose to have, become the “Hero” of the child’s spiritual state.

    Now they are working against each other, marching under the same banner but write these anonymous letters or talk behind the others back causing turning against one another. This is all done for the good of the teens which they have been entrusted to them.

    Here is the true wake up call…

    Youth Ministry is failing. The way it is being done now is never what God intended it to be. It is time for drastic change, change on both ends.

    Sincerely a product of this style of youth ministry

    1. Tim says:

      Money, Ms. Alisha. Case in point is how lost our Joe Q. 29 year old is where the local church is concerned. He walks around on Sunday wondering “Where’s the concert…?” Rather than counter culture, I feel some years back we took up a slightly different mantra of cultural competition. We became more concerned with attracting students than building disciples. Discipleship is not sexy enough, and we need to have butts in the seats to justify ourselves, our ministries, our buildings…. Great to have kids in the churchouse, but did the very beginnings of the church age not see some crazy numerical growth largely as the result of Christlike love flowing between the first Christians? Discipleship yields disciples, not usually in staggering numbers, but in numbers of students who might pray in the next revival. Someone above mentioned Dr. Ross. I would love to be introduced to someone more passionate about Jesus and students (good luck), and he advocates strongly for simplicity-life on life discipleship. I do not think this nullifies the credibility of student ministry, or even exciting ministry events. Rather, it translates to taking a look at what we employ as the bread and butter of ministry, our mainstays so to speak. Thought provocation is what our writer wanted…. Seems we are thinking at least.

  8. Aaron says:

    Let the caveats flow in (I’m not a youth pastor) but the bottom line is. . our kids are over involved. It’s not “commuter church” vs. “neighborhood church”, it’s not that workload has gone up from the public schools. . .all of that was around 15-20 years ago. What’s different is that parents are scared to “force” church attendance on their students. Also, there’s an inherent fear mongering amongst the “involve your kids in everything” crowd. . . .this spills over into the “excellent” kids crowd that must have their kids in select soccer, orchestra, etc. . . . In addition, we’ll get our kids all over the green earth for different school activities but not be willing to drive them to youth group during the week because we’re more concerned about their future educational and/or sports/music prowess than we are about their spiritual life, because, as parents, it can look like we have more “control” over those external things. We get brownie points for that. No one gives out compliments for raising a “humble” child or a “kind” child.

    That’s what’s happening here, and this article nails it. I think the contraceptives discussion could be more nuanced, . .agreed there. But, as parents we have a value judgement to make. Then, as church staff, we need to make attendance to these groups as easy, user friendly, and family compatible as possible, since we’re competing with everything stated above. When families have a middle schooler and high schooler it gets very hard to get them to church on different nights for different activities. What happened to Wed. night, all church night? We could do all the groups then?

    Thank you for this open letter. . it’s timely.

    1. Savannah says:

      EXACTLY!! Too much to do…and none of it will be worth a dime in eternity! Will God care if you won that football game? Will God care if you showed up to practice on time 3 nights a week and drove across the state to play in a game of case the little ball over the ground and show people just how good you are at knocking people down? What we are teaching our children is to be greedy (get the ball at all costs), uncourteous (push people down to get the ball), thieves (steal the ball away from someone) and prideful (get it over the line and dance in victory). That may seem a little ridiculous but when you really break it down…thats the root of Ba’al. I’m pretty sure that character building and teamwork and “self esteem” can be taught/learned in church. But maybe I’m just too old fashioned to fit in this modern world. I’m 28 yrs old and I pray that my three young children will be old fashioned too. “There’s nothing like an old time Christian, with a Christian love to show…I’m walking in the grand old highway…and I’m telling everywhere I go…That I’d rather be an old time Christian, than anything I know.”

    2. Myriam says:

      Savannah I don’t usually reply to this sort of thing but I wanted to give some thoughts here. I was not raised with many sports in my life and I am not athletically gifted. I was raised overseas as an MK but then moved to the States as a teen and then married a sports addict. It has taken its toll at times not to see eye to eye on the role of sports in our lives but we have both learned to compromise and ask the Lord that He be the center of our family life and not Sports alone. We also did youth ministry for 6 years as a couple and saw how sports took so much time away from our youth. That said, I think sports can be enjoyed and practiced for the glory of God. My husband coaches and my son plays. It is SO neat to see my husband using his Christian faith to minister to the families and to see my son encouraging other boys on the field. I just think we need to be careful not to make sports the EVIL factor. Many things can take away from church or youth group commitments: homework, busyness, lazyness, TV watching, families’ hectic lives, lack of commitment. I think in order to have gospel witness and perhaps even turn the tide, we need to be those parents who stand up to sports on Sundays but can still try to be involved meaningfully. Who will minster to the hundreds and thousands of parents involved with athletic activities? Just wanted to add that thought to the mix. Maybe sports will be played in heaven? They can’t be all that bad or people wouldn’t have enjoyed them for centuries past and probably centuries to come–i.e. Eric Liddle Christian Olympian who said “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure” :)

      1. Andrew says:

        You guys are missing the point. It’s not about sports in particular! It’s like if the person listed one sin you would focus on that one sin and base your entire conversation/debate on it when it’s sin in general that is the issue. It’s not about sports! It’s about anything that fills up your time and your child’s time so much that you are too busy to even take them to church for the second or even first time for the week. If you parents, and I am a parent of three, cannot see the passion of this letter for the children over your pride then God help you. I am so sick of people tearing apart another person over trying to help their children have a stronger relationship with God.

        Since you guys can’t seem to break away from SPORTS! What makes me sick is that if the coach were to yell at your kid and tell you to your face that he/she is not doing what he is supposed to and needs to practice more you would do it no questions asked. But when it comes to something as simple as make sure your kid is here on time or make sure they memorize their scripture or make sure you read the devotion we have sent home with your child ….it would fall on def ears. Anyone who says otherwise and contests this letter is a flat out LIAR! You are lying to yourselves and God. Put the pride away.

        Already there are those thinking I am self-righteous for having three kids and these convictions and that I must be hot stuff. Nope, quite the opposite. I was a hot mess. I have been there. I have struggled. I have put this short life and my family’s short life before the eternal. There is no “us vs. them”. There is only salvation and with that comes discipleship and leading others to Christ. If you can juggle all the things in life that you fancy plus full-time devotion to the Great Commission….more power to you. But don’t beat up your church or brother/sister in Christ for sharing their concern for telling you that from the outside he sees you’re slipping.

        1. Joe Botti says:

          Alright Andy! Totally agree. Parents are so quick and eager to fulfill the demands of extra-curricular activities yet so apathetic to fulfill Christ’s commission.

  9. Paul says:

    I like this article, I a lot of what is said in here is legit and has a lot of parents need to wake up to the fact that having your teen in a bunch of activities, especially on Sunday is a bad idea. But this issue goes much deeper than this. The problem is that parents, are not being trained to disciple their children! Also, by having a youth group, don’t parent by defacto, relinquish their responsibility in this area as they do in others. But the church is just as guilty when we say, “don’t try this at home, we’re professionals”! Youth ministry, as it exists today, is not in scripture. The discipleship of youth is done in the home, primarily, and secondarily, in the church. Elders need to stop being pragmatic and start listening to the bible. What is God’s design for the family!?! The youth pastor cannot and should not have the role to make kids passionate and missional (whatever that means). So if you want to change the youth, get the fathers! For those kids who don’t have Christian families, then those in the church should “adopt” those kids and then faithfully share the gospel with their parents.

