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Lent 2013, Entry 16

This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Occasionally, I’m reading and praying in Proverbs with “parenting eyes” and blogging whatever comes to mind. That’s the plan, for good or bad. Today, I read Proverbs 27-28

“Well, Brent. I hope you’re happy. My daughter is now going to [insert name of Big Box Megachurch near our community here] now. We’ve been going to this church since she was born and she doesn’t feel at home here because of all the cliques in the youth group.”

Since I had a long relationship with this parent I told her that seemed kind of harsh. I mean, I’m never “happy” that a long-time attender chose another place to worship…but I reminded the mom that sometimes kids have to make their faith their own. Sometimes the ministry I led wasn’t every student’s cup of tea. A teen can need a fresh start on occasion. Maybe they have more friends at the other youth ministry. But, at least in this case, I was certain that it wasn’t because of “cliques.”

See, a “clique” is inherently exclusionary. A group of like-minded people who make it clear that someone isn’t welcome by any number of means. I happened to know a couple of things…one I told the mom and one I didn’t.

The one I told the mom was that I knew her small group leader and the girls in the small group being accused of excluding her daughter…about 15 of them. I knew the group leader had reached out to the kid, and I knew the group was all over the map as far as types of kids in it. There were athletes and academics and newcomers and long-termers and running the gamut of spiritual growth. In short, there was room for everyone and everybody had a place.

What I didn’t tell the mom was basically “attorney/client” privilege. The daughter had been involved in a great deal of, shall we say, um, well, fleshly behavior. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were all big players in her life at present…and the small group had been holding her accountable. At first, the daughter was asking for prayer requests and all. Eight months later she’d become antagonistic to the faith she’d been raised in, and the group & leader had even begun asking me about verses regarding fellowship and maybe even church discipline. These were discussions the leader and I were having and I couldn’t very well dump all this out on the mom.

Besides…the parents were privy to enough detail. Their child had an arrest on record for being a minor-in-possession as well as disorderly conduct. They’d seen plenty of curfew violations and general indicators that all wasn’t well. And, yes…I knew the mom was likely deflecting from real issues and pointing fingers, but what I’d also known is that the kid preferred the anonymity the extremely large ministry provided on Wednesdays. She could show up, the staff would make a fuss over the newcomers, she could sit in the back, not engage, come home and leave the note flyer on the table and keep the parents off her case for another week. But honestly, no one was excluding her from the group. She was choosing to put distance between her and the group and giving her mom the convenient, inarguable excuse: They push me away.

From where I sat, the small group was doing what Proverbs 27:17 clues us in on: “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens a friend.”

Now, I’m no expert in iron sharpening but I can tell you a few instances I’ve experienced regarding it. If you’ve ever seen a movie that had a blacksmith in it forging metal into a sword or horseshoe or whatever, you know there’s a lot of heat involved followed by some serious pounding of a hammer to shape it…a lot of force is used in the formation. If you’ve ever sharpened a knife with that sharpener on the back of your can opener you know that there’s a sound akin to fingernails on a chalkboard to get the knife away from the dull state to effectiveness. And I’ve seen hockey skates get sharpened…and it’s kind of cool to watch the sparks fly when the wheel hits the metal blades.

What I’m getting at is that accountability is often unpleasant as it is happening. Heat and force are involved. Unpleasant sounds have to be endured. Sparks fly. Too often we think that spirituality and the spiritual life have to be polite. The implication here is that love might require iron on iron.

So our kids need to be in small group discipleship…if you can get one-on-one with an adult leader more the better. But they need to be sharpened and they need to be sharpening others.

How else are the lessons of chapters 27 & 28 going to be caught? If we’re boasting about our own abilities, we need to be called on it. If we’re acting cruel or angry or jealous, we need to be called on it. If we’re wandering, we need to be called on it. If we keep coming back to the same old foolish behavior, we need to be called on it. If we’re picking fights with our spouse, we need to be called on it. If the lusts of our eyes is evident, we need to be called on it. If we’re oppressive in any way to the weak, we need to be called on it. If the wrong crowd is influencing our lifestyle, we need to be called on it. If we’re trying to cover up sin, we need to be called on it. If we’re taking spiritual shortcuts to make a buck, we need to be called on it. If we’re stirring up dissension, we need to be called on it. If we’re trusting in our own strength to live life rather than God, we need to be called on it.

Because we don’t see them when we’re doing them. We’re great at justification of our behavior and letting ourselves slide.

And we need to be a part of a group that let’s us be the heat, force, sound and sparks that sharpen others. Because they don’t see them when they’re doing them. They’re great at justification of behavior and letting themselves slide, too.

So, parents, first off, you need to be a part of some sort of relationship or group where nobody lets you slide. It’s awfully hard to send that message to your child the importance of it if you’re not sharpening and being sharpened.

Secondly, cut out the excuses for your child not being in one. Often, we send mixed messages like, “You can go to small group when you’re finished with homework.” See? You’ve just made school more important than spiritual growth. Oh, yeah. When the groups do some service project or have a goofy fun fellowship night…that’s part of a bigger picture where they build the context of loving relationship so that the sparks can fly in genuine love…so no “outs” for schoolwork on those nights.

Small group discipleship should be non-negotiable for you child. They offer music lessons or sports or whatever every single night of the week. For that matter, there are small groups going on somewhere every single night of the week. Schedule is no excuse for this…even if you have to host one in your home or get up an hour early one morning a week to get your kid to meet their accountability partner or Bible study. Never be afraid to communicate your small group expectation even if it means you rearranging your schedule for it.

And sure, the kid might need to get a fresh start at a new one. Cliques do happen. Kids don’t feel welcome or like-minded with certain ones or get along with their current leader/mentor. But make sure to communicate with the leader to find out if there isn’t more to the story…sometimes your kids don’t always tell you the whole story.

This is one area where the American church needs to re-focus because the anonymity of big-box megachurches lets us come and worship and are certainly a part of discipleship’s process. And we can attend every week and never know anyone or be known by anyone. But we need to be in authentic community and let iron sharpen iron…

…and so do our children, no matter their age…

…even if heat and force are used.
…and the sounds hurt our ears.
…and if sparks fly.

Or they’ll be dull and ineffective. And they won’t grow.

And they’ll miss out on the abundant life and won’t develop into the masterpiece they’re created to be or use their gifting to be a part of the plan God laid out beforehand…

…and nobody is happy about that.