Should Homeschoolers Participate in Church Youth Group?
Recently, I listened to a conversation happening among millennials sitting next to me at church. I wasn’t snooping as they eventually asked me a few questions to involve me in their discussion. But their observations and conclusions struck me. They knew my children and they knew a few other homeschooled youth as well. Some of them had even spent a few years of their own childhoods homeschooling. But then I heard comments like, “not sounding like my mom all the time” and “all homeschoolers are socially awkward.” They seemed to feel that attending public school (after being homeschooled) benefited them. I wasn’t sure what they meant by these comments. I didn’t know what had started their conversation. But, they have been involved in the youth ministry. I wondered if these statements were a reflection of deeper beliefs. If so, how would they impact homeschoolers who participate in church youth group?
Socially awkward is a good thing
The homeschooled students I know, including my own children, don’t have trouble carrying on a conversation with most people. They are generally well-spoken and interesting. They have a broad knowledge base and many homeschoolers value cultural literacy, such as reading classic Western literature. What our students often lack is pop culture literacy.
Public-schooled peers find them weird because many homeschoolers aren’t literate in the latest video games, television programs, phone apps, books, and other media. Perhaps that is what the millennials meant when they said “all homeschoolers are socially awkward.” But, the whole point of homeschooling is to do things differently in the first place. Being socially awkward isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I will not put my child in public school so that he can be up on all the latest trends among youth and understand teen culture. But, this lack does make participating in church youth group challenging at times.
Homeschooled meets public schooled
What happens when our “socially awkward” teens participate in church youth group? First, they are nothing like public-schooled teens, as I’m sure you know. The life experience of a homeschooled teen is radically different than other youth and that is on purpose. As a result, he is likely more mature and more Biblically grounded. He also tends to ask deeper questions and may be judgmental and condescending toward his peers (which doesn’t help him make friends). They tend to stick out like a sore thumb in a church youth group filled with public school students. Very quickly, the other students figure it out. Then, we have to ask ourselves, “Should homeschoolers participate in church youth group?”
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The biggest problem is usually the kids
When my oldest daughter reached adolescence, she did not want to participate in church youth group. Volunteering to serve at Vacation Bible School showed her the character of the church youth. The teens gathered in stairwells and bathrooms instead of helping. (Read more of my thoughts on VBS HERE). One girl actively taunted my daughter, both at the VBS and even on Sundays during the youth Bible study time. This girl also attracted a large group of other girls who all rejected my daughter. Up until that time, she encountered very little bullying. Imagine that! Bullying at church! When these girls left the church and we got a new youth pastor, she decided to try church youth group after all. She loved her leader and the youth pastor but complained that small group time was often spent listening to the other girls gossip.
My oldest son almost walked away from the church because he, too, was bullied by kids in the church youth group. They singled him out and taunted him because he was homeschooled. One time that this happened to him, he was serving on a mission trip. A mission trip! An adult did step in that time and stopped the bullying. The most offensive part, though, was that these kids professed to be walking with Christ. I heard them tell a committee how they wanted to serve God and grow in their faith. This hypocrisy nearly drove my son away from God. Now, he loves Jesus but sees most of his peers at church youth group as fakes.
My younger daughter enjoys the teaching of our gifted youth pastor and says her small group leader is nice. However, most of the girls don’t talk to her and instead formed a clique around one charismatic girl. My daughter is quiet and thoughtful. She teaches 5 Day Clubs for Child Evangelism Fellowship and regularly serves for VBS. She expressed that she would rather go to her friends’ church youth group where there are several homeschooled girls that she knows. In fact, our old homeschool support group started at that church. But, I am reluctant to let her go because I don’t know what they teach at the other church and I don’t know the current pastor there. Our youth pastor centers his teaching solidly on the Bible and actively invites parents to be involved.
Bullying can occur in other places where parents and youth gather, such as in homeschool support groups, believe it or not. It is usually subtler, though. Check out my post on that HERE.
Other problems with homeschoolers participating in church youth group
Most of the problems we have encountered with our church youth group involved only the students. But, there are other things to consider.
Spiritual maturity of the leaders.
The youth pastor may be a mature, Godly leader well grounded in biblical teaching. But, are the small group leaders spiritually mature? Many youth programs beg the congregation to help and will accept almost anyone. But that means that immature believers may be leading impressionable teens. What are their attitudes about dating, gossip, media, and other teen issues? Do they understand the differing needs of homeschooled teens? Do they have an open-door policy with you, the parent?
Spiritual maturity of the students.
I talked a bit about the social environment of many church youth groups, but not their spiritual state. Most of the teens that attend church youth group are the children of the congregation, kids who have attended Sunday School. Yet, they do not seem to have a good grasp of basic theology. Most of them are unsaved and are hostile to the pastor’s teaching. The teens in my own church have been heard saying, “Are we done now?” (In fact, many students abandon their faith before high school. Check it out here. )On the other hand, many homeschooled teens are very familiar with the Bible, understand it as history and not a book of stories, and are hungry for deeper truth. They do not need milk anymore, they are ready for solid food. (Hebrews 5:11-14).
False teachers and friends.
Some homeschooled students have been led astray by teens they met in church youth group. It is the most dangerous deception to believe that just because teens are at church that they are believers and therefore acceptable friends. False teachers don’t just infiltrate the adult ministry, they also infiltrate the youth ministry. Be careful of this. My older daughter would often argue with me because another family who professed to be Christians did things that we didn’t allow. The Bible is the standard, not other Christians. Many teens go to church youth group because their parents make them, not because they really love Jesus.
The pastor is more concerned with being popular with teens than teaching the Bible.
A friend of my older daughter invited her to her church youth group. I insisted on going before I would allow her to attend. When I got there, I could tell something was wrong. The pastor seemed nervous and evasive. He didn’t really answer my questions. I didn’t let my daughter go to that church youth group and later heard from another parent that he wasn’t teaching from the Bible. His reason? The kids don’t want to hear about Jesus. Well, what are they teaching then?
Some positive reasons for homeschoolers to participate in church youth group
Not all church youth groups are cliquish or bully homeschoolers.
Some young people accept differences more readily and where each goes to school poses less of an issue. They may even admire your teen. Also, in some areas, homeschooling families live far from each other and they congregate at church youth group. Attending may be the only way that she finds other homeschooled teens her age. Conversely, the local homeschool support group may have only a few teens your child’s age and church youth group may be the only venue where he can meet other Christian young men. Church youth group can be an important place for developing friendship and fellowship with others.
If you feel confident that the leaders and the youth pastor are spiritually mature, teaching from the Bible, and unapologetic about their stance, they may be solid mentors. Even though you teach your teens and develop a close relationship with them, your teens may benefit from the perspective of other trusted adults. Sometimes they fear our disapproval and disappointment so much that they hold things inside. They don’t always listen to us, either. They need to hear from other adults, too.
If they know another mature Christian won’t judge them and he offers Biblical counsel, they can unload their charged feelings and burdens without judgement. Holding everything inside will affect their health and relationships, so we can’t expect them to “just deal with it.” And, we certainly don’t want them to only trust the opinions of their friends!
Before we embrace this idea, we need to carefully consider how much we depend on this mentoring. We, and our teens, can go overboard with this.