Why God Gave Me Teenagers

My son's first driving lesson. He's loving it.

My son's first driving lesson. He's loving it.

Right now my wife and I have the, um, privilege, of parenting a 14 year old girl and a 15 year-old boy. It’s been quite the journey (and really a ton of fun). Recently I’ve suspected God did this to us because he wanted to teach me how to pastor. Sure, there may be more reasons than that why God gave me teenagers, but I think learning how to pastor is a big one.

A few years ago, knowing we were on the cusp of having a teenager, our wise friend Audra, who is a physician, sent us along some parenting advice. I’ve reread it any number of times. I just want to highlight two of the lines in it.

Key advice #1:“The ultimate goal of parenting the adolescent is to work yourself out of a job.”

There are a lot of other things I tend to think are my ultimate goal when it comes to raising teenagers. They mostly center around my kids agreeing with everything I say and doing everything I say. (Can I get an “Amen!” somebody?)

But as my friend’s advice went on to say next, “When parenting young children, the parent is in control.” And you can do the math on what’s next. I’m not solely in control anymore. And that’s actually a good thing, because how can my kids ten years from now know how to handle money responsibly and make good moral decisions if I never give them any space to do so now? I won’t be hovering over them then – so I’ve got to start figuring out how to stop hovering so much now and instead to train them to do things themselves. As the parenting advice said, I need to work myself out of a job, which is really hard.

As a pastor, that’s the story of my life. A part of me just wants to go around playing God and telling people what to do all the time, with my ultimate goal being to have my congregation agree with everything I say and do everything I say.  Fortunately most of the time I suppress this side of me (I worry sometimes about how it seems like this really is the goal of some pastors). But my real goal is actually to work myself out of a job. My goal is to see people at City Church learn how to feed themselves spiritually, how to lead others, and how to engage the world without me holding their hand. The first century Christian, Paul, puts it this way: to present everyone mature in Christ.

Teaching my son to drive is a living hell parable for me these days. I could only tell him so much before I actually had to surrender the driver’s seat to him. One of the things we’ve discovered is that screaming at him from the passenger’s seat is ineffective both at insuring safety as well as at building closeness. Talking with him from the seat next to his seems far more helpful, with perhaps the occasional shriek allowed for emergencies. And that’s about the same balance in pastoring – mostly talking, with the occasional, more directive and strongly worded challenge. Because ultimately, I’m not trying to make ‘little Bills’ but instead ‘little Christs’, which is whatChristian originally meant in the first century. And that’s just not possible if I always occupy the driver’s seat.

Key advice #2: “Time Out is now for the parent – practice walking away.”

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit how badly I need this advice as a parent, but it’s so true. How many times have I had to excuse myself from the table or the room and walk away in order to control my anger? Sure, my 15 year-old may have rolled his eyes one too many times or my 14 year-old may have complained about my dinner selection yet again, but the key is watching what goes on inside of me in those moments. The biggest clue is when I want to kill them. That usually means that I’m due for a time out. Sure, they may push me, but ultimately my response is my responsibility and no one else ‘makes’ me do certain things (like screaming at breakfast or slamming on the brakes on the way to school drop off, for example). I actually need some space to see the anger, insecurity, fear, and anxiety in my heart and deal with those, instead of just dumping all of them on my kids.

Fortunately, God gave me a teenager just before I started planting a church. The timing couldn’t have been any better.

Virtually every day I find myself needing to take a time out because of some situation at church that frustrates me, stresses me out, or angers me. Actually, it’s more like three times every day.   The reason that I need so many time outs is two-fold: firstly, I work with sinners and secondly, I’m one too. As a marriage starts to blow up or someone criticizes my preaching or an adolescent gets pregnant – all of the sudden there’s all of this goo in my heart that churns like quicksand sucking down a wildebeest. And if I don’t walk away for a bit and take some deep breaths and talk to Jesus, all my struggling just accelerates my demise. Trust me, I know this from experience.

That’s why God gave me teenagers – to train me to become a pastor. Obviously, the mere fact that I have 5 more years of teenagers left, God’s not done training me yet.

By Bill White