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.
When we hear the words, “Give me some space,” we naturally take that to mean: “Leave me alone.” What I am seeing in my own youth ministry is the need to give parents some space to do quite the opposite. Rather than parents giving their children space apart from them, I realized I needed to help create space for parents to be involved in the discipleship of their children!
My first attempt at leading a youth ministry, almost ten years ago, was a disaster. I was brought on to serve in a small church that had a comparatively large youth group. That is, the church ran about 30 people per Sunday, and the youth group ran around 25-30 itself. Not bad. At least…not until I arrived.
Let me tell you in hindsight what made this group beautiful: the involvement of parents. There were at least four parents that oversaw this group alongside the pastor. They were a group of loving, committed, and mature parents that wanted to see their youth grow in Christ. So, what did I do? What would any wise 26-year-old young man do?
I got rid of them.
That’s right, you read correctly. I got rid of them! After all, wasn’t I hired on to lead the charge? To disciple these kids for Christ? Wasn’t I the focal point of all discipleship? The results were as you would imagine. I successfully whittled a group of 25-30 teens down to six. I can still hear Jesus now… “Well done good and faithful servant.” Nope. Probably more like, “What have you done you young and ignorant servant?!”
What I didn’t realize at the time were the different dynamics each of those parents brought to the group. One of the dads loved to gather the kids for a fun activity either before or after worship time. He would come with creative game ideas and get the kids laughing and playing together – a crucial element in teen life. Another parent was always available to talk. She was warmhearted and tender. She had an incredible listening ear. The other parents simply offered a presence. They were hands on deck, ready to help in any way.
When I “let them go” from these roles, the vitality of the youth group obviously suffered immensely.
This experience certainly fell under the covering of Romans 8:28, and it helped me to start out on a better foot when I took on the role as Youth Pastor at the church I still serve to this day. Only, when I arrived there, I started with a similar situation I had left at the other church – seven kids and two adults. Over the last eight years, God has faithfully put together a team of 25 who serve alongside me, 19 of whom are parents. In this way, I have been able to partner with parents in an amazingly fruitful way.
My parent volunteers are broken down into two regular teams of four, and a “sub” list for when the regulars need a break. They each have a role on Sunday night: from operating sound/slides, to leading discussion questions, to popping popcorn – all based on who they are and what roles they are naturally inclined to. When it comes to bigger events, the whole team participates in one way or another based on what their passions are. Eight of the parents (married couples) each teach our 5th and 6th graders on one Sunday a month, giving those students exposure to them, and building relationships with them before they enter the larger youth ministry of grades 7-12.
Another practice I have put in place is emailing, calling, or sending a printed letter to the parents of any child who attends a Youth Ministry function. I make it a goal to touch base with the parents of every child who comes through the doors of Youth Group, or to any function we have hosted. Part of that letter includes very intentional verbiage:
“As one of the pastors, I want you to know that our church seeks to partner with you in any way we can. Raising teens in today’s world is exciting, exhausting, fun and fearful. We understand many of the challenges faced by both the parents and students today and are available to listen or serve so that you will know you have a partner in Open Arms Church.”
More than anything else, this letter simply communicates two things: I realize that you (the parent) are the primary influencer in the relationship with your child, and I am available to help should you desire it.
As great as that all sounds, at least to me, we still suffer in one area: getting the parents who do not serve directly in the youth ministry more involved in their child’s discipleship. This is not their fault. It’s my own fault. While I have invited and encouraged parents to serve alongside me, or to utilize me in their journey with their child, I haven’t done a great job in creating space for them to simply be involved. That is the next phase for us here at Open Arms Church.
One way I am trying to shore that area up is by inviting the parent of every teen who signs up to do a service project, to serve alongside them. It is not required, but it is encouraged. That way, we give them a format to serve Christ together, shoulder to shoulder, with no pressure to teach or “disciple” their child – although simply being there with them will be discipleship in and of itself! The next, more challenging area to look at is how to equip and support parents in their daily calling to disciple their own children. As of now, my wheels have only just begun to turn…How can our youth ministry create space and time for deeper parent/child relationship, rather than take away from it? I’ll be reading articles in the rest of this series for inspiration!