By Erick Thompson
Years ago, as a college student applying to veterinary school and then as a practicing veterinarian, the goals and expectations set forth were clear: anything less than high performance was not an option. Later as an executive for multinational organizations, I learned and taught knowledge transfer methods and processes as high performance meant survival in an increasingly globally competitive marketplace.
If success in worldly endeavors requires rigor and work, should we not also expect the bar to be set high when it comes to teaching youth about our Christian convictions?
In examining the goals and expectations of church youth ministries today, I am concerned about shortfalls I see in the attitudes of many parents and leaders in the church. Over the past 10 years, I have discovered a “We Can’t Expect Much” (WCEM) philosophy emerging in youth ministries. This mindset likely stems, at least in part, from the fact that most of us parents and our teenagers have overscheduled lifestyles. Along with that tendency, I have heard and/or observed that parents and church youth leaders alike can’t expect much when it comes to:
- Youth doing any homework in preparation for church classes,
- Youth sitting still long enough to listen to biblical teachings,
- Youth studying the Bible throughout the week,
- Youth memorizing Scripture,
- Youth learning evidence for why they believe the Bible is true,
- Youth engaging people of other religions about their faith,
- Training time to help our kids with the toughest questions about Christianity,
- Prioritizing teaching time with our youth in church because game time is more popular,
- Parents’ own support of the church teaching plan for their children at home,
- Adults in the congregation being trained to help support youth ministry.
No WCEM in the Real World
When I applied for veterinary school years ago, less than 10% of over 800 applicants were granted a seat in the class. I can assure you that anyone holding a WCEM philosophy would not have been accepted into the professional program.
Later upon entering veterinary practice, I don’t recall the WCEM philosophy anywhere to be found. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Our clients expected a high degree of professionalism, knowledge, and positive results from their veterinarian. After all, they had other veterinarians to choose from so the expectations were high, and they stayed that way.
More recently, I have had the opportunity and privilege to facilitate discussions between top leaders of large multinational organizations as they share their challenges concerning the survival of their businesses at an international level. You will not find a WCEM philosophy anywhere within their management ranks. Performance expectations in each of those organizations is constantly rising.
For example, one organization is a special forces unit of the military. Part of their preparation includes an intensive and ongoing training program. They are in a war to do one thing: win! And believe me, their philosophy is as opposite of “we can’t expect much” as one can get.
Let’s Expect More
Therefore, I have to ask, is the war for the souls of our children any less important?
Most parents would agree that equipping our youth to live for Christ is a high priority. Yet, while we set the bar high for them in school, sports, and maybe even their jobs, do we do so when it comes to spiritual concerns? Is the WCEM philosophy acceptable for their spiritual development when we know it has eternal consequences?
Keeping Eternity in Mind
Everyone’s work day is filled with meetings. We meet to understand challenges, to collaborate, to make decisions, and to solve problems. But each one of us, Christian or not, and whether we think about it or not, has the most important meeting of all coming up. Sometime between today and decades from now, there is a one-on-one session scheduled on our unwritten calendars when we will meet Christ face-to-face.
We don’t know the date and time, but all of us as parents and leaders will bear responsibility for our children’s spiritual state. Will we be asked if it was OK to keep the bar low because we couldn’t expect much? I hope not. Instead, I hope we all hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).
As a volunteer church leader, it is not my job to set life goals and priorities for parents and their children. But it is my responsibility, and I believe that of our church, to set the bar and expectations to a level that will equip our kids with what they need to live for Christ in a post-Christian culture. Then, it is up to leaders, parents, and ultimately the kids themselves to decide if they are up to the challenge.
Please understand that I am not promoting a legalistic view. The apostle Paul explained in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For it is by grace you have been saved . . . not by works, so that no one can boast.” And I understand the threat legalism poses to undermining the amazing gift of grace given to us and the action Christ accomplished in our stead.
I would love to see that church leaders, staff, and volunteers demonstrate a passion for developing a faith that is simply contagious in our young people. Anything less does not honor the sacrifice, love, and amazing grace our Savior offered each one of us when he completed his redemptive work for us on the cross.