    We need to stop pointing fingers to the parents (while they do hold the majority of the responsibility), but we need to hold the church accountable as well. If the church continues to not train men, then the church is just as responsible. Youth ministry has been around a long time. The fruit of it has not been great. Does God use it, sure! Many kids have come to Christ. But is it the best way? No. God’s way is. BTW- I am a youth pastor and I have children as well. But maybe not a youth pastor for much longer.

    1. Aaron says:

      Paul, I agree that primary spiritual instruction happens at home. . . but I didn’t see the letter discounting any of that. In fact, you could argue that part of your discipling as a parent is to get them to youth group instead of soccer, etc. . . (assuming your youth group is teaching the bible). I don’t think this letter is arguing with your concerns.

      I think letters like this might be part of a church raising up parents to steward their kids’ time in a better way.

    2. Don Helton says:

      Paul, Thanks for sharing that parents and church leaders share the responsibility and the blame. But I do think that their is a vital role for youth ministry. A teen needs more that his/her dad. Family is not enough. They need the local church. I do Bible study, catechism, family worship, theology and apologetics as part of my discipleship plan with my son and daughter (15 and 11 yrs old). This will not be enough, because my wife and I are not enough. I want other godly adults and peers in my kids’ lives. That is the church, and a godly youth group can be part of that, especially if the church has hired a sharp, loving, theologically, biblically-qualified man. The “family-friendly” model of ministry generally has an under-developed ecclesiology. The Bible supports inter-generational, inter-family mentoring. A teen spending 2 hours a week at youth group does not absolve parents of their role, but it can be a help. Also, if I want my kids to be leaders, they need a chance to lead. They will get that practice among their peers, not with mommy and daddy. Also, the current anti-youth group model seems to take away from teens what adults are not willing to part with: peer-to-peer relationships. Like churches and parents, youth groups can be weak. But when kept in perspective and kept on mission, youth groups can be a great tool of the local church to make disciples.

      1. john says:

        I could not agree more. As a parent I have a responsibility to raise my children but how prideful would I be to think that there is no one at all qualified to help my children develop spiritually other than myself.

      2. Paul says:


        Thank you for your comments. I do not disagree with what you are saying. I do not think that the “anti-youth” group movement has a low view of the church. What I have read is that there is a high view of it. The church should never be based off of age integration, but on Christ and His word. Age-integration is a by-product of that.

        I also do not think that the church has no jurisdiction over my children. Ephesians 6, while exhorting fathers to train their kids, Paul is giving the kids instruction, and he is not their dad, but their pastor. So I am not saying that the elders do not have a role. Of course they do. And there is a place for elders to teach teens etc. I also think there is a place for kids to hang together and do fun things, and study scripture.

        My problem is that when there is a “youth” group, parents, by nature will abdicate their responsibility to train their kids. This was the issue with the Sunday School movement when it started. Churches were scared that if the churches adopted this, the parents would not do what they are supposed to do at home, and they were right.

        Are there some among those claiming that youth groups aren’t biblical, that have a very low view of the church, yes, and they are wrong. I have a very high view of the church, and as a Presbyterian, I also hold to a covenant community view that allows others, that are qualified, to teach my kids as well. But to say that taking youth and having parents come to me to train their kids, is not good. I think that the church needs train men, to train their kids.

        I rejoice that you do these things with your kids. I do them as well and it’s a joy! The church has to think biblically, not pragmatically when it comes to these things, that’s all I’m saying.

        Blessings to you, brother.

  10. <>

    It’s not a parent’s job to ‘work with me’. It’s my job to work with them – and whether they’re over-committed, under-committed, or not committed at all, I partner with THEM in the spiritual growth of their kids. not the other way around.

    And if I cannot find a way to influence and impact the family outside the context of my church and what we are providing, then I’m not doing ministry – I’m a programming/event specialist.

    I’ve been in youth ministry for a long time – and I am weary of this ‘wake up call’ to parents. Maybe if youth pastors would wake up, think outside the box a little bit, and engage in families’ lives beyond trying to get everyone to ‘come to us’ – these kinds of wake-up calls would be obsolete.

    1. JohnM says:

      Darren, It’s not a parent’s job to ‘work with me’. It’s my job to work with them” Thank You! I was going to point it out, but better you did.

    2. DeborahC. says:

      Thank You for that wonderful comment. We just got a letter from our youth pastor saying, “Will you partner with me in teaching your children to love God?” and that’s upside down from our views. WE are raising our children in Christ, and teaching guiding them into owning their own faith. We ask them challenging questions and let them see us do hard things for the Lord. We pray, together and separately, and read the Word, and participate in various missions that we love. We have good days and bad days, like everyone else.
      We do not send them to youth group because the focus is that they need time to “hang out” with other Christians and any unbelievers who want to come. They do not need chaperoned trips to the mall or laser tag. They need to interact with real people who really live their life for Christ, and to have a chance to see God working in the lives of those around them. Sticking Scripture in as a 10-minute message before video game night is not what they need. Our kids (6) have a few activities, but we have chosen not to be involved because of the tim-toll it would take on our family. But we are viewed as reactionary, to some extent. Our AWANA Commander looked me in the eye and told me I needed to get them involved in more real-world stuff (sports and extra-curriculars and youth group). I would love to hear from someone who has a youth program with good balance between parents’ roles and youth pastor’s role. It must be a very very difficult line to walk, but the ministry is focused on the parents who are not involving their kids in a living expression of their salvation, and leaving the rest of us out in the dust.

  11. Over a decade ago I began a long journey asking this kind of question. At the time I was still in a church as a ‘youth pastor’ and beginning to notice some uncomfortable trends among the students in our church youth group. In early 2011, the church I now pastor, Eastside Baptist Church, took a major risk and framed a formal statement, repenting before the Lord for neglecting the sufficiency of Scripture by employing a secular method of educating the children in our church when there was a clear directive in both the Old and New Testaments concerning the spiritual training of children.

    This is a matter of the sufficiency of Scripture and not about programming or institution. It is about Biblical fidelity.

  12. Jarred says:

    This is dangerous to post… There are some YP’s out there who are going to see this as a green light to use it as a template for writing letters to actual parents.

    I love it. But I fear that we might be hearing about some vacant YP jobs soon…

  13. Aaron J Kunce says:

    Trevin, your writings typically resonate with me. This didn’t. At all. I empathize a bit with the anonymous youth pastor… but as a pastor, former youth pastor, and father of several active teenagers, I have to say this does not sound like the voice of experience. It’s time for youth ministers to look for creative ways to come alongside parents and students with prayer and equipping help… not to whine about how they aren’t seeing teens at their gatherings, events, groups, etc. Families have to choose what to say a “holy no” to… and sometimes that includes aspects of traditional student ministry that sometimes are designed and executed poorly. I’m a pastor and in the trenches as a dad… and I want to agree with the content and tone of this epistle’s plea… but alas I live in the real world. Time for parents and student leaders to partner and look at helpful and creative ways of doing ministry together.

