Partnering with Parents: The Student Minister’s Balancing Act
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. Read other articles in this series here.
When it comes to partnering with parents in the discipleship of students…where do I even start?
This question has characterized much of my experience in student ministry. Despite being zealous to partner with parents in ministry for some time, my wife and I are only now expecting our first child. I am relatively inexperienced in ministry, and understand very few of the common pressures and demands associated with raising a child. As a result, I have made these two mistakes (if not many more) as I’ve sought to develop ministry partnerships with parents in our church.
Mistake #1: “I’m the primary shepherd of our student ministry parents”
About two years ago, I stepped into my present role as the student and early career pastor of Grace Fellowship Church. Convinced of the importance of partnering with parents, I began developing weekly “parent guides,” which were emailed to the parents of our students. The parent guides included announcements of upcoming events, a teaching summary of the previous week’s Bible study, and a few “discussion prompts” for parents to use in discussing the material with their students.
Though these guides were beneficial in many ways, I made a big mistake. Unintentionally, my communication in those resources gave many parents the impression that it was “my way or the highway,” in terms of ministering to students and their families – as if the questions I developed were the only appropriate means for parents to use in the discipleship of their student(s). Predictably, I received some (warranted) pushback.
Over-compensating for my well-intentioned mistake, I quickly swung to the opposite end of the spectrum:
Mistake #2: “I have no role to play in the equipping of parents”
I took a “hands-off” posture with respect to investing directly into families, entering into a period where I did not send out many teaching summaries or helpful articles to parents. I spoke with them at church gatherings, affirmed them in front of their students, and (occasionally) included a line like, “It is our joy to partner with you in ministry” in emails. That was the extent of my investment in the parents; I didn’t feel qualified or welcomed to do much else.
Just as they had when I presented myself as their primary shepherd, our parents responded to this ministry posture as well. But instead of confronting me with pushback, I received (among others) the following cries for help:
“Our daughter is dating someone we have reservations about, but we’re not sure how to talk about it.”
“My son is openly lying to me and showing rebellious tendencies. What do I do?”
“My child seems to have a hard heart towards God. I’m praying for the Lord to soften it through His grace, but as a parent, should I be doing anything else?”
I was wrong to assume the role of the primary shepherd of our parents. I was just as wrong not to shepherd them at all.
Though there were consequences associated with each of my blunders, I am grateful for the following two truths God taught me. I hope they will encourage you as you seek a “balanced” method of partnering with parents.
1. God’s Word is sufficient (even if your experience isn’t)
Most parents involved with your student ministry genuinely desire to raise up their children to love and honor the Lord. Simultaneously, most parents desire help in figuring out how to do so, particularly during the unique circumstances which often accompany the teenage years. Your role as “student minister” positions you as the first person to whom many of these parents will reach out. Whether young or old, single or married, parent or otherwise, resist the temptation to be “hands-off” in these situations. Remember, it is not experience or human wisdom which equips the body of Christ, but rather the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Remember that the encouragement of 1 Timothy 4:12 (“Let no one despise you for your youth”) was delivered in the midst of a charge to preach and teach the full counsel of God.
2. It takes a church
Student ministers may be positioned to be the initial point of contact for parents, but the discipleship process for parents does not (and should not) rest on us alone. Passages such as Titus 2:1-8 are clear: Christians mature when they are provided with examples to follow, specifically from older, more seasoned generations. While this does not mean that you can never meaningfully invest in a “more experienced” parent, it does mean that discipleship, including parent/family discipleship, is most effective when the whole church is invested. We as student ministers would be wise to order our ministry philosophies accordingly.
How do we promote an atmosphere where the entire church body is involved in the spiritual lives of both students and parents? I do not have a singular answer to that question. However, I am excited about the following ways my own church is preparing to invest (or investing already!) into the lives of parents:
- I still send out teaching summaries to our student ministry families, praying that conversations will take place between parents and students. I am careful not to take a posture that communicates, “You are a bad parent if you do not ask these questions to your student.”
- When parents ask me questions related to raising their teenagers, I do my best to humbly answer on Scripture’s authority. Recently, I have also been convinced of the importance of utilizing, when appropriate, the wisdom of “more seasoned” saints in our church family to address the needs and longings of families.
- In the coming months, our church will welcome a wise, well-respected couple from our community to host a one-evening parenting seminar/encouragement session. The content of this gathering will likely be grounded in a book such as Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity.
- I’m also working with our pastor and elders to develop a number of brief, topical discussions aimed at equipping our church’s parents. Myself, elders, and experienced parents from our church will host these gatherings once every 4-6 weeks, focusing on “hot topics” such as sexuality, technology/social media, time management, drug/alcohol use, etc. Our hope is not only to prepare parents to tackle these issues with the power of God’s Word in the hope of the gospel, but also to informally start a “network” through which the parents of our church can work with, encourage, and pray for one another.
What ideas do you have for balancing the discipleship of parents within a church-wide context?