How Authority Stunts the Spiritual Growth of Young People
You’ve probably heard it. If you’re a parent or an authority figure to young people, you’ve probably said it. “It’s a phase.” “He will probably grow out of it.” “All teenagers are rebellious.” “Well, you know, she’s just at that age when teens act like this!”
Let me get right to the point. One of the greatest, most hurtful mistakes that parents and authority figures make in the lives of young people is to tell them that wrong behavior or attitudes are “normal.” For some reason, we have lowered our standards. We have been worn down by a culture adrift from biblical principle. We have become desensitized to bad behavior, and we’ve been taught to be far more tolerant of sinful behavior than God would have us to be.
We have bought the cultural lie that every young person goes through phases of rebellion, phases of sinfulness, phases of bad attitudes, and phases of withdrawal. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Not every young person goes through these phases, and the first step to winning these battles is to stop accepting them as “normal!” After all, this “tolerance” was Eli’s sin with his own sons. “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” (1 Sam. 3:13)
Admittedly, sin struggles are common, but they are not normal. It’s common in 2006 for young people to be divided relationally from their parents, but it’s not normal. It’s common for young people to be deeply rooted into wrong music, harmful friendships, and godless behavior; but it’s not normal. It’s common for young people to spend most of their time alone in their bedrooms, but it’s not normal.
We have lowered the bar of spiritual growth! Shame on us. We have stopped compelling young people forward spiritually and we’ve have started rationalizing sin by calling it a phase or a normal season of life. Parent, youth worker—stop and think about this for a moment. Sin is never normal. Wrong is never right. Bad attitudes, rebellion, withdrawal, and sulking is never an acceptable “phase” of life!
Every young person struggles spiritually, just as every adult does. Every young person will have moments of rebellion, moments of anger, moments of disrespect. Yet, these moments should be just that—moments, not seasons! Not phases. Not prolonged, accepted periods of spiritual decline. And in those moments, we as authorities should intervene and deal biblically, compassionately, and firmly with the sin. We should help our young people grow up, rather than merely reasoning away their sinful behavior as a “phase.”
Why do we relegate wrong behavior as a phase? First, we’re lazy. Let’s face it, it’s easier to leave them to themselves than it is to intervene. It takes time, instruction, and spiritual energy to bring about life change, and after all, we’re tired and too busy already! Second, because we’re ill equipped. We just don’t know what to do or what to say! Our lack of biblical principles and wise instruction keeps us from intervening in young lives. Thirdly, we have relegated our authority to someone else. We reason that “this is why we have the church, the school, and the youth group.” Parent, if you don’t intervene, there is little that these others can do. It is nearly impossible to lead where the family isn’t first leading. Fourthly, we listen more to culture than to the Word of God. The Bible never gives allowance for sinful behavior because of age. God never says, “all teenagers will go through phases of rebellion… they will grow out of it.” Fifthly, and perhaps most dangerously, we are too entrenched in our own sin. If we rebuke our children, we would have to change our own behavior. So, we sacrifice them on the altar of our own pleasures.
We have done a great disservice to our youth. We have accepted their unwise behavior as “youthfulness” and we have called it “normal.” In so doing, we have robbed them of potential! We have condemned them to juvenility! We have called sin “normal” and lowered the bar of spiritual growth. While it may save us some time and energy, it is costing them far more. They are entering their adult lives spiritually immature and ill-equipped!
The unheard and unseen cry of today’s youth culture is simply this, “Give me hope! Give me instruction! Give me a future! Stop telling me I’m normal, and start helping me to become someone in God’s purpose!” You see, even the young people know their behavior isn’t normal. They expect us to intervene, and when we don’t we simply say, “I don’t love you and I don’t care.”
Are you stunting the spiritual growth of those you lead? Are you accepting wrong behavior as a “normal phase”? If so, step back into your mentoring role. Shoulder the influence that God has given you, and help your young adult rise to a higher level of maturity in God’s grace. They truly will love you for it!
Written by Cary Schmidt
Originally Printed in the August 2006 Baptist Voice
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