    1. msmullin says:

      Yes. A lot of kids don’t participate because they/their parents have prioritized other things. I see this in my own church. At the same time, some kids don’t participate because they/their parents see little spiritual growth coming out of all these events. On the tail end of them, their kids know more peers from church, but know little more of the Scripture, ecclesiology, theology proper, devotional life, evangelism, etc. So caution is in order…

  14. Alan Paul says:

    My answer: I appreciate what you do and your heart for my child as his youth pastor, but in the end, it’s my child, not yours. I, along with my wife and to some degree – as much as his maturity will allow, my child, will decide what’s important for him and what’s not. Your activities are not life. What goes on outside of your classroom/meeting area is. I am responsible for preparing my child for life, not you. You can never hope to prepare my child for what he will face in this world – you can only do a small part – and you’re not even responsible for that. I am. The church is a support source – a body of believers that come along side as an encourager, not a 3rd parent. Respect that, and you’ll probably have more involvement. DOn’t, and you’ll lose them altogether.

    1. Mark Friestad says:

      Alan, I would offer however that it is *God’s* child, not the youth pastor’s – and not yours. And that’s why the turf battle over who owns a kid’s time is pointless. In a truly surrendered life, God owns the time, period. And the most responsible thing to do is to help the kid figure out what God’s plan is for them and then get them to “paddle with the current.” Parents are primary influencers, certainly, by virtue of the amount of time they spend with their kid as well as parental intuition and awareness. But they are not the owners of their children’s lives, especially not their spiritual lives. The church is a support source…for whatever the primary agenda of the parent is? Sorry, I cannot agree. Churches have agendas. Hopefully they are the right ones. Filling a youth room isn’t necessarily a worthwhile goal. But parents hold some goals for their kids that aren’t worthwhile, either. I think Trevin is voicing the frustration that results when the church is expected to unquestioningly fall in line without whatever destiny each parent has selected for their child.

  15. Don Helton says:

    I know some will not like the tone of this article and will dismiss the substance because of the flavor. I know parents won’t like being accused; they never do. But as someone who was a youth pastor for 15 years, I can tell you I saw this all the time. I see students who are worn out, stressed out, and burned out from crazy (idolatrous?) sports schedules. I have listened to parents cry that their teen isn’t connecting at church but who fail to see they have already declared their allegiance to a sports schedule that asks too much. I hold out little hope for students who spend more time with their sports and clubs than with their family and church.

  16. Nell Parker says:

    Sometimes, I think the church believes that Wednesday night youth group/Bible studies is the 11th commandment. My sons and their friends wanted to play sports and attend Bible studies. The local churches insisted on maintaining Wednesday night meetings, making it impossible for a number of kids in sports to participate.

    So, a groups of parents got together, contacted some local Christian schools and parachurch groups and found dedicated youth leaders to lead Bible studies that worked with the kids’ sports and band schedules, not against them. And the days and times of the meetings would change in line with the sports schedules.

    At our first meeting, we had 35 boys show up. These kids stayed together through the years, having awesome fellowship and teaching. The parents were involved because they were invested in finding fellowship for their kids. Other groups began to form around specific sports, for those who played year round, etc. Parents would fill in for the youth leader on a regular basis. We even had retreats and socials.

    Churches do not schedule men’s Bible studies at 2 pm on Wednesdays. They have them in the early Am, Saturday AM and in the evening. They can, and should, do the same with our students.

    1. Mitch Eckhardt says:

      I’m really glad you shared this Nell. The biggest key to effective discipleship is availability. If we’re going to let time and schedules be our biggest hurdle to building up mature Christians, then I fear for the strength of the Kingdom before Christ’s return.

    2. Hal says:

      Wednesday night church activities came first. Schools used to respect that. Now they don’t. There’s a difference between men’s work schedules and kids’ extra-curricular activities. And it is a shame that you’ll consent to squeezing in your kids’ spiritual activities in second place to sports schedules. That’s a clear indicator of priorities.

      1. Emily says:

        I think you’re being unfair. This parent made a whole lot of extra effort to make sure their child(ren) were able to participate in both activities. It takes a lot of work to mobilize a group of parents, find teachers, etc. Much more than dropping off your kid on Wednesday night would require.

        I don’t see how arranging a quality alternative to the Wednesday night group qualifies as putting it in “second place”. Rather, I think it suggests that they want to encourage their children in their desire to play sports (remember, in this instance the kids want to play, mom and dad aren’t dragging them out there) as a healthy physical activity, which is another parental responsibility.

        If I saw my parents go to all that extra effort, of making sure that I got the spiritual training I needed, I would think that it was because they thought my walk with Christ was a high priority, not a low one.

  17. Stephen says:

    I appreciate the sentiment of this article, but I gotta say that you lost me when you started talking about youth group being ‘vital’ to a teens discipleship. Maybe I missed that lesson in Gospel Project.

  18. Preston says:

    Dear Fictional Youth Pastor –

    While I would never presume to know a man’s heart, from your words and the source of your frustration I feel that you may be suffering from pride. To be clear, you do not equip my child for ministry; God does. While I appreciate the role God has placed you in and the part He has allowed you to play in my child’s spiritual growth, and while I love you as my brother, please understand that one or two hours a week does not a disciple make. I admit that I am a poor excuse for a spiritual mentor, but it is I who God has charged with this responsibility.

    My son has been less present on Wednesday nights since I attended one and heard your remarks about how many children you led to Christ at the last event. Whether taking credit due to God was pride or simply your misunderstanding of the mechanics of the transaction, I do not wish for my son to build a false understanding of our Lord.

    My daughter has been less present because your sexual no-tolerance policy, while well-intentioned, borders on irresponsible. God has charged me with her protection, but He has not granted me omnipresence. When outside my sphere of influence, should she sin or (unthinkably) be sinned against, my only means of protection is education, and that education must have already happened. I have enough respect for my children to understand that they are intelligent enough to tell the difference between medical knowledge and permission to sin. My daughter has been less present because I do not wish for her to build a false understanding of her body.

    I know that not all parents share our concern for the spiritual (and physical) wellbeing of our children. However, the idea that my children receive no spiritual instruction outside of your presence is unwarranted. Your belief that you know my heart is offensive at best and prideful at worst. At a minimum, your letter (certainly unintentionally) attempts to put yourself in God’s place, and the pervasive attitude behind it is one reason why Jesus is being seen as less and less relevant in our world.

    With love in Christ,


  19. Rob says:

    Truthfully, though, it’s more the parent’s job to disciple and raise the child. That’s not to say the youth pastor doesn’t have a role in discipling the child, but it’s ultimately the parent’s role first. Perhaps you agree with this and simply didn’t mention it. I just don’t want Christian parents to hand off their kids to the youth pastor to do all the work. However, this article open letter still hits on some seriously good points! Anyway, thanks for sharing, Trevin.

  20. John says:

    I agree with the central point of this article. Parents often desire for their children to become godly young men and women but fail to connect the dots with present day decisions and long term results.

    Parents who say they want their child to come to church but also say their child was told to stay home because the grass needed cut don’t get it. For these parents, yes, more needs to be done to train them so they can be leading at home from a biblical perspective. Regardless, while youth ministry can serve an important role, it is of little benefit if a young person does not attend church. Which, coincidentally, is similar to the little benefit an adult receives from their senior/lead/teaching pastor if they don’t attend church.

