Having been involved in more than half a dozen different youth ministries in three regions of the country, I was interested to see what Jeramy and Jerusha Clark had to say about youth ministry in their book After You Drop Them Off. After decades of being a teen, becoming a volunteer in youth ministries and now as the parent of a teen, I have noticed a change over the years in teens and their parents.
While some things have remained constant, I believe we will see a major paradigm shift in youth ministry over the coming decade. With parents working long hours, at least one non-present parent becoming more common and some parents who are tired of parenting releasing young teens to their own devices, teens are beginning to parent themselves more than ever.
Jeramy Clark mentions several times that even as they were writing this book, they were beginning to see youth ministry shift from just ministering to teens to a focus on ministering to the entire family. I personally believe as more teens crave a loving, godly involved parent(s) in their lives, youth ministers will no longer be young peer-like recent college graduates, but more older couples who take on the role of additional parental support. Clark doesn’t mention this shift per se, but he does use the parents of his teens in a wide variety of roles, even calling them staff.
Clark begins the book as if talking to unchurched parents who have never observed a youth ministry before. If you are short on time and have been in church most of your life, the first two chapters can easily be skimmed in favor of the meatier later chapters. Although in some ways those first chapters are a basic primer, Clark makes the interesting choice of assuming most youth ministries are structured like the ones he is familiar with in his circle only on possibly a smaller scale. Having visited scores of congregations all around the country, I personally have never observed a youth ministry where the teens are not in worship with the adults, are evidently not served communion on Sundays, but are on some Wednesdays or where the baptism of the teen is not a major priority. (Although his descriptions are a little fuzzy, this was my interpretation of his youth group Sundays.)
My advice is to not get stuck on the structure of his particular youth ministry (except for the small groups, which I have seen work very well) and focus on his tips for parents. As the book progresses, he gives excellent advice on ways to become involved in your teen’s youth group, how to handle disagreements with the youth minister and more. He also has some awesome ideas for improving how we launch our high school teens into adulthood to improve our chances of them attending church in college or wherever they land.
Clark’s tips make the book one definitely worth reading. I wish he had placed parent questions at the beginning of each chapter instead of parental endorsements of what he has just said at the end of the chapter. It would have been very interesting to have a parent write the book with him, telling the problems they have experienced from their point of view, while Clark and his wife gave the youth minister side of the story.
The parental endorsements, combined with his slightly uneven storytelling and a habit of suggesting parents may want to find another church if they are unhappy, left me feeling a little squirmy. As strong Christian parents (primarily the ones it appears he expects to move on), I believe parents need to be more involved in facilitating change where they are currently attending whenever possible. If parents have honest, valid concerns about the effectiveness of the youth ministry in reaching the “fringe” and lost teens in their church, I believe God would want them to expend as much energy as possible (without risking their own child’s soul) in bringing about the changes that could help save those teens the ineffective youth ministry is in danger of losing.
Make sure though, you incorporate his ideas about transitioning your teen to a new congregation when they head off to college into your family plan. Although he suggests using a parachurch organization to do it for you, the internet and free long distance calls make this something any parent can do on their own. Frankly, I would love for him to have expanded this section into an entire book, as his ideas were something I haven’t seen anywhere else. I think it would be awesome if churches provided a “Life After Youth Group” series for their high school juniors and seniors that incorporates a lot of his suggestions, but also throws in lessons on finances, nutrition, caring for your body and soul on your own, etc.
If you are a new Christian parent of teens or a more seasoned parent who is having some concerns about your teen and/or the youth ministry in your church, I think you will find this book helpful. If the presentation bothers you, focus on the tips. They provide lots of solid, godly advice and a few are quite innovative. Let me know what other questions or concerns you have about teens and youth ministry. You can e-mail me privately if you wish your questions to remain anonymous. I will try to find answers for you and either answer you personally or provide tips and suggestions in future posts (as always I will disguise your information to protect your privacy.)
As our family now has a junior in high school, the teen years and launching our child has taken on a new significance for us. I would love to hear how some of you have successfully launched your teens into adulthood. As parents who are trying to dedicate our children to God, my guess is our jobs are never really finished. I hope you will continue with me on our journey and share your wisdom and experiences with the rest of our community here at Parenting Like Hannah.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I am painfully honest though, and would tell you if I didn’t like it. Although not my absolute favorite, I am keeping it on my reference shelf of parenting books in my library because of the wonderful tips the author shares.