Parents don’t know the first thing about ministering to adolescents. That’s where youth pastors come in: to be the sole resource in these teens’ lives when it comes to knowing God. After all, we’re the ones with the education, experience, and youthfulness, right?
Despite the constant tug of war (or however you want to describe the perceived relationship between youth pastors and parents), the above statement is dangerous.
No matter how well we think we connect with our students, youth pastors will probably never have as big an influence on adolescents’ lives as their parents. Study after study shows that parents are still the primary spiritual facilitators of their children’s faith. Even during the teen years! Youth ministry is, therefore, a ministry to both youth and their parents. We need to stop ignoring parents, blaming them when Tommy didn’t show up for youth group last week, and seeing them on the opposite side of the rope in the tug of war battle.
This kind of mental shift takes time, and I like to recite the words of Bob Wiley from the classic movie What About Bob: “Baby steps onto the elevator… baby steps into the elevator… I’m in the elevator!” Baby steps to talk with parents… baby steps to partner with parents. Here are four baby steps I have found true in my own context, and I hope they can help others as well: communicate, equip, involve, and encourage.
Communicate: Parents need to stay informed of events, teaching topics, and other things pertinent to the youth ministry program. Communicating with parents about the current teaching series is a way that equips and encourages parents to dialogue with their teens about faith. Communication also involves listening to parents and trying to understand where they are coming from in order to better partner with them.
Equip: Share resources about adolescence, development, family, and current trends in culture. Parent newsletters, seminars, one-on‐one meetings, and connecting parents with each other are great ways to help parents and the church family navigate the wholistic development of their teenagers. The ministry should also provide opportunities for families to spend time together through corporate worship, sharing meals, and intergenerational community events.
Involve: Involving parents in the ministry can be a significant way to meet the needs of the family. Depending on the students and the uniqueness of families, parents may be involved in leading teen small groups, serving administratively, or being part of a parent advisory team.
Encourage: In all things, parents need to be encouraged. Parents deal with many battles and trials, especially when raising teenagers and trying to remain faithful in discipling their children. Making quick phone calls or sending brief emails of encouragement communicates that they truly matter.
There is a current trend in youth ministry to partner with parents. As youth pastors, we need to jump on board, embrace the truth that families matter most, and see our students thrive. At times, we might feel like responding as Bob Wiley did once the elevator doors closed, screaming, “Ahhhhhh!!!!”. As long as you’re out of earshot of others, go for it! Baby steps is about exactly that. One small step at a time until it has become the new normal. There will always be bumps along the way, and we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us through it.