Four Ways to Minister to Fathers

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. To read the last article in this series, click here.

When I heard the news that one of our female students was cutting herself, my heart sank. As a father of three daughters, the thought of one of them struggling with self-injury seemed paralyzing. After the initial triage response with this student, involving counselors and parental communication, I asked myself a question I never had before: what must her dad be going through?

This led me to explore how I could practically minister to this dad and, to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. So, over pancakes and coffee at the local diner, I listened as he poured out his heart. This was a turning point for me in parent partnership. I realized that perhaps the most neglected area of youth work is ministry to fathers. It seems that our communication about youth events, and even struggles with students, is often with moms because, let’s face it, moms are often holding the whole thing together.

Why aren’t dads more involved? Would dads be more involved if we reached out to them? These are some questions that have lead me to a deeper exploration of partnership with fathers, specifically these four ideas:

1. Know

Let’s be honest – how many of the youth dads do we even know? I spent some time the other day just going through the entire student ministry database and reviewing the names of all the youth dads, some of whom I have never even met. My goal is to get to know these dads a little more while their children are in my ministry. This starts with Facebook friend requests, phone calls, and maybe even a coffee meeting. Unless we know who our youth dads are, we won’t be able to do much else.

One of the best ways to get to know youth dads may be by inviting them to help with youth events. The next time you are in need of volunteers for a youth event, consider not only your volunteer staff, but your youth dads as well. I have found that our dads have been excellent with hands-on service projects. When a parent and a teen serve together, this strengthens their relationship and the teen’s faith (plus, you get the opportunity to know the dad). Perhaps you may be able to plan a particular youth event with dads in mind – yard work for shut-ins, a camping trip, or whatever fits the context of your ministry and your youth dads.

2. Listen

Perhaps the stereotype isn’t always right – sometimes a dad may actually want to talk about his feelings. He may want to talk about his work, complain how terrible the local sports team is, or maybe even share his struggles with parenting. Don’t underestimate the value of conversation that doesn’t go too deep – small-talk can be vital in building a relationship. To get the dialogue going, ask a father what he has learned about parenting or what the biggest challenges are. You could also ask how he things his kids are doing, or how you as the youth minister could serve him and his family more effectively.

“Be quick to hear, slow to speak…” James 1:19.

3. Encourage

I realize that dads come in all shapes and sizes. Some are totally disengaged, and their absence makes this article frustratingly irrelevant. Some are involved but nonbelievers. Some are growing spiritually, and some lead their family with strength and conviction. Still others may be walking away from the Lord, and they need a man to come alongside and challenge them not to give up the fight. No matter where a father stands in his journey of faith, he can always be encouraged and motivated to continue taking small steps in his walk with the Lord. I have one youth dad I meet with occasionally who has never made a profession of faith, and yet I regularly and gently push him to join the rest of his family for Scripture reading at night. Men need other men to sharpen them and spur them on in this battle of godly manhood. If we really get to know the youth dads in our ministry, who knows how God could use our encouragement to impact a father which, in turn, impacts the entire family.

One important note: as we motivate parents, it should be done with the humility and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The last thing we want to do is make a dad feel like a failure because he doesn’t “measure up,” so we must point to the finished work of Christ. We are not accepted by God because we are good fathers. We are accepted because the Son has pleased His Father. If a dad does not know Jesus, the gospel should always be woven into our conversation with him. Even if he is a Christ-follower, we must continually remind him of the gospel of grace, which enables him to be the kind of dad God wants. When we fail (and we fail a lot), Christ forgives and restores. As youth ministers, we must aim to point fathers towards repentance and rest in Christ.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” Hebrews 10:24.

4. Pray

It is very possible that, as a youth worker, you are younger than the dads you minister to. Sometimes we feel completely inadequate to give sage advice. This is okay, and praying for a dad is the most powerful way you can partner with him. Pray for his purity. Pray for him to take initiative with the spiritual care of his wife and children. Pray for him to work hard at his job. If you get the opportunity, pray with him – you may be able to model for him the humble, faith-filled prayers that are his greatest weapon as the warrior of his family.

“… The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” James 5:16.

Admittedly, these four ideas are rather simple, yet they flow from an approach to ministry that is patterned after Jesus’ incarnation. Because Jesus has taken on flesh and loved us sacrificially, we attempt to step into the world of our youth dads and know them well enough to exhibit love and grace. May we continue to explore a deeper ministry to fathers that benefits their children, our students, and glorifies God.

Mark Culton has pastored over twenty years in Pennsylvania, Indiana and now in St. Pete, Florida. He enjoys building relationships with different types of people – all with the heartbeat of making disciples who make disciples. He can be found spending time with his girls, reading, playing sports, enjoying live music, and at the beach with his family. Mark married Jen in 2001, and they have three teenage daughters (Avery, Quinn and Preslie).

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