  21. Keith Jones says:

    And then there’s the parents who require their kids to attend youth group and youth functions, only to have them come home even more alienated and frustrated with the church and it’s so-called family. Where youth pastors deny children their desire to make a profession of faith because – in their professional opinion – the child isn’t ready. Where “Having my back” means the parents are expected to support every action of the youth pastor without question, but the parent is decidedly on their own when the cards are down. Frankly the highest hopes of any youth pastor I’ve ever met is that he be on the fast track to becoming senior pastor. It sickens me to see the kind of Country Club atmosphere that is permeating today’s church.

    1. Kristin says:

      Well said, Keith. Thank you!

  22. Andy Chance says:

    This is the kind of letter that every 20-something youth pastor wanted to write at some point.

    And this is the kind of letter that no 40-something parent of teenagers would ever listen to.

  23. I get what’s being expressed here… but I can’t get behind it. I understand the frustration, but things like this can do so much more harm than good.

    1. This can very easily cultivate an attitude of “us vs. them” with parents.

    2. I don’t agree with what I’m perceiving as the underlying belief that kids need to (or should want to) choose attending our youth group environments over sports, or whatever else they’re passionate about. In fact, I’d say they’d be missing out on something HUGE for their lives if they chose to ignore the passions and talents God gave them because their sports schedules conflicted with Wednesday night youth group. There are more options for growing in their faith than the ones our ministries provide. Like other youth groups who meet on different nights, for example (though that would require us, as youth pastors, to be willing to stop competing with each other first).

    3. I’m uncomfortable with things that could be perceived as condoning or encouraging frustration that “our” environments aren’t being prioritized for families. While our environments are great assets for helping kids find discipleship, community, and the Gospel, our environments do not EQUAL discipleship, community, and the Gospel.

    I get the frustration. But rather than rallying behind a rant, I’d rather see us asking ourselves “Is this frustration I’m feeling even warranted?” and “If what I’m doing isn’t working for families, how can I rethink what we do to better serve them?”

    1. Because shaming and guilt tripping parents is a good idea? Nope.

    2. JD says:


      Also concerning: “I’m like a vitamin you hope will keep your kids out of trouble, not part of your weekly exercise routine.” I? No. YOU are not supposed to be essential to teens. Discipleship (whatever form that may take)? Yes. You, a human being, are not the missing element from these students’ lives. You are not your youth ministry. Thinking this way is not only unhealthy for you, it places the center of their faith in the wrong place. I have been there and survived that kind of youth min but not without plenty of scars.

      I think the good things this letter was getting at is that parents are forcing their kids into activities that they don’t want to do when they would rather be at church and teaching them appearances are more important than faith. Right? Then maybe we have a problem that starts with the parents not being properly discipled… which isn’t something you can fix by demanding that their kids make you the top priority of their weekly schedule. All the research says that it’s the parents that most greatly influence faith. Perhaps what needs to happen here actually has a lot more to do with adult ministry than youth. If adults are strong in their faith, they are going to set Jesus (read: not YOU) as the priority in their teen’s schedules. This might include your ministry. But it also may mean that they are not.

      As Elle said, may we have the grace to reach out, but also to put our competitiveness/territories aside.

    3. Ellen says:

      God says to not make any activity an idol in our lives. This includes sports. And please don’t say “sports build character”! Maybe, maybe not. How many athletes without character do I know? Many things build character.

  24. Becky Carroll says:

    As a Youth Director I am very frustrated and burned out because of the sports schedules of the kids these days. You nailed it with this article.

  25. Eric says:

    Would you feel the same way if violin lessons or orchestra practice were substituted for sports practice/games? I have seen parents effectively use both sports and music etc. as great discipleship tools/opportunities for their children – even if that meant missing some youth group activities.I have also seen sports, music and other interests become gods to both children and parents. In my experience, I have seen this condemned when it comes to sports but condoned when it comes to musical pursuits.

  26. S says:

    As a public high school school teacher and Christian, I relate to a lot of what this letter says. Parents have a lot more influence over their kids than they think. Just as school shouldn’t be an option, there’s nothing wrong with taking your children to church and making a statement as a family that, “This is what we do.”

    On the other hand, for frustrated youth pastors, I’d encourage you to become part of FCA. FCA has shown me the potential for reaching kids where they are, which just so happens to be on a sports’ field. So they won’t come to church? Go to them.

    Are students over involved? Yes. Are they obsessed with sports? Yes. Do they all unrealistically want to become pro athletes? Most likely. Do they still need Jesus? Definitely. Go where they are. They want to be found.

  27. Joe Botti says:

    Excellent piece! You couldn’t be more accurate. You’ve cited just another example of how the church gobbles up the materialistic values of our culture. This cultural shift to over-achievement in academics, sports,and extra-curriculars is nothing more than a function of materialism. Good books I’ve read on this are:
    -Revolutionary Parenting, by G. Barna
    -The Price of Privilege, by M Levine
    -The Overachievers, by A. Robbins
    -Doing School, by D. Pope
    -Hot House Kids, by A. Quart

  28. allison says:

    As a parent of young children. I’m conflicted about this article. I see the reality that the writer is speaking to. Some of this is reflected in our culture at large. Parenting culture exhausts business and success. The sports and clubs demand huge amounts of a student’s time. Parent have long lost the push to have balanced recreation options for their kids. Want to play soccer. It isn’t an option to say I’m only going one night this week. 3 days of practice and two games some weeks. The option is nothing or commit to this crazy schedule. Neither option is far to the child or the parent. and it all has cost. Maybe the parents and the youth pastors, and the teachers could all go to the school to rearrange the priorities for the children in their care.

  29. jonathan says:

    As a former youth pastor, I know I dreamed of writing a letter like this. But I was wrong. The frustration within youth ministry is simply they are not reaching the ones who are most influential to a youth’s discipleship: their parents.
    I think youth ministry will have a greater impact within the church when the focus becomes family ministry, with the goal of reaching, supporting and discipling the parents and then the teens.
    I am very pleased to see how many responses echo, what I have become convinced of: the parents needs to be the focus. We within the church need to take Dt. 6 to heart and remember this is a call to the parents not to paid staff.

  30. Mike says:

    I’m sorry Mr. Anonymous Youth Pastor, but youth groups are not vital to spiritual growth. They never even existed until the 1950s when the church started giving in to the culture around them. In fact, you can see how the growth of youth groups parallels the decline Christian commitment in the USA (I’m not saying youth groups necessarily caused it, but they haven’t stemmed the tide). Highly recommend the book Juvenilization of American Christianity for the history here.

    It has always confused me that churches hire full time youth pastors when youth will be defined that way for 4 – 6 years and not eternally judged for how well they are a youth in a particular way, but churches don’t hire parenting pastors who will be parents for 18 years or more and will be eternally judged for how they shepherd those God places in their homes.

    Yes there are lousy parents who send conflicting messages. I am sure that I fall into that category some days. The answer is not to get more and more youth groups to further replace parents and entertain kids. The answer is a loving community to bear with the parents in love and help them fulfill what God has called them to.

    BTW – Why does a middle school kid feel comfortable texting you discouraging comments about their parents? Why are they texting you at all? Did you call the parents to talk about it? Are the parents trying to help their child (who they’ve raised since you were in grade school) the importance of keeping his oath even when it hurts? The goal is Christlike character, not youth group attendance.

