The Vital Importance of Partnering With Parents in Youth Ministry
Everyone has been saying it, but it rings true nonetheless: 2020 was a difficult year. We all met hardships we were not planning to face. This includes youth workers, who struggled with many hard decisions and challenges in ministering to our students in a strange, new world. But for all the challenges we faced in 2020, we also enjoyed so many beautiful opportunities for deeper ministry.
One of the greatest blessings that 2020 brought is that parents got more time at home with their kids than in years past. I believe that the Lord used this difficult year to foster closer relationships within families, particularly between parents and their kids.
But amidst this hidden blessing, we should ask ourselves an important question: “Why should it have to take a global pandemic for students and parents to spend more time together?” Even within the church, in our increasingly busy and performance-driven culture, many relationships between parents and their kids have hit the backburner.
Many modern churches make the common mistake of handing youth pastors and volunteers the primary responsibility for student discipleship. While youth workers do play a large role in the faith-formation of young people, we were never meant to be their primary disciplers, nor can we be. Look at this well-known passage from Deuteronomy 6 for the Biblical mandate that parents have for discipling their children:
“Now this is the commandment – the statutes and the rules – that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long… These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 6-7).
God instructs parents to diligently teach His commandments to their children each and every day as a part of the regular rhythms of life, like sitting, walking, lying down, and waking up. The ESV Study Bible notes that Deuteronomy 6:7-9 “suggest(s) any and every time, place, and activity.”
Let’s face it—there is no way that we as youth workers can do this with our students! I may be tempted to think that I am the most important adult in their lives, but the reality is that I am not. God has sovereignly and purposefully given our students the parents He has given them (Acts 17:26), and He has entrusted us to be in just a small portion of their everyday lives. In reality, I see our most active students in the youth ministry only about 7 hours a week. Imagine the magnitude of influence a parent can have who sees their child for hours every week!
Youth workers are not meant to carry the load of discipling children alone. Rather, we are meant to come alongside the parents in our church through prayer, accountability, and encouragement. I strongly believe that youth ministers are put in place to act as the “bridge” between the church and home, as Michael McGarry writes in his book A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry. He says: “The church and home must not simply encourage each other to fulfill their ministries, they must work in harmony. This approach views youth ministry as a vital component of the church, which serves as a bridge between the home and the church-at-large.”
1. Involve the parents.
This may sound like a given, but I think it is common that we tell parents what we are doing in our ministry (upcoming dates, important information, etc.) instead of listening to their needs and feedback. It is crucial that parents be regularly informed about all that is going on in the ministry. However, being informed isn’t enough—they should be encouraged to give their own feedback and be a part of the ministry, too! We can do this by asking them to chaperone events, lead a discipleship group, or volunteer in any number of ways so they can more deeply engage the younger generation of their church.
One way that our ministry is implementing opportunities for feedback this year is by replacing some weekly one-on-one times we would have with students with parents instead, and asking them questions like “how can we best be serving your family?”, “how can we be praying for your family?”, and “do you have any feedback of how we could be doing better in our ministry?” The hope is that this will foster more rich and meaningful relationships between our youth staff and parents so that we can be a better support system as they seek to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
2. Make sure the students know their parents are allies, not enemies.
Scripture makes it very clear that children are to be respectful and obedient to the parents the Lord has given them (Exodus 20:12). However, our culture as a whole has largely thrown away this biblical mandate. Teenagers everywhere are being thrown messages from all around to follow their hearts, forge their own paths, and find themselves.
As youth workers, we need to encourage our students to see their parents as their allies and not their enemies. In a world where it is seen as “cool” to sneak out, lie, and go behind your parents’ backs, we must make it clear to our students that their parents love them, they are for them, and that God has specifically given each student their particular parents for good reason. There are clearly exceptions to this—sometimes, students come from unchurched families or very broken homes. However, even in these cases, we should always speak of their parents in a respectful and God-exalting way and encourage our students to respect them.
3. Get to know the family holistically.
It is very hard to build a relationship with a student when you know nothing about their family dynamic or home life. I would highly encourage every youth director to take all the opportunities they can to go over to dinner at family’s homes and show up to their students’ games and shows. Not only does showing up speak volumes in and of itself, but it provides a great opportunity to notice family dynamics and get to know the parents and siblings of your student on a deeper level, which in turn leads to getting to know your student on a deeper level. Another way to get connected with parents is to plan youth ministry related family events at your church. A great event this year in our ministry was a Mother/Daughter Christmas Cookie Swap. This provided an opportunity for moms to engage their daughters in meaningful discussions and fun activities as well as connect with other moms and their girls.
All in all, the biblical mandate is clear: the mighty deeds and wonders of our Lord are to be told to the next generation (Psalm 78:4), and who better to do that than parents? I pray that as you read this, the Lord will give you wisdom on how to better implement knowing, supporting, and equipping parents in your ministry.