These Seeds Must be Defective

August 10, 2009

“Sure, maybe you can’t see the fruits of your labor, but you’re planting seeds.”

I never believed that when people said it to me. I always thought people use the parable of the seeds to make themselves feel better when they feel a little like failures. You essentially say, “I know I’m doing God’s work, it’s just that the ‘dirt’ is so lousy, these gospel seeds won’t grow!”

I was a youth pastor for a few years, and for some reason, a lot of kids would invite their “unchurched” friends. And, for some reason, the unchurched kids actually came to youth group! It was pretty cool. But it was also tough to know if I was making a difference at all with the kids.

I learned a few things being the pastor to unchurched kids.

It’s really hard to get their parents to show up.
I had this big dream that I’d help the church grow by growing the youth group. I believe it can be done, but it’s very, very hard. Imagine the perspective of a non-church going parent.

1. Billy’s friend invites him to his house. “Fine, go, get out of my house. Pick up a six-pack on your way home, Billy.”

2. Billy’s friend invites him to youth group and his parents offer to drive them. “Great! Maybe that church can teach him some morals. Pick up a six-pack on your way home, Wesley.”

3. Billy starts really getting into youth group, and his friend keeps taking him. “Sweet! Two hours of scheduled alone time each week!”

4. Billy wants to start going to church on Sunday. “…Is your friend taking you?”

I was joking at first about the ‘six-pack’ line, then had a flashback and remembered that it really wasn’t too far from the truth in some cases. But even in great families (which most were), it’s one thing for a parent to support a kid in a hobby. It’s another for a parent to be interested in the hobby himself. And for the parent to give up two hours a week to entertain the child’s hobby? Forget it. Because that’s how many of them see church: a hobby.

I was amazed at how many parents let their kids come to my youth group, letting other parents take them, and never bothering to meet me, or even know where the church was. They actually trusted me more than some of the church parents! That’s where my dreams met reality.

When the group became more non-church-going kids than members’ kids, and I feared many of them were only there for the girls, I had an idea. I told the kids that the one requirement of youth group was to go to church – somewhere…once a month. It seemed like a reasonable step for those who were serious about Jesus. Only one kid was mad at me. Others looked hopeful…but didn’t return once their parents found out. I found out where a lot of hearts were at. I’m not sure if that was a mistake, but I grew pretty lax about the rule when new kids showed up after that episode.

Your time with the kids is limited.
Another tough pill to swallow, but it was a consistent experience of mine. Then again, maybe I’m just a failure. Each kid, if their parents aren’t bringing them to church, will eventually drop youth group from their schedule. You may have some for several months or a year or more. You may see their parents happily drop them off each week into your care, if you’re lucky. But one day, without the active interest of their parents sustaining them, they will move on. It is impossible for any teacher or pastor to fight the tide of what’s going on at home.

I think it’s because after some time, even the kids whose parents politely take them to youth group, silently wonder why their own parents are too good for God. If Mom and Dad don’t see the wisdom in going to church, maybe it’s not really worthwhile. Kids are prone to quitting anything and everything without parental support, and youth group is no different.

I should know – I was the King of Quitters, and fought my parents to quit everything I could. I’m sure glad they won a few arguments.

What to do? I just went to youth group each week as if it was the last time I would ever see the kids, and talked to them about Jesus as hard as I could. Then we’d have a lot of fun and play ‘capture the flag’ with wet mops.

Yes, you are planting seeds.
You may not want to believe that, having realized that you just waved good-bye to another teenager for the last time. But it’s true. You may not be able to fight the tide of what happens in a teenager’s home…except for in the innermost parts of their hearts. They may not understand your words until they rediscover them, tucked away in their minds years later.

I just got the first payoff of this sort ever. I was contacted via Facebook by one of my long-lost teenagers, ready to go to college. I think it took a lot for her to break the ice and start a conversation. It sure made my day. Maybe there is hope for the future! And maybe I’m not such a failure.

Anyone got any stories of seeing your little seedlings growing where you didn’t expect?

Don’t miss the announcement post below. Just a treat for everyone who wants it.