  31. Puma says:

    I have lived both sides of this debate for over a decade. With 3 of my own kids gone & 2 still in the youth ministry, I have felt the tension of simultaneously pastoring & parenting teens. I have morphed into a pastorent – a youth pastor/parent. I see both through the same lens. Shepherding hearts instead of running programs has become the focus of ministry, being a pastor/parent. It is hard work on both sides of the spectrum. To point fingers hinders rather than helps the young people both sides care about.

    It is a bit arrogant to think that we as youth pastors are the ones who have the knowledge & insight to reaching any young person, if only they would come to “our program/meeting/event.” I have much empathy for parents, who with sincere hearts, now live with regret over choices they have made with their kids. I also know that faith will always be tested, and young people who express a desire to know Jesus today, can quickly change their allegiance tomorrow when the cares of this world or the pleasures of this life not yet tasted come their way.

    Pastors & parents together need to focus on shepherding the hearts of young people. If God is sovereign, (I believe He is) then pastors & parents have been called to the same place at the same time to work together as pastorents. I hope this article can bring youth pastor & parents together & not push push them apart.

  32. Dave Baker says:

    I was a Cadet Counselor for ten years. If there was ever something else on the students calendar on a Cadet night, the other activity always won. We always finished the year before baseball season started.

    Dave Baker

  33. Ellen says:

    A few random comments: Many youth activities are planned during dinner time, on holidays, and the like. If you want the family to influence their kids, then why do you take up so much of our family life? Also, many parents know more than you know, that kids in the group are doing drugs, etc. and so they don’t want their kids there! Unless you have raised kids, don’t assume you know what we are or are not doing right or what is going on in our family! Sometimes there are health problems, money problems, marriage problems. Maybe we really are doing our best! I agree that sports schedules are over the top. I currently love our youth pastor, but have known many that are not teaching what we believe the bible says so we have left. Many pastors overrate themselves and the importance of all their programs (have you ever heard of the Willow Creek survey?). Less is more! I appreciate what many of you do, but also feel no one ever asks the parents for any input.

  34. Annie says:

    Knowing how to prevent pregnancy is not an invitation for underage sex. It’s like “the talk.” You don’t need to be scared of it and you don’t need to wait until your wedding night to learn about it. A parent can only lead their child, but they never know what decision he or she will make on their own. My friends and I joke about the high rate of unintentional pregnancies that happen about 9 months after a young Christian wedding, so quickly it doesn’t really allow the couple enough time to get to know each other as husband and wife. Let’s not get our cause and effect mixed up please.

  35. Bron says:

    I recall my youth group experience. Most of the kids in the youth group I attended were kids whose parents did not attend the church. The reason why I got to go to youth group is that my parents saw it as a place where I could hang out with other kids my age, and not be exposed to alcohol and drugs. I learnt very little about the bible through out the years, and suspect I was a Christian in name only

  36. lori webb says:

    Wow, I have to say I disagree with the tone and assumptions in this article. It seems to highlight the mind-set of program-based ministry where spiritual growth only happens on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and exclusively at church alone. I hope and trust that spiritual growth and development occurs for our teens 24/7 – church is one place for this; home, school, clubs, community and sports are more opportunities for the Lord to show himself to our teens. I’d propose a partnership mentality with our church youth group leaders and parents to develop our teenagers – not a “us-them” mentality pitting the two against each other. Well done to our High School pastor Dan for leaving the 4 walls of church and coming out to the Interlake Football game Friday night where he interacted with more than 6 Westminster Chapel families, saw the students world on their turf, and had an opportunity to serve by holding the Football break-away banner.

  37. Jacci in Ohio says:

    If you love a kid that you never see and youth group, and you truly want to see him growing in Christ, and you are called to youth ministry… wouldn’t you go to his games? even his practices? wouldn’t you offer to pick him up now and then afterward and grab a coke to talk. even just thirty minutes. that’s investing. that takes time. that takes resources. but it is a million times more effective than youth group meetings and programs alone. Kids need adults willing to meet them where they are, and show them love and grace apart from their “performance” at youth group attendance.

    1. Joe Botti says:

      It’s not that the pastor doesn’t want to spend time with the kids. It’s that the kids are too busy doing other stuff. Whatever happened to Christian body life for teens? This is the main issue which the author is discussing–that today’s Christian families prioritize extra-curriculars over their local body of Christ–the youth group. Since when don’t the body life passages apply to teens? Are these passages only for those over 18? (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Eph 4, etc). I am afraid so many people are missing the point of his article–that Christian parents cave into the materialistic values of our culture. They value their kid excelling at sports, etc over spiritual growth, discipleship and relationships in the body of Christ.

      1. john says:

        YES! I could not agree more.

  38. Kristin says:

    The snarky, self-righteous tone of this letter is exactly what alienates kids and parents. It’s condescending pieces like this that we seem to hear from youth ministers. It smacks of arrogance and ignorance. My kids are at church all the time, so you would think I wouldn’t mind this letter. I do, though. Belittling and berating moms and dads who are usually trying to do their best hurts. It doesn’t help. Honestly, this letter just shows how immature some of the people who are entrusted with our kids can be.

  39. tommy holland says:

    My wife and I just finished our 40th year together in youth ministry. All we can say is “Amen, Amen, Amen”! What parents DO carries much more weight than what they simply SAY….

  40. Solomon says:

    I also cannot stand apathy or unwillingness to help children grow in their own faith and be on fire for God. However, some parents take the job of nurturing their children’s spiritual lives very seriously and while you may not see it in attending all events planned by youth ministers, can there be elements or efforts that you do not see? Does that youth minister see Bible studies every night in the home, prolonged discussions daily, morning, afternoon, and night about Christ and the Gospel, and finding ways to put the Word of God on their heart. Attendance in activities or trips is not an indicator of the heart of the child or the parent. I have seen many children dropped off with parents who are looking for a weekend or night away from their children, shrugging responsibility for their children. God has placed each mother and father in charge of teaching their children the Word and making sure they develop a deep love for his Word, a strong prayer life, and relationships that will also help in this mission. As I have said a number of times and I am not ashamed of it, the key is that the Bible places the bulk of the burden on parents to teach their children what it means to love Jesus. Maybe the frustration stems from poor expectations being taught by our universities subverting the intent of parents and that of a “youth” minister.

