The youth ministry acknowledges the importance of the family and seeks to work with and support parents.
And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. (Deuteronomy 6:6,7)
A youth ministry that sets out to effectively disciple young people must of necessity build strong relationships with their families. Scripture makes it clear that the primary responsibility in discipling young people into the faith, lies with their parents (Deuteronomy 6:6,7). The church’s role, while important, is secondary.
I remember being told in my early days of youth ministry that I would never understand what it is like to be a parent of a teenager until I was one. On reflection now, there is a good deal of truth to this but at the same time, I realise that, at the time, I was far from clueless about teenagers and how to parent them. I had received training in adolescent and faith development, as well as youth culture and had pastorally cared for countless teens up until that point. While my experience of family life with a teenager was limited my knowledge and experience was more than most parents of teens had been exposed to. Individually we had different strengths, which, if combined, outweighed what either of us could bring to the table.
Once I did have teenagers I realised the wealth of knowledge I had gathered about my own children such as how they responded under stress and what motivated them. Such information would have been of great value to any youth leader who asked. But none did.
These insights leave me convinced that both parents and youth leaders have a good deal to offer in discipling young people. Individually they can accomplish a lot but jointly they can achieve so much more. Therefore, in discipling young people we are wise to work with parents in the discipling process some will have already begun.
How can we do this effectively?
The first step is to build credibility. If we are to effectively partner with parents in discipling their young people we must first convince them that we can be trusted and have something worthwhile to offer.
Of course, if you yourself are a parent of teenagers or have already raised teenagers, credibility will be a lot easier to attain. Your experience will speak for itself. Younger youth pastors will need to work harder but as already noted, they still have a lot to offer.
More than likely your credibility must be proved, and initially, at least, it comes about through being reliable, responsible and mature in your attitudes and behaviour.
Credibility is also built when you meet the expectations parents have of you, namely that you will value their teenager and endeavour to involve them in the youth programme. It is built further when you communicate well with parents, letting them know what you are doing and why you are doing it.
The second step in working with parents is to build relationships with them which starts by simply getting to know them. If they attend church, take the time to regularly greet them and ask about family life. You can talk to your young people at youth programmes, but Sunday morning church is a great time to connect with parents, so make the most of the opportunity.
Another opportunity can be when parents arrive each week to pick up their teens after the youth programme. I’ve found that some are brave enough to join us in the youth hall when we finish while others (probably under instruction!) would remain in their car and text their child. In those cases, I found it helpful to ask the teenager to introduce me to their parent. Those few minutes spent in the carpark were of great value in making an initial brief contact.
The conversation allowed me to offer positive affirming feedback about their teenager, something every parent loves to hear! I was also able to answer any questions they might have and to learn more about their own lives and interests. Parents love it when you demonstrate you genuinely care about their family.
The next step is to look for ways to build interaction with parents. I was appointed as youth pastor at a church and spent the first few months visiting parents and young people in their homes. I would hear from them what they appreciated about the ministry and what suggestions they had for improving it. I recall one parent saying to me, please plan activities for families to participate in – things we would seldom do by ourselves.
Shortly after that, we organised a day tramp for our young people and almost as an afterthought, I decided to invite parents. When I pulled into the carpark with my wife she said, ‘Look at all the parents who are coming!”
In my cynicism, based primarily on experiences at a previous church, I replied, “Oh they’ll just be dropping their kids off!” But no, they were all set to come. It was a great time of seeing families enjoy the outdoors together.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to families is to create opportunities for parents and teens to interact in meaningful ways. Not all teens will want their parents at an event, but many won’t mind especially if they can be assured they will still have their own “space” and nothing will occur that will embarrass them.
Another way to build interaction is to let parents know what young people are discussing at youth group so that they can initiate conversation at home more easily. You might even come up with a few open-ended questions they can ask in order to make it safe for their teen to start to open up. That way you partner with them in the process of discipleship.
A final way effective youth ministries work alongside parents is to offer support. Parenting teens is a tough job that most, Christian or not, want to be able to do better. Share articles and videos on parenting teens through social media and regular newsletters.
Another effective strategy is to organise nights where parents can come together to discuss some aspect of parenting and learn about and receive support from one another. You don’t need to run these yourself. Find someone who has already raised teens, who have good facilitation skills, and who can lead in a non-judgemental and supportive way.
CHECKLIST: INDICATORS OF A YOUTH MINISTRY THAT VALUES THE ROLE OF FAMILY
- The youth ministry recognises that the primary task of discipleship belongs to the parents; the role of youth leaders is important but secondary.
- Youth leaders show maturity and act in a manner that earns credibility and respect from parents.
- The youth ministry values each young person and looks for ways for them to be involved.
- The youth ministry communicates well with parents, keeping them informed on what is happening.
- Youth leaders endeavour to get to know the parents of the young people and establish a relationship with them that ultimately benefits the young person.
- Youth leaders are aware of family needs through first-hand conversation and they regularly pray for parents and families.
- The youth ministry hosts regular programmes and activities that bring together parents and teens and enhance family life.
- The youth ministry informs parents about what is being discussed at youth group to facilitate further conversation at home.
- Parents receive regular insights and suggestions that help them to parent more effectively.
- The youth ministry hosts opportunities for parents to meet together and support one another while discussing the challenges of parenting teenagers.
CCCNZ Youth offers a coaching programme for key youth leaders and youth pastors who would like help in implementing these principles as well as learning leadership skills. Contact us if you are interested.