"How should we have other people involved in discipling our children in their adolescent years?" In a recent panel discussion on discipleship in the church I pastor, that question was asked. The Scriptures teach us that “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). This truth holds for groups and individuals. The Apostle John and Timothy both benefited at a very young age from the mentoring of men beyond their own family, and we should not be afraid to emulate examples like these in the Scriptures as we seek godly mentors for our teenagers.
There are risks involved. We must take the necessary precautions as we encourage our young people to seek wisdom and help from others who can disciple them in ways we cannot as their parents. But the far greater risk is in leaving our teenagers isolated and disconnected.
Since every situation is different, there is no fixed way to bring the right influences into the lives of our adolescent children. Proverbs 27:10 instructs us “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,” and so we understand that it is important for our children to know and be influenced by our friends (it’s also a good reminder that we ought to cultivate friendships with people who are the right kinds of influences on our children).
My father was and is a faithful man. He explained and exemplified life in Christ to me in the house, by the way, as we rose in the morning and when we went to be. He imparted the gospel to me and my siblings. He sacrificed for us, spent hours with us, encouraged us, taught us to work and play and be curious, gave us what needful, led us in family worship each day, emphasized the priority of the worship of the living God as members of Jesus’ church. Obviously, I could write about my father at length. It’s a retirement goal of mine to write a book about the blessing of growing up with my seven siblings in the David Faris family, so I’ll save more for that endeavor.
My parents knew that I needed additional influences in my life when I was a teenager, and they sought these out. I’m exceedingly grateful they did so that I would learn to follow Jesus. Sometimes the best way to communicate the importance of a principle is to show examples. What it means to be Jesus’ disciple is as much caught as taught, so I want to introduce you briefly to a few of the men who discipled me in my teenage years. Perhaps you’ll “catch” a bit of how I was blessed and think about what today’s youth need. What follows are brief sketches of six older men who influenced me significantly through my high school years. The Lord used many other wonderful coaches, teachers, and family members, including godly women, to shape me, but these are six men that the Lord used in special ways:
- Van Taylor – My parents wanted me to work as I grew up. As a friend of the family, Van took a not-very-disciplined eighth-grader on as a project when he hired me to work at Kirk’s Popcorn. Aside from my father, I spent more time with Van through my high school years than any other man. In this small family-run business, Van invested literally thousands of hours in me. He showed me how to work, how a business runs, how to love and motivate people, the importance of story-telling, how to relate to all kinds of different personalities, and how to discuss theology with those of different convictions. Van has since become the Director of the Kokomo Rescue Mission in Kokomo, Indiana, and he remains a great friend today.
- Grandpa Faris – Grandpa Faris was a retired pastor who lived near our home and who served as a ruling elder in a church planting effort in which we participated. I learned what grief is from him in my grandmother’s death when I was young. In my high school years, we would meet at the local country golf course after I got off work and we’d play a quick nine holes. Sometimes that happened six days a week. Some people thought it was just a glorified cow pasture; but it was like green pastures beside still waters to me with Grandpa Faris there. He taught me about contentment, joy, God’s covenant, and seeing the grace of God illustrated all around us in creation. He sat at our table each Saturday evening, and through the laughter and the stories and the singing, his love for the Lord gave me a very settled sense that we can indeed trust our sovereign Lord.
- Grandpa Long – I’d spend more time with my maternal grandfather in my college years. But, even in high school, he took me to a lot of basketball and football games. As an elder in the church that sent our family into church planting, his wisdom in leadership and shepherding oozed out of his pores. He exercised hospitality with my grandmother like no other elder I’ve ever seen. He always had at least one young man into whom he was intentionally investing his life. He’d often greet me with “How are you, young man?” and an outstretched hand. He had the knack of making me feel like I belonged with the grown-ups. His political wisdom as a public servant was passed down over the dinner table and on car rides; you learned to love your community while with him.
- Pastor Barry York – Barry led our family in planting Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, Indiana. He was my pastor through my high school years. Church planters sometimes feel a special desperate need to invest in people who are available when there aren’t many people gathered initially; they will take interest in virtually any responsive person. So, he taught me the Greek language, took me along with him on door-to-door evangelism excursions, put great books in my hands like Knowing God, preached God’s word to me faithfully, let me hang out in his home until the wee hours stuffing envelopes, and far more. Some might say they were irresponsible, but my parents didn’t have a curfew for me. If I could hang out at the York’s a little longer, I took the opportunity. I caught from Barry the importance of prayer, vision, and the necessity of perseverance in ministry. He’s still teaching me all of these things from a distance now that he’s president-elect at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
- Pastor Dave Long – Dave influenced me most during my college years. He sent us off to see a church daughtered under Barry York in my junior high and high school years. But Dave and his wife, Jenny, still led the joint youth group for the churches. Even in a group, Dave had a way of making you feel like you were the only one in the room. I vividly remember his basic instructions from Scripture on how to have a quiet time with God, how to pray, and so forth. Even when involved in church planting, our family usually drove back to the sending church in Lafayette, Indiana for the evening service on the Lord’s Day. There, Dave taught on the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and he cast vision for missions, at least, those are the things that stick most in my mind. All of these things gradually shaped me and prepared the way for an even deeper relationship with him after high school.
- Pastor Rich Johnston – Today, I’m privileged to co-pastor with Rich. When I was in high school, Rich led our presbytery youth program. For two years, I had the opportunity to serve on the youth leadership team. The impressive thing about Rich was the freedom he gave me and us to succeed and to fail as we planned and oversaw youth retreats. He led us to brainstorm and pray in our monthly or every-other-monthly meeting, but then he’d step back and let us run with the ideas. He helped cultivate creative thinking with a focus on the things that really matter. He let us personally invite pastors and other speakers to events. He set us free to be in front of the youth at the retreat so that we would set the spiritual tone. I look back and think “Yikes! He let us do all that?” Yet, he was intentionally investing in us, and I am so grateful.
These men gave me a lot of time, energy, and constant encouragement. They led by example and instruction. They've all been there to impart counsel. But probably the biggest investment they made in my life was that they prayed for me.
My parents knew that I needed people pouring their lives into me and praying for me. These relationships didn't just happen. My parents took initiative, they sacrificed driving time, gas money, and a whole lot more in order to give me these influences. It was not cheap. But I'm so grateful they did.
I look back in amazement at how gracious God was to me in my adolescent years through so many people who sacrificially loved me; praise God for his goodness! Today, young people need the regular influence of other godly and mature people in their lives. Let’s do all we can to be sure they have those examples.