  41. Nina says:

    As a mother of four adult children who are all walking with Jesus, a wife of a former youth pastor, and a woman who discipled high school girls for almost 30 years, I read this letter with a bit of heartache. Before I was a mom and when my children were young, I was fairly judgmental of parents, as I felt that they were out of touch with their students and didn’t understand their spiritual journeys. I did learn how important it was to visit my student’s homes and get to know their families, and to go to as many of their school and sporting activities as I could. It enabled me to see the whole picture, not just what was presented on a Wednesday night or Sunday morning. As my own children went to school, we got very involved in not only their classrooms and PTSA’s, but my husband and I also got involved in their sports. He coached, I managed, we drove carpool, and chaperoned away games (yes, and missed church on Sunday mornings). Our kids grew up knowing that church was a priority and they were all involved in discipleship, but our priority was also the group of kids and their families that we “adopted” and shepherded outside of the church. These non-churched families became family to us. Year after year, we witnessed our kids’ friends come to know the Lord and soon many of their families followed. My husband became the pastor to each of those families, and even the ones who haven’t come to Jesus yet still call years later when there is a family emergency. Lessons I learned a long the way — don’t judge others when you haven’t hit that stage of life yet; All family systems are different and if I don’t learn about my student’s family, I can’t truly connect with them; My ministry was also to parents, so if I alienated them, they wouldn’t call me when I was needed; Youth leaders are always a blessing and necessity to a family, as parent’s emotional ties to their children can blur their thinking and I called my kid’s youth leaders all the time to walk thru different situations. We can’t be afraid of other people having a good influence in student’s lives — the “it takes a village” is true wisdom — so make sure many people are shepherding each child; I became fluid with the time my discipleship group met, so that my girls could meet each week regardless of what was eating up their time–I tried to be part of the solution instead of adding to their stress; It is hard work to live out your life in front of a big stage of an entire neighborhood or school — it keeps you in prayer, humble, and seeking Jesus. We won’t have time to see what others are doing wrong when we’re busy trying to love them well and point them to Jesus; I was motivated to be out there among the unchurched, as I was once a 15 year old girl who needed to be told about Jesus.

  42. Having been in youth ministry for 18 years, and now a parent of both a high schooler and middle schooler, there is a lot of ‘both-and’ in this letter.
    While the tone of the letter is many times right on, I also resonate with the parent wrestling with the 3 hrs of homework, soccer practice and 30 minute car rides to and from places as well.

    I guess the most obvious critique of this letter would simply be that any parent who is on ‘TGC’ is probably not the kind of parent that you’re writing this letter to.
    So in that sense it’s preaching to the choir.

  43. Tim says:

    The sad thing about all the comments that I’ve read so far is the “us vs. them” attitude that they hold. This anonymous letter was not talking about all parents, it was not saying that youth ministers are called to be the spiritual leader in the lives of the teens they minister to. It was talking to the parent who is more concerned about having a “good” kid, not so much a Godly kid. As a youth pastor, I have seen these parents come through our student ministry, and I have seen their kids leave the church. I’ve always said, you show me a parent that has a half-hearted commitment to God and I’ll show a student who will probably have even less of one. As a parent, my child’s spiritual growth needs to be the most important thing that I’m focusing on, everything else including school and extra curricular activities should be secondary. Mark 8:36 tells us, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” Now, I’m not saying playing sports will cause you to lose your child to lose their soul, but I am saying to make sure your priorities are in order, because your kids are following your lead, and as the old adage goes, more is caught than taught. Parents whose priorities are right, with God at the top, this letter isn’t written to you, even if you never come to a Wed. night service at my church.

    Just a side note, youth pastors are competitive a lot of times because they feel the pressure that butts in the seats mean they are doing their job. Also, not every youth pastor is looking to be a senior pastor or for the next big church to come along, just so you know.

    1. john says:

      Thanks Tim.

  44. Tony Pope says:

    As a youth pastor, I have voiced these same concerns within a local circle of fellow church staff (from other churches; so no competition there). But after reading through the comments, I get a better understanding from both sides of the conundrum.

    I agree the model of youth ministry that has been practiced for years has failed to develop disciples that sustain through life’s struggles. Much of what we created were young adults that were programmed toward events and “worship concerts”, rather than worship of the Creator. They become program oriented rather than discipleship oriented.

    So, the question that should be on the mind of every youth pastor should be, “How do I meet them where they are?” This seems to be the solution I’ve gathered from many of the posts on the letter; meet the students where they are and stop demanding they come to us.

    Someone mentioned FCA. That is a great organization and has a ton of potential. I am an FCA leader at the local high school along with another coach. There are also opportunities to coach in some areas at your local school. Being a football coach at the high school has opened many doors for ministry within the middle and high school level where I live. One such door is facilitating First Priority, where I get to disciple students not in my youth group each week. At the elementary school level, there are ways to become involved that not only reach out to kids, but also parents. All Pro Dad is one that meets once a month and gives advice to all of us dads on how to be better fathers and more involved.

    These are just a few open doors that have presented opportunities to reach students, and parents, where they are. Rather than fight against them , let’s join them. Let them know we are here for them and are willing to join them in this battle of raising children we call life. Because let’s face it, raising youth in this day and age is a struggle and parents need more support than opposition.

  45. Adam Columbo says:

    Rich kid problems. Don’t do drugs, play your sports, and wrap it up if your going to hit the sack and keep us out of trouble. Go to church, look the part. I am never surprised at the hypocrisy. I am not saying parents are the only reason kids act a certain way, as God knows kids have a mind of their own, but parents are certainly the ones who can dictate priorities in their lives in word and by example. Do you want to score touchdowns, be the most popular and wealthy, or sacrifice your personal glory for the sake of the Gospel?

    Oh, and before you say anything, I grew up in quite the affluent home and saw this attitude over and over again from secret abortions to fake outrage over the smallest splinters in folks’ eyes, and the hatred and condemnation it all came with. It’s what drove me away from God. Later, in my college days I came to see the true light, thanks to God and some faithful believers. I hope kids- whether in sports or not- see the true treasure that Christ is, and that unabashed, unashamed, and unbridled love for Him is freeing not a cage some people think it is.

    Lastly, no tolerance? What does that even mean? Hopefully you instill the values that are needed so the kids can make the right choice when face to face with it, but what happens if your child fails your “no tolerance” stance on alcohol, drugs or sex? 100 lashings? Banish them from your home? How about moving in with the loving kindness Christ Himself moved in toward you, without discounting the seriousness of sin, but enjoying the refreshing Grace of God, who changes us from the inside out- not outside in.

  46. A Young & Foolish Youth Guy says:

    Yes. I have like 20 parents in my mind right now that I want to send this letter to! I’m one month away from my 1 year mark at my first full-time ministry position and this is the singular most frustrating issue in my ministry. My catchphrase is that it doesn’t matter if you raise “Happy”, “Successful”, or “Well-Liked” kids- you need to raise Godly kids! But it seems like a child’s Godliness is the last thing on the parent’s agenda. Which isn’t really a mystery when I look at the spiritual lives of the Parents themselves, but it is definitely frustrating!

    1. Alma says:

      What a letter!
      I along with my pastors are planning a youth & parent conference in the near future.This has given me more insight on how to better plan. Not just for Christian parents and kids but those who are not.I will be praying for the youth,parents and youth leaders as well.Let this be a moment of awakening for everyone to bring about the changes that need to take place.We all have much to learn . ~Love & Blessings~

  47. Joe Botti says:

    I totally agree with this point. So many of the people commenting on this article fail to see the real issue. No wonder researchers are so worried about the state of the Evangelical church. They have good reason.

  48. Jon Cashner says:

    How about reaching the reachable and teaching the teachable but never losing sight of those who are not there. As a former youth pastor, I was concerned for the families of my young people and I would have quarterly parent meetings to discuss various topics concerning parenting and concerning the youth group. With this being said I believe that the youth pastor and the parent must work side by side to ensure that our young people are doing right but the youth pastor is not the parent. It might be a good idea to look at our church schedules and see if we are putting too much ungodly pressure on our people and not enough grace. This might solve a lot of the parent vs. youth pastor idea.

