Of Rooted’s five pillars of youth ministry, partnering with parents is the one which strikes me as the easiest to take for granted. Youth pastors have to intentionally think and work with the other four in mind. Relational discipleship doesn’t come without a pursuing youth pastor, theological depth has to be emphasized intentionally because it’s easy to preach theologically shallow messages to students, Gospel centrality can easily give way to law centrality if we’re not careful, and intergenerational integration isn’t the norm for many churches and thus has to be worked out on a congregational level. But partnering with parents? Youth pastors do that in their sleep—or so they think. Who do your weekly email updates and retreat fliers go to if not to parents?
That said, if this global pandemic has taught us anything it’s that partnering with parents can no longer be a shallow, superficial endeavor. It’s not an element of our ministries we can take for granted anymore; indeed, for at least the short-term (and hopefully longer-term as well) future, the partnership between youth ministers and parents will be a whole lot more important.
Equip Your Parents
One reason for this is that the Coronavirus pandemic has probably forced most youth ministers to explicitly acknowledge what we’ve always known to be at least implicitly true—you, youth minister, are not the primary discipler of the students in your charge. Their parents are. Our students probably spend more waking hours with their parents in one month than they do with us in a whole calendar year, and that’s even more true when they’re not going to school or soccer practice.
Your students are now spending an unprecedented amount of time with their parents, and there’s not a ton of indication that such a pattern will change soon. Couple that with the fact that you’re probably not seeing your students as much as you used to, and it’s easy to understand why partnering with parents is so important now as you try to pastor your students in the time of Coronavirus and beyond. Your responsibility is still for the student who shows up to your Bible study or youth gathering, but it’s now for their parents as well. Many parents are more than equipped to disciple their students, but many are not. What’s more, regardless of whether or not parents are prepared or comfortable engaging their kids meaningfully on a spiritual level, they might not have the resources to do so. This moment presents a unique opportunity for youth ministers to partner with parents toward the end of their child’s and your student’s deeper knowledge and experience of the Lord Jesus.
All that being the case, it’s important to ask yourself as a youth minister now more than any time in recent memory, “What am I doing to equip the parents of our students?” Perhaps this looks like a devotional thought sent to the parents of your students a couple of times a week to supply them with a starting point to have spiritual conversations with their children. Maybe it looks like encouraging parents to read a passage of the Bible with their children a few times a week, and supplying them with a few relevant questions to accompany that passage. Of course, partnering with parents looks different in different contexts, but it’s equally important regardless.
During times of high stress and uncertainty, like the one we’re currently in, there’s a real opportunity to build a foundation of good faith and credibility. If you, as a youth minister, are making a concerted effort to partner with parents when the pressure is on, those same parents can trust you with their students long after this crisis has passed. Your actions now are really and truly laying the groundwork for effective and credible partnership with parents down the road.
Now is the time to over-communicate. Even (and maybe especially) if you don’t quite know what your plan is for the fall semester, tell them that. If you need their help emphasizing to their students the importance of socially distancing at summer gatherings, then tell them you need their help. Now is the time to ask parents how they’re feeling about in-person gatherings. Seek to listen to their fears and frustrations, validate their concerns, and genuinely take their feelings to heart. Don’t just make your parents feel heard, actually hear them. Now is the time to build credibility that reflects a genuine care for both parents and their children who are in the youth group that God has given you to steward. One of the best ways to do that is to partner, genuinely, with your parents.
We won’t always be in the midst of a catastrophic global pandemic which is affecting the way we do church and ministry in radical ways. However, there is a unique opportunity during this period of time to search our ministries with new eyes and ask ourselves if there is a way we could be doing some things more effectively.
The Coronavirus crisis has been such a disruption in many of our ministries that it provides an almost organic starting point for new emphases in our ministries. One of these emphases could, and should, be partnering with parents in new and more involved ways. If you’ve often thought that a “parent advisory council” for your youth group would be helpful, but feared pushback coming from a love for the status quo, then now might be a time to explore that. If you’ve wanted to begin providing weekly devotional content for your families but were concerned about when and how to start, now might be a good time to try that out.
Youth minister, you and your parents are on the same team, and that whole team can do much more for the students in your care as a whole unit than it can as merely the sum of its players.