Joe and Laura Neill were the first friends Carmel and I made when we moved to Jackson. They are tremendous parents and faithful friends. This letter is for them.


Parenting isn’t easy. As soon as you figure out how to parent through one stage, the next one starts and you have to learn all over again. To make matters worse, few skills are transferrable between kids. What works with one typically won’t with another. Every kid, at every stage, requires us to innovate in order to demonstrate love and educate faith.

I’ve always respected your ability to be firm but never harsh. You’re principled but never inhumane. You prioritize faith and family, in that order, and make sure your kids know why.

Recently I was visiting a group of friends who all serve as youth pastors at their respective churches. I haven’t been directly involved in youth ministry for some time, so I was curious to see if we still aligned on many topics pertaining to church management, family strategy, and the allocation of resources. We did. However, I was overwhelmed by the amount of anger and frustration my pastor-friends expressed at the parents of their youth groups’ kids. Here is a fictional conversation demonstrating why:


FATHER: I’m concerned about my son. He isn’t very interested in church or God, and I don’t know what to do.

YOUTH PASTOR: I’m concerned also. We haven’t seen him in our youth ministry for some time, or at church either. Come to think of it, has anyone in your family been there?

FATHER: We’ve been busy. My son had a soccer tournament two weeks ago and last week we went to the lake. The weekend before we needed some family time, so we stayed home. Why haven’t you called him?

YOUTH PASTOR: I’ve sent him several messages on Facebook and offered to meet him after school. He keeps blowing me off.

FATHER: Of course. He doesn’t know you. And, listen, I’m sure you’re good at your job, but you’re failing my family.

YOUTH PASTOR: Do you think you can get him to youth group this week? I can connect him to some other guys his age.

FATHER: He’s got soccer. What am I going to do?

YOUTH PASTOR: What about this weekend? Can we sit together?

FATHER: We’re not coming this weekend. My daughter really wants to have some friends over.

YOUTH PASTOR: On Sunday morning?

FATHER: These relationships are important. Which is why I’m so frustrated you haven’t reached out to my son.

YOUTH PASTOR: When do I ever see your son? How am I supposed to minister to him?

FATHER: You tell me! You’re the expert.

YOUTH PASTOR: How about at church?

FATHER: He doesn’t like it.

YOUTH PASTOR: He wouldn’t know. You’re never there.

FATHER: I’m just concerned. If you can’t appreciate that, I think we’ll have to try and find a congregation that actually cares about my kid.

Joe and Laura Neill were the first friends Carmel and I made when we moved to Jackson. They are tremendous parents and faithful friends. This letter is for them.



The frustration my friends experienced was palpable, and with good reason. They were surrounded by Christian parents trying to raise Christian kids without ever leading them along a Christian path. Clearly, church attendance isn’t the be-all and end-all of faith; but when sports consistently trump worship, and vacation always triumphs over prayer, and casual friendships are elevated beyond discipleship, we’ve got a problem.

The closer I look, the more I see Christ being shuffled off to the comfortable periphery of our lives. He’s the only one not making demands on our schedule, which means he’s the first one to get bumped off. And, if we actually do find time to focus on Jesus, we’re worn out from working too long or passed out from playing too hard.

We’ve got to remind each other to ask the hard questions: What are we doing to lead our households? Do we actually honor our children by letting them decide their spiritual orientation without guidance or governance? Are we priests in our homes or just bystanders?

You’re part of a very small cadre of people that has always asked these questions of yourselves and of your friends. I’m a better father because of you. But we’ve got to do more to help others realize God has placed children with their parents so the parents can raise them, not so we can take their picture while our kids stumble along at the mercy of the internet, public school, and late-night conversations with their friends.