When our oldest entered middle school, our church decided to host a youth group in our church basement, after a few years of not having an organized youth group. The group was open to all middle school kids in our church and in the neighborhood. This was exciting to me! Not only would we have the opportunity to disciple the kids who had grown up in the church, it was an outreach at the same time! We would be fulfilling the commission Jesus gave us to make disciples, and this had the potential to reach into families and beyond.
I sent my 6th grader in, week after week, excited to watch his community grow and encourage each other. Then I did watch, and I listened to him. His relationship with the Lord was not growing in this place. It was mostly just making him uncomfortable. Much of the time was spent letting middle school kids be middle school kids. They threw things at each other, they played hide and seek, they ran around and yelled a lot. At the end, there was a 10 minute lesson designed to build their faith. I have no doubt many young lives were changed by this ministry! But my kid, my serious, introverted, old soul, deep thinking kid would go and wait through the play time just to get to the 10 minute lesson.
Christian parents, you've heard Proverbs 22:6 before:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
We take this seriously! We bring our kids to church each week, we encourage them to read their Bibles, we surround them with the word of God and we mentally check all the boxes. These are all great things that please God! But I would like to encourage you to look deeper into the meaning of "in the way he should go," and I offer this interpretation. Study your children, figure out the unique and individual ways they have been created. Show them who they are by pointing out their gifts and talents, and teach them to use those gifts and talents for the Lord. And when they are old, they will have spent a lifetime knowing who they are (and whose they are), and operating in their unique gifting to make a difference for the Kingdom.
Barnes' Notes on the Bible puts it this way: "The way he should go - or, according to the tenor of his way, i.e., the path especially belonging to, especially fitted for, the individual's character. The proverb enjoins the closest possible study of each child's temperament and the adaptation of 'his way of life' to that."
Don't waste time trying to get your child to conform to a pattern they were never meant to follow! Is your child a natural leader? Is he an encourager? Is she a giver? Does he love to instruct? Does she love to write stories or play music? Hone in on and encourage these wonderful gifts!
Pay attention to your child and train them in the way they should go. Sometimes this way will look different than the world around them and that's okay.