Changed By Beholding: What Youth Pastors Would Like To Tell Parents

Recently a student, timid and with a broken voice, told me that he didn’t believe God could ever use him because he “wasn’t good enough.” Other students tell me that they believe God will always be distant because they have had “too many lustful thoughts.” Other kids make a point to “prove” their fidelity to Jesus by recounting how often they listen to Christian music, the frequency with which they throw away their video games, and how quickly they turn off the radio when a curse word shows up. In tears, students have told me they can’t believe God could love someone “like them.”

And then, in the same conversation, their tears turn to anger as they tell me the can’t believe how God could be so far away when they have done so much to curry his favor. Now in my fourth year as a youth pastor, I see patterns emerging in the students. Most are consistently disappointed in themselves. Most fear God’s disapproval, and most are angry at God’s perceived absence in light of their obedience and/or suffering.

I don’t believe we can point fingers at parents for this. This article is written to parents, so that might be the assumption. But this post is less about finger pointing and more about realizing that there is “something in the water.” I think our students need to hear that their worth as Christians is not tied to the quality of their performance, as it seems to be in their academic lives.

Again and again I see that in the same way students are burdened by their SATs, disappointed in their grades, and skeptical of their future success, they are burdened by their faith, disappointed in themselves, and skeptical that God loves them. Maybe your kids never tell you that or don’t use those particular words, but it’s what I hear most when counseling.

In response, I want more parents to be aware of the assumptions your students are taking into their faith. I want parents to hear how important it is to say: “Yes. In the world, you can try and you might see glory. But in the Christian life, you get to see glory before you ever have to try.”

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another(2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

How wonderfully simple! When we see Jesus, we are changed. We see perfection, and then we are transformed. Notice how unlike college applications, sports rosters, and GPAs this is. We are not transformed from one degree of glory to the next by trying harder, buckling down, or hiring tutors. Christian kids are not transformed by their parents instilling a good work ethic. Christian kids are transformed from one degree of glory to the next by beholding the glory of the Lord. And 2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that God’s glory shines most brightly in the face of Jesus Christ.

Every parent and youth pastor wants to see students say “No!” to temptation and to persevere in suffering. But this doesn’t happen the same way we get better grades or make the starting line-up. Spiritual maturity doesn’t happen by saying “You’ll do better next time,” or “At least you tried your best,” or “There will be another chance,” or “Don’t worry, you are awesome the way you are.”

Sanctification, whether for teenager or adult, happens when one sees Jesus as bigger, better, and more glorious than he could ever be. We are sanctified when they hear the gospel – and the gospel alone.

This raises a lot of questions that I don’t have answers to, such as: “Well, exactly how do we do that?” or “If we tell our teenagers Jesus covers their failures too much, won’t they be even lazier than before?” or “Does that mean we never punish, and only give grace?” I can’t answer those questions. This is just me pointing out the solution and power the Bible offers to sin-sick, hormone-ravaged, legalism-defaulting teenagers.

It’s the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus. The solution is not in our parenting. The power does not lie in our rules. The antidote is not found by trying harder. It is found by our students seeing that God is better than every other pleasure, and that Jesus died to give Him to us.

Seth Stewart is a husband and a dad, and after a decade in student ministry is now working as the Editor-in-Chief at Spoken Gospel. Spoken Gospel creates online resources that point to Jesus from every passage of Scripture. Seth spends his day writing, speaking, and being his family's chef.

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