    1. Joe Botti says:

      I have to disagree. It’s not the church’s or youth group schedules that are too busy, it’s the Christian families who are too busy! They are saying yes to the world’s values and no to God’s.

  49. Hal says:

    What’s a parent? All we have are loose teenagers.

  50. Caleb W says:

    “That’s why I am so surprised that it seems like you are more concerned about your children embarrassing you than disobeying God.”

    This is nonsense. You think that parents who tell their children about contraception are more concerned about their reputations than disobeying God or, well, what is best for their children? What daydream world do you live in?

    You have a no-tolerance policy? As Adam Columbo said, what does that even mean? What are you going to do to a teen who makes a mistake? You need to take responsibility for your policies and your words and their implications, just as much as any teen needs to take responsibility for their actions.

    Evangelicals are worried about so-called “millennials” leaving the church. They can’t figure out what is going on. This letter is a clue.

  51. Jerry Smith says:

    Very good thoughts in this article that parents ought to heed. If the parents does not teach their children the right priority when they’re young, they will likely lose them to the world when they get older. Ones local church should be the priority so you can teach your children that God is more important than the world & worldly events. I’m an old Baptist pastor old enough to remember the day when the local public school would check with the churches in our area before making plans for the coming year, & they would plan around their events. Nowadays its changed because the parents don’t even give it a 2nd thought if something at school is going at the same time as an important church event, they will take their child to school. PS. All church events are important, for its all about God the Father & our Savior Jesus.

  52. Jon Cashner says:

    Joe I would have to agree with that as well. The schedule that parents put on their families is a lot. They put undo pressure on themselves, but I think churches cultivate this business by scheduling something every night of the week. There needs to be a balance of family and church. With that being said, I would have to agree that there is no fear of God anymore and this is why we are seeing the rise in sports activities on Wednesday’s and on Sunday’s. I don’t think that having letters to the parents is the answer nor would it be the reaction that these youth pastors want. Having parent meetings and letting them know what your vision is will I believe bring the desired response. the fact is you will have some parents make the wrong decision anyway. So as a senior pastor now I believe it is time as pastor’s, youth pastor’s, and church workers to get on our knees and see what God would do in these situations.

    1. Joe Botti says:

      This letter wasn’t intended to be sent to parents or suggested that we send a similar letter to parents. It was composed in this style to make a point. See the author’s disclosure at the bottom of the letter.

      “Trevin’s note: This is not a real letter, but a compilation of frustrations I’ve heard recently from those who work in student ministry. It is intended to prompt conversation on the responsibilities and roles of youth pastors, their relationship with parents, and the expectations we have of students. If you leave a comment, please make sure you are civil, thoughtful, and seeking to further the kind of gracious conversation this post is designed to create. Thank you!”

  53. Dave B says:

    As a family of 3 kids attending a small rural church that has al the school, sports and other activities of larger communities, over the 25 years of kids at youth group age we never had youth Pastor.

    You do not know how fortunate you are to have a trained, educated, dedicated youth Pastor to complain about, blame then turn to for help.

    Be happy in the riches you have.

  54. Jerry Smith says:

    So many keeps talking about balance. I take it that means you will evenly divide your time giving half of it to Jesus, the other half to the world. Yet when that is done most families give much more time to the world than to Jesus. Why not surrender giving all to Christ? Jesus is not talking about balance when He gave us Mark 8:34. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” If Christ is going to live though you, Galatians 2:20, your life will not be balanced, it will be ALL about Jesus every step of the way. Would it not be great if we continued daily with one accord, Acts 2:46, as the early church did instead of making excuses why we refuse to give Christ all?

  55. Nina says:

    Please listen to what most of you are saying — that if a student or their parents aren’t at YOUR event (whatever that event might be), they are choosing the world over Jesus. I have been in full-time ministry with my husband for over 35 years. Being AT the church doesn’t make ANYONE godly — even the pastors. After 30 years of youth ministry, I see no difference in how our former students are walking with the Lord as adults — the ones who were church rats and stayed in the “bubble” and the ones who wisely chose how to grow in their faith through deliberate discipleship and who also stayed involved in their “world” through school activities, sports, etc. When kids are in the “bubble” they often fall once they are adults out on their own. Walking alongside students while they exist outside the church walls will help them love the lost, serve the helpless and be a light. Isn’t that what Jesus did and what we’re called to do? The judgmental attitude reflected in most of these comments confuses me. Shepherding involves knowing your sheep, tending to them, sacrificing for them, and then letting them out to be sheep! If you do your job right, they’ll always come back into the gate, because they know you are their Shepherd.

    1. Joe Botti says:

      I feel you are making a caricature of the author’s point. We’re not talking about missing one meeting. We’re talking about Christian families who prioritize success in the world over commitment to the body of Christ and spiritual growth. It shows up when sports or extra-curriculars always trump youth group. No one is talking about being cloistered within the church walls. Christian kids today are forsaking vital Christian fellowship in order to succeed in worldly pursuits. Instead, they need vital committed Christian fellowship so they can be built up in Christ in order to go outside the church’s walls to reach their lost friends.

  56. Kyle says:

    So many people responding as if Trevin was writing what he really thinks should be a REAL LIFE letter, and not a deliberately strong worded hypothetical letter designed specifically to shake things up and start a dialogue about youth pastor/parents and how to instruct youth for Christ. I thought this would be a good spur for discussion (and clearly it is) but the irony of so many of the defensive responses makes it harder to get to the substance.

    If anyone ever reads this comment: the point of the piece is not that youth pastors should say this, or even that they want to say this and can’t, but to cause us to think about these issues and how that should affect our lives and our families.

    1. Lori says:

      Kyle – Well said!!! As someone who has been in children’s ministry for many years, I have seen a few trends for a long time. First, kid’s sports has changed a lot. Very competitive (with God as well), yet “don’t keep score, might hurt feelings”. Sundays especially were down days all around, most things were closed, therefore making church attendance more possible. Now nothing is sacred. My boys played football and games were always on Sundays, but we made a conscious decision as parents and ministry leaders that Sunday attendance was 1st, never a question whether we were going or not. We went and one of us would leave with kids after Sunday School and the other would stay to teach Jr. Church. Made coaches aware that we attended church on Wednesday evenings so more than likely our kids would not be there. They were fine with that. I encourage parents to have a conversation with the coaches. I encourage you to have your kids on teams where you can say up front we cannot attend Sunday morning,or Sunday evening, or Wednesday night practices/games…whatever your obligation is of all these things. Coaches are flexible most of the time and maybe you can get on a team that does not practice on these days. Most of all it taught our boys that God is most important then everything else. Second, if we do not find a way to get our kids involved in ministry themselves in church, they will leave anyway. I have seen that time and time again. Third, make youth group really all including. Clicks make my blood boil! If you are part of click, youth group is easy, if you are not and cannot crack the “code” it is really miserable for your kids. Why is it so hard for parents to see that our kids need to be POLITE to each other when they HAVE to be together, not best friends because quite frankly believe it our not we don’t like everyone we come into contact with and want them to be our friend. But God wants us to be polite. And when youth leaders are friends with the click kids parents it makes it impossible to speak to them about issues because they do not want to go up against their friends. Bottom line, Children’s Ministry/Youth Ministry need to partner with the parents and if the parents say they want their kids there and involved then sign them up for all kinds of outside extra curricular activities what are we suppose to do? This article nails the frustration we in ministry feel which is why I think they have tried over the years to change what they do to be more appealing to the kids. May be right, may be wrong but I think that is what has happened and we end up with watered down rock concerts and leaders being “friends” rather than leaders.

