Youth Ministers as A Bridge of Reconciliation Between Parents and Children
John Owen described the human heart as a fort in which our enemy of sin maintains its rebellion against God all our days.Sin not only kicks and screams against our Creator, but it is the root of all our interpersonal conflicts as well. In our home with three adolescent daughters, we see rebellion rear its head in numerous ways. Some skirmishes are over clothing, some are over curfews, and then there have been some that I’m still not sure what they were over. But one thing I do know with five sinners living in the house – reconciliation is an art we need to practice daily.
For all the ways in which I want my children to grow into their own, one thing I do not want is for our hearts to grow distant from each other. We know that God cares about this too, because He tells us in the book of Malachi that when John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry, one of the results will be parents and children turning towards each other, their hearts restored to one another.
Malachi 4:5–6(ESV): “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The book of Malachi serves as a bridge between the vintage faith of the patriarchs and the new wine of Jesus’ coming. The covenant that God made with His people was still in effect, despite the unfaithfulness of so many. God still loved His people (Mal. 1:2) and Jesus was about to display this love in technicolor. Apparently, one of the key markers of the new covenant would be reconciliation between family members. All of this is confirmed in Luke 1:16-17, where we read that God’s people would return to the Lord, and fathers and children will turn towards each other.
If reconciliation between parents and children is important to God and central to the new covenant, it should be important to a gospel-centered youth ministry. There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of youth leaders to serve as that bridge between parents and their adolescent children.
Without intentionality in this area, our student ministries can drive a subtle wedge between the generations. Our fixation with cool and our fascination with cliché can unintentionally bolster a teen’s suspicion that parents are out of touch and inferior. Instead, what if we think of ways to turn teenagers towards their parents during the years they are starting to move away emotionally? What would we need to do in order to turn parents towards their children during a time in which they may be most frustrated and tend to disengage? There is a real temptation – and I myself have felt it as a parent – to stop trying when your kids give resistance. So you no longer ask heart-probing questions of your teenagers; you no longer apologize when you make a mistake; you no longer talk about anything more substantial than schedules and academics and house rules. And so the distance between parent and child grows wider and colder. I fear that parents who vulnerably share their hearts with their teen children are an endangered species, but what if we foster and promote this attitude of bold vulnerability? Surely this will pave the way for the kind of reconciliation that Malachi is speaking about.
Being reconciled to our fellow man is part and parcel of being reconciled to God (Matthew 18:21-35). If we have experienced the love of God, this spills into our relationships with others – including our family. Indeed, the context of family is where God has designed for covenant love to be most intimately experienced. Sadly, the disintegration of the family in Western Civilization has marred this picture of God’s love, leaving many teenagers with a misunderstanding of what the gospel looks like. All the more reason for us to teach teenagers how to forgive and love like God calls us to. All the more reason for parents to turn towards their children and patiently love them, even if their children are pushing them away.
Churches that love the gospel should spend more energy on fostering loyalty between parents and children, and less energy on developing loyalty to their particular youth ministry brand. It is great when teens are proud of their youth group; it is better when they are proud of their godly mom or dad who is striving to love them.
What does it look like to be a bridge between children and parents? Here are just five suggestions:
- Never speak poorly of youth parents. When a student is venting, listen and love but do your best to affirm the difficulty without undermining the parent.
- Say the same things as parents, but in a different way. I have seen this many times – a parent shares with you what they are trying to get across to their child (with seemingly no success), and you as a youth leader then have an opportunity to say something similar but in a way in which the student actually listens. You have a different but complementary role that will support parents if you will use it that way.
- Host an occasional parents night in your student ministry. This is always a little risky because it really messes with the cool “vibe” you have worked so hard to create. But it is worth it. The parents who come will feel very supported.
- Communicate often with youth parents. If a parent receives resources and encouragement from you, they will truly feel you are a team. If they hear little to nothing, it will confirm their fear that they are no longer effective and they should just trust the expert youth workers to help their kids.
- Share wins with youth parents. I can speak from experience – sometimes you aren’t sure if you are doing anything right as a parent. When you hear from a youth worker that your child has shown growth or maturity, it can brighten your entire day.
The home is the premier place for reconciliation to take place, and when we teach children and parents to posture their hearts towards each other, we are celebrating the covenant love that God has for us.
“The Nature of Indwelling Sin.” Triumph over Temptation: Pursuing a Life of Purity, by John Owen and J. M. Houston, Victor, 2005, pp. 49–49.