Partnering with parents is a critical piece of youth ministry, but it can often be incredibly challenging. Either we just don’t know how, or we feel like who are we to speak with any real authority to parents? In this series, we’ve asked youth leaders and parents alike to respond with helpful tools and experiences in this fruitful endeavor.
I thank God for the youth leaders who have shepherded my three kids through the choppy waters of adolescence. Youth pastors, worship leaders, and Bible study teachers have poured love into my kids’ lives as well as mine. Our whole family has benefitted from their steadfast commitment first to Jesus, and then to the youth.
When it comes to my teens, I pray for a youth leader who:
- Seeks Jesus alongside the kids, always conscious that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. The youth pastor at my church is genuinely aware that he has much to learn from the students he serves and, consequently, the kids feel valued. Such respect is priceless. Everywhere teens go – home, school, activities, parties – they either feel “greater than” or “less than” everyone else. What a beautiful thing to have a place in their lives where each person matters as much as anyone else does, a place where they are enough just as they are.
- Feeds teenagers the meat of Scripture. Kids this age have an incredibly fine-tuned radar for hypocrisy and lies, and they know when they are being babied. With the guidance of the Spirit, go deep into the Scripture. Teens are hungry for truth and meaning. The Spirit can teach anyone who is willing to listen (no matter their age) the most complex of truths. Intelligence, education, and achievement don’t mean much when it comes to hearing and understanding the Word of God. All He requires is a receptive heart.
- Listens well: someone who responds from a heart aligned with the Word, rather than reacts out of emotion, opinion, disappointment or fear. A wise youth pastor invokes the help of the Spirit as he or she listens, hearing what is being said and also what is not being said. You are a safe adult who is not mom or dad, a valuable resource to a teen and his/her family.
- Cultivates in particular the virtues of joy and humility. A youth program permeated by joy and humility is attractive to teens, but even more important, a teen can come to value genuine commitment to a body of believers. This goes beyond providing fun and modeling a servant’s heart (both of which are important) into demonstrating the gospel behind our glad hearts and service.
- Gets his or her own personal needs for fellowship and spiritual connection met in community with other adults first, so that the youth leader never “needs” the kids.
- Is not rattled by the doubts and hard questions teens will raise, but demonstrates a resilient faith that doesn’t have to have all the answers all the time. This kind of leader teaches their kids that God isn’t afraid of tough questions either, but welcomes the honesty of a true seeker.
- Does not play favorites or cater to cliques. There is no place for either in a youth program.
- Demonstrates a gracious love that never fails. This kind of youth pastor does not give up on a kid, no matter how sullen, rebellious, angry, or self-destructive. You never know when a kid might be tempted to give up on himself or herself.
Youth pastors have the added challenge (bonus?) of ministering not only to teens, but to their parents as well. And if human beings are passionate about anything, it’s their kids. Nothing in life is so humbling as parenthood: youth pastors can be a model to parents of how God’s grace applies to the challenge of loving children well. I have been blessed to have models like this in my own journey of parenthood. In part two of this article we will look at how pastors can encourage parents to a deeper trust in our good Father.
Leave comments in the section below about what you, as a youth leader, pray for in your students.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all… (Philippians 1:3)