At HomeWord, we often talk about how one of the purposes of the church is to mentor parents. Parents then mentor their children, and the legacy of faith continues from generation to generation.
This is how I’d like to see it happen. And, I am thrilled wherever and whenever I see parents and youth ministries working together. But, far too often, somewhere along the line, the process has gone off the rails and both parents and youth ministries find themselves either laboring independently of one another, or in a worst-case scenario, at odds with one another.
So, it’s critical that both parents and youth workers understand that there is common ground in the effort of helping kids develop a growing and lasting faith and that they seek every opportunity to become allies together in this important work.
Thankfully, the good news is that God is faithful, and He is at work in the lives of kids, even when parents and churches don’t always find themselves working together efficiently as partners. Still, the goal for both parents and ministry workers should be to create a healthy partnership with one another, providing encouragement and support for each other in the significant roles each undertakes.
While youth ministries have not always sought out partnership with parents in years gone by, as youth ministry has evolved, I’m happy to report that progress has been made. More and more, today’s youth workers recognize the importance of family life and the huge influence that parents have when it comes to kids’ faith development. Many youth ministries today view partnership with parents as an important responsibility in helping kids to grow an authentic and lasting faith.
How can parents make the most of this fresh sense of partnership? Here are some ideas that I’ve found helpful.
Make the spiritual development of your kids a high priority. As a Christian parent, helping your kids grow spiritually is perhaps your greatest calling in life! How important is helping your kids grow spiritually to you? Is it as important as academics, sports, clubs and interest groups, and other extracurricular activities? Does your family calendar reflect that spiritual development is a priority? Spiritual development (or lack thereof) holds significant consequences for your kids’ lives – and their souls! Yes, life is busy! You (and your kids) simply cannot choose to do everything that life offers. Together, you may well have to make some difficult decisions, saying no to some very worthwhile things, in order to elevate spiritual development as a priority. I, for one, believe these choices are valuable.
You set the pace for the spiritual growth of your family. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the growth and success of youth ministry over the years is that well-meaning parents began to think that if their kids were involved and cared for at church, there really wasn’t much else they needed to do themselves to help their kids’ faith development. Lots of great ministry is offered for kids in many churches, and because of this, some parents have never developed the understanding and tools necessary to raise children in the legacy of faith. Even today, I don’t see parents clamoring to take back this responsibility. Yet, studies have shown that parents are the number one influence of kids’ spiritual lives. To a great extent, kids follow their parents’ examples when it comes to faith. Children see, children do. Never forget that you set the pace!
Make spiritual conversations part of your family routine. “It is a good idea for Christians to date non-Christians.” That was how I started out our family’s discussion time one evening. Then I added, “Do you agree, disagree, or are you undecided?” My wife, Cathy, and I were sitting in our hot tub with two of our three daughters. Both were in high school at the time. “Of course it’s OK to date a non-Christian,” Rebecca said. “I wouldn’t want to marry a person who didn’t have my faith, but it’s just dating. And besides, look at Tom and Trish. Trish married Tom when Tom wasn’t a Christian, and now he is a pastor!”
Heidi totally disagreed with her sister. “If you are supposed to marry a Christian, then I think you should only date Christians. Besides that, doesn’t the Bible say someplace that we aren’t supposed to be ‘unequally yoked’?”
After a short sidebar by Dad on the meaning of unequally yoked, the discussion continued. In fact, the conversation between the girls got a little hot (and it wasn’t the jacuzzi). Finally, exasperated, Heidi turned to us. “Help me out here, Mom and Dad!” Rebecca countered, “Are you both so closed-minded to the work of God that you honestly believe what Heidi is saying?”
We hadn’t even told the girls our thoughts yet or looked at the Bible. But we did have smiles on our faces. I remember that conversation being a good family time and a defining moment for the topic.
Some parents choose to lead their families through a typical devotional. Others choose a more casual and discussion-oriented approach. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it. The important thing is to engage your kids in discussions about spiritual topics on a regular basis in a way that works for your family.
A commitment to regular family devotions is not going to come from the kids, but if parents will take it seriously and develop family times together, it really can make a difference. We found with our own kids that they did better when it was a short, non-lecture format. We have found that the families that seem to do best keep these times fairly light and bring in another aspect of family fun time, whether it’s fun food or a Wii bowling contest after the devotional time. The best faith conversations come when the kids see their parents as fellow learners, as opposed to the teacher-to-student role.
And don’t feel pressure to come up with ideas for family faith conversations. There are plenty of good resources to use, like daily devotionals, and can be easily adapted. This is a great opportunity to strengthen your partnership with your church youth ministry. Ask your youth pastor or youth worker for some recommendations for resources. Find out what is on the ministry agenda for upcoming topics and consider using these as a springboard for your family discussion times.
Build relationships with your youth pastor and youth workers. This is so valuable to the parent/youth ministry partnership, yet is so often overlooked. Do yourself and your family a favor and make the effort to build relationships with the youth ministry adults who work closely with your kids. Building relationships with these youth workers creates common ground, understanding, and trust. Building relationships fosters empathy, caring, love, and concern. We are better together, and even more so when we see each other as friends.
Help your youth ministry team help you. The more vulnerable and open you become to those who work most closely with your kids, the more understanding they will have into your family, and the better prepared they can become to help guide your kids, and to provide you with the support and encouragement you need. Scary? Perhaps. Valuable? Absolutely.
Engage with your youth ministry. Do you know what your youth ministry is trying to accomplish in the lives of kids? Do you know what programs are being offered, and what goals they are trying to achieve? The more you engage, the more you’ll know and understand, and the greater the sense of partnership you will feel.
Attend regular youth ministry parent meetings. Ask questions. Read ministry newsletters, emails, and texts. Stay in touch. When those seasons of life arise where you aren’t able to keep up on everything, and when you finally get your head above water, give your youth pastor or youth worker a call and ask for an update.
Volunteer in your youth ministry. Maybe you are a good fit for being a youth leader, or maybe not. If so, and if your kids are agreeable, volunteer! But even if serving on the front lines with kids isn’t your gift or passion, there are still many ways you can help your church’s youth ministry become stronger, healthier, and more sustainable. Prepare food, provide transportation, help with administration and communication, or offer to be a sounding board for new ideas and programs. In providing support to the youth ministry, you will be helping your own teenager.
Take advantage of opportunities. In order to provide a greater sense of partnership with parents, more and more youth ministries today are targeting direct help and support for parents through parent support groups, small group studies, and parent seminars.
Still, just a few years ago, LifeWay Research did a study of Christian parents which found that while 9 of 10 parents say they need encouragement in their parenting roles, 61% said that they completely ignore parenting seminars, and 53% “have no use for books by religious parenting experts.” How tragic!
Whenever possible, take advantage of the opportunities your church provides to help encourage you in your role as a parent. Learn. Give feedback. Help your church become more effective in its parent-equipping role. If your church hasn’t actively started providing these types of opportunities, see yourself as part of the solution to get something started.
Need help? Ask for help. While no church or youth ministry can completely prepare for every possible challenge a family might face, most really do want to help. They might not have all the answers to the situation you are facing, but they can provide caring, listening ears. They can pray. They can provide support. They can suggest options and referrals to professional resources. Help is available. But, parents must not expect their partners in youth ministry to know when specific, targeted help is needed. They rely on you to communicate.
Let me remind you again: We are better together. I love the passage found in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 4:12: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. What a great reminder this is of what the parent/youth ministry partnership can look like, when together we link arms in the process of helping our children grow into all that God intends for them to become…and the legacy of faith continues from generation to generation!