Dear Youth Pastors,
We are entering a new phase in our home with a freshman in high school. When I discuss this transition with other parents, we share a common urgency to evaluate what we have taught, shown, and instilled in our kids. But we are also overwhelmed at times by what we have left undone. With our teens, the parent-child relationship is rapidly changing from one of complete dependency to independence. Our children will soon attempt to fly on their own, screaming, “See, I can do it, Mom!”
So when I think of student ministry laborers, and the students you are building gospel-centered relationships with, Philippians 1:6 comes to mind.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (NASB)
God has called you into ministry. At times you see the fruits of your labor. Other times you will have to reconcile with the fact that students under your charge may never make a decision of faith and trust in the Lord. But God has promised the good work He has called you to will be perfected and completed in His power, for His glory. And similar to parents, as those relationships with your students evolve, you get to watch them soar into their independence.
When considering the role of student ministry, I would like to assure you there are parents of your students who accept the role of a discipling parent and acknowledge it starts at home. There are parents who recognize their influence on their children’s lives (including their faith) but who are also reconciled to the fact that they cannot do it alone. There are parents who want to encourage you to build a relationship with their child because we recognize you too have influence in their life and relationship with God.
It is fitting that other believers invest in our kids and point them to Christ. We will never be perfect parents, but there is joy to be found in a partnership with between parents and the ministry our children attend.
If I may offer two suggestions that can help build a partnership between student ministry and parents:
1. Provide a welcoming culture by communicating ways parents can get involved. Empower students to encourage their parents that they are welcome in the ministry. Many times my own child has squished the fear that my presence would be a nuisance and spurred my desire to serve the student ministry.
Utilize parents to get involved in ways other than leading small groups or camp sponsors. Some parents are unable to make a long term commitment, like leading a small group, and some cannot take an extended amount of time away from work/home for a camp.
When my husband and I were asked by one of our pastors if we were serving, we answered that an every weekend commitment was not possible because of required traveling for work. He then asked a question we were compelled to consider:
“What is better – having the ability to serve 70% of the time or not serving at all?”
In our personal experience, as we said “yes” to serving opportunities, God began a work in our own lives. He revealed to us that serving is a joy-filled opportunity to honor and glorify the Lord (1 Peter 4:8-10). And it was through receiving that communication from our student ministry telling us how we might serve in those “other ways” that has allowed us to partner with the ministries our children are involved in. This partnership includes things as small as making rice krispie treats for an event, all the way to being adult sponsor at a retreat or camp. However, both truly have an impact within the ministry when it comes from the desire to glorify God.
2. Cultivate a relationship that allows parents to share and ask questions about the struggles concerning our youth. Please keep in mind – this is hard. If I am honest, when I consider discussing struggles I face with my teen, my first thought is self-centered: “What will they think about my parenting? If I am the main influencer, what does this behavior say about me?”
You, dear friend in ministry, have a unique perspective that can be beneficial to parents because we are susceptible to seeing our own children with a sort of tunnel vision. You, on the other hand, have a broader perspective because you bring together youth with different backgrounds and influences, yet they experience similar struggles. You are able to put into perspective that our children are not alone, and you also minister to them alongside us in a gospel-centered partnership. Whether you have teens of your own or not, the interactions and experience you have with a variety of students gives you insight that parents may not have.
Creating that partnership to build up our students is a picture of the body of believers (Ephesians 4:4-6, 11-16). We are meant to live a life of unity, working together as one, building one another up and spurring each other on. There is no indication that this purpose is applied for a certain age group. Younger generations are able and called to God’s purpose just as the generations that came before.
This purpose and focus are one in the same – we are to love God, love people, and share the good news (Matthew 22:37-39, 28:19). You and I are both charged with enabling and equipping our children to be the feet of the gospel while speaking the truths that God masterfully created them and has a purpose for their life. We tell them this world is not how God intended but there is hope in Jesus and they do not have to aimlessly drift throughout their lives. Let us partner together in the bonds of unity for the glory of our Father.