    2. Carissa says:

      Kyle, thank you SO MUCH for posting this – I couldn’t agree more! My heart aches reading all of these comments and seeing how much bitterness and finger-pointing is taking place. Hopefully though, SOMEONE will read this letter and be encouraged to take positive action and young lives will be more greatly impacted for His glory.

      1. Darcy says:

        I’m sorry, but wasn’t the point of this letter finger-pointing in the first place? Doesn’t this letter claim that parents are the reason kids’ lives can’t be enriched by youth group? The blame game started with the author of this letter, not the commentators.

  57. Megan says:

    Is this hypothetical youth pastor certain it’s the parents, rather than the child, who made sports his priority? Parents can push young children into sports, but by mid-adolescence, the kid usually isn’t going to put up with that for long.

    Most of us realize that youth pastoring is a rung in the career ladder, the first step toward becoming a head pastor. It’s safe to assume, then, that not every youth pastor feels any particular calling to minister to youth. The problem is, teenagers have a keen ability to recognize such ambivalence. Given the choice between a sports coach who’s enthusiastic about and has devoted his life to youth athletics, and a youth pastor who’s just biding his time, the kid is (rightly) going to choose the adult mentor who demonstrates the most sincere interest in him.

    By contrast, the tone of this letter suggests to me someone who dislikes his job, dislikes working with kids, and has projected his frustration onto the easiest target: the parents. Maybe he should look in the mirror, and consider whether this is truly his calling.

    1. Carissa says:

      Oh, Megan, your comment truly breaks my heart. Are there some youth pastors who are just “biding their time” – absolutely. But there are are also TONS who are passionate about ministering to youths and their families… who don’t view ministry as a career ladder to be climbed. And even head pastors should be ministering to youth since the youth are still part of the flock. And I can say from personal experience that knowing your time in a specific ministry is limited does not necessarily mean you are any less passionate or devoted to those under your leadership. If this has been your experience in the local body, my heart aches for you. And, sadly, I know you are not alone. But please don’t throw all youth ministers under the bus for the actions and behaviors of some. Someone said it already, and I agree, it seems the point of this hypothetical letter was to begin a HEALTHY conversation between youth ministers and parents. Unfortunately, most of what I’ve seen has been a lot of walls going up and finger-pointing. It’s really made me stop and think a lot.

    2. Kristin says:


      As a mom I can say from experience that my children are drawn to the adults who are truly encouraging to and passionate about them. If that’s a coach, so be it. We’re thankful for that. Kids definitely know if someone is truly interested in them.

  58. Andy says:

    Well how I can I ever give my kids a love for football and learn what it means to be a real man if the youth pastor is frowning on them playing it? It does take time you know. (sarcasm)

    1. Jerry Smith says:

      A real man, what is a real man? Jesus was a real man & he did not play football, His apostles were real men & neither did they play football, for there is something much more important than football. That’s denying self, bearing ones cross, them truly following Jesus. You cannot do that while following the world. Remember, the coach is only interested in winning, furthering his career towards larger paychecks, the youth pastor is interested in your child’s walk with God. Why not overcome the world, if you have Christ your to be an overcomer letting Christ live though you, Ga 2:20.

  59. Darcy says:

    This conversation shouldn’t be hosted on the internet where all of us can hide behind our keyboards. If youth pastors want to make a difference in this ‘issue’ they shouldn’t post this on their facebook page or all rally together behind the banner of blog post of complaints. If this blog is ‘shared’ through social media it can only alienate the parents being targeted. If this is a real issue in the churches of all the people reposting this then the leaders and parents need to come together and have a real and loving meeting about their teens in person. I know that in my 6 years of youth group, never once was their a meeting with the parents unless to go over what to bring on a mission trip (I’m in college now) It shouldn’t be an us or them mentality because in reality both parties involved in this debate want what’s best for their teens. What I’m trying to say is sharing this will only get a response from those who agree with you. Those who disagree will say nothing at all and most probably block you from their newsfeed on the web and off-line not trust or speak to you about their teens.

  60. Pati Heller says:

    Anonymous Letter to a Youth Minister
    Dear _____________,
    I was so excited when you came to our church. I was looking forward to someone helping me in discipling my child in Christ. I wish kids would always listen to their parents, but they don’t. Sometimes they need someone else to talk to. I was hoping that you being closer to his age would engage with him in a way that I don’t seem to be able to.

    But you showing up for Sunday School 15 minutes late every Sunday because you are talking with the adults in the foyer, does not show an excitement to be with the kids. When I ask my son what you are teaching in class and he says we only get about 15 minutes after prayer, chit chat, and getting off subject, I wondered if you spent any time during the week preparing for the class. When you told me that you were ok with the kids going with their friends to other youth groups, I wondered why you didn’t want our church kids bringing their friends to our youth group. When many of the youth group nights need 10-15 dollars so they can go somewhere to be entertained, I wondered if you think it is easier to pay for services than to plan a night with the kids. In the years that you have known my son, you have never spent time with him. Just an email during the week or a text might prove high rewards.

    I’ve tried to talk to you, but you became defensive and I backed off. I know you are still young, but you wanted to be a youth ministers and I thought that meant you had a heart for youth. I do not want my son to be lost in the statistics that say that 75% of kids who went to SS don’t go to church after they leave home. Right now your children still see you as the dad who can do anything. But when they get older and look at you like you don’t “have a clue”, you will begin to understand the role the church plays in everyone’s spiritual life and how much you pray for Godly leaders.

    We try hard to come to SS and youth group. But sometimes my son simply doesn’t want to be there. All his friends are at a different church’s events. And sometimes 10-15 dollars is just too much every week, so we have to pick and choose. I want to work together, but that means we’ll need to be seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, not our kingdoms or self-righteousness.

    Please know that I’m still committed to your ministry. I pray to see you committed to them.

    A Parent

  61. Drew Henderson says:

    Interesting thoughts – and I’m obviously late in the game to comment. As an older, 20 year veteran of youth ministry and a parent of a 13, 11, and 7 year old who all play sports, this post struck a nerve. Interesting that we always gravitate to extremes on these issues. Comments such as “Youth Ministry is Failing” and “All competitive youth sports are bad” tend to dominate. Truth is, some youth ministries are failing. And some youth sports are really bad. And likewise, some are not. As a younger youth pastor, I had passionate convictions regarding competitive youth sports. And I believe I was definitely right in my conviction in some sense. However, as I have gotten older and have teenagers of my own who play competitive sports, I have realized that this issue of youth sports is more complex and less black and white than I once imagined. At the very least, navigating the world of youth sports requires much godly wisdom, discernment, and the support of biblical community. Perhaps that is the issue? Instead of doing the hard work of making wise choices as we lead our children to love the Lord, we want easy, quick answers. Such is never the case with life in general. The issue of youth sports is one small slice of life where parents need wisdom from God as they help disciple their children to make wise choices. I have been thinking about this for about 3 years now, and I want to write an article!

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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