Church and parenting teenagers (Part 1): Choosing a congregation

April 21, 2017

As a youth pastor, I meet a lot of families who are concerned about finding the right church, especially for the good of their teenagers. This is a big decision, and the number of churches to choose from, particularly if you live in the south, can be paralyzing. So, how are families supposed to decide where to go?

The first question I would consider if you’re already at a church is: What’s wrong with where you are now? There are certainly good reasons to leave a church, but, too often, our children learn some bad reasons for leaving a church from us. Before moving on, you might want to ask yourself questions like: Have I tried my best to engage with the people in this church? If I have legitimate, biblical concerns about this church, have I voiced them to the leadership? Have I confessed and repented of sins that I’ve committed against others at this church? If I feel that someone has sinned against me, have I gone to that person as a brother or sister in Christ and talked with them about it?

It could be that the best thing for your family to do is to stay right where you are. But, if you’ve answered all of these questions and still feel it’s time to leave, or if you’re not currently involved in a good church, how should you decide where to go? Although I’m a youth pastor, I wouldn’t recommend a big youth ministry as the first factor in deciding. Instead, the following are some of the most important elements to consider when finding a place to worship:

1. Commitment to God’s word

Does the church have a commitment to the word of God? Does it hold to the Bible as inspired and infallible? You can usually see this on the statement of faith or website before you arrive.

Your child will be directly affected by your church’s view of God’s word.

Secondly, is the Bible central to this church? It’s one thing to say you believe in the Bible; it’s another thing to act like you believe that. Is the Bible read in the church service? Does the pastor, when he preaches, let the Bible be the truth-giver in his sermons? Does the text of scripture give the points, or is scripture just pulled out of context to serve whatever the pastor wants to talk about that day? To be clear, this doesn’t mean only going verse-by-verse through a book. You can be faithful to scripture without preaching through a whole book, but the Bible has to be where the truth is coming from.

Your child will be directly affected by your church’s view of God’s word. Their understanding of the importance of the Bible will be heavily influenced by the church they attend. The church can have hundreds of teenagers, and great activities, but if the church is not built around the truth of God’s word, you’re wasting your time. Every other aspect of church life will be impacted by how a congregation treats the Bible.  

2. Commitment to worship

The church gathers each week for the worship of God. How do we worship God? We listen to his word, pray and sing praises. (Col. 3:16) So, does the church you’re considering pray? How much time do they spend in prayer? What are they praying about? Is the congregation invited to be involved in times of prayer, or are the prayers simply a transition time for the band to get off the stage?

Another element of worship is singing, not just music. Do the people in this church sing? Or is it just a band performance you get to enjoy before the sermon? Do they sing meaningful songs that communicate the truth of God’s word? The involvement of the congregation in singing and prayer is important, and it teaches us (and our teenagers) about what it means to be a part of the church, what are lives and souls are to be directed toward and, ultimately, the One the church is about.

3. Commitment to community

In the early church, community was a vital aspect of church life (Acts 2:42-47). They were intimately involved in one another’s lives. They didn’t file in and out like we do when we go to a movie or amusement park. They knew and were invested in each other. They shared their possessions and encouraged one another in the faith. Does this church seek to foster that kind of community element?

Another part of community is service and the use of our gifts (1 Cor. 12). Does this church offer opportunities for you to use your God-given gifts for the service of others? Are there expectations for people to use their gifts for the good of the body of Christ, or is it primarily a spectator sport? The opportunity to be involved in service will teach you and your child that to follow Christ is to do more than identify with him by name, but to serve actively among his people. It will teach the truth that faith without works is dead (James 2).

Once your family finds a church that meet this criteria, then you can think about other elements that will be best for your family. I would encourage you to explain what the important things are to your kids as you search and involve them in helping you identify whether these elements are present in the churches you visit. I would also encourage you not to drag the church search out for too long. Once you’ve found a healthy church that will help your family flourish, plug in. Worship, love and serve, for the sake of your family’s spiritual health, the good of the church and the glory of God.

Parenting is hard. But it is even more difficult for Christian parents to raise kids in today's changing culture Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN, this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin. Register by May 12th and receive a FREE Austin Stone Kids Worship Album.

Josh Hussung

Josh Hussung is pastor of youth & families at Grace Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24