Partnering With Parents

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If you are a youth leader or youth pastor, I encourage you to find a place to get together with the parents of the youth in your ministry and really get them on board with the idea of partnership. Without the parental influence on our teenagers, we are canoeing upstream without any sort of paddle (possibly without a canoe)!

You see, Youth Ministry begins way before high school. It actually begins with child development. If we as youth pastors and parents don't get child development right, we are going to have a tough time identifying when certain issues need to be talked about, how to connect with different ages, and what worship looks like for different stages of life. I am more and more convinced that we need to be students of "physical" child development so that we can pair that development with 'stages of faith' development. A great read for this is Home Grown by Karen De Boer.

Transitioning from child development to stages of faith can also be tricky. Fowler's book Stages of Faith treats this subject well. He talks about physical development and pairing that with faith development. The book gives great insight into how to evaluate where teenagers are at in the spiritual walks with our God and where parents might be as well. As we minister to teenagers, it is important for us to know what goals we are reaching for—what stage of faith are we trying to move our teenagers from and to? What is the overall picture of a "fully devoted follower of Christ" look like when they are graduated from high school so that college ministries don't have to pick up the pieces? What if we thought about these things and planned all that we did around helping teenagers develop this type of relationship with Jesus?

Unfortunately we lose many good potential, long-term youth leaders because they feel bombarded and/or the single target for many misguided and misunderstood comments from parents, trying to take control of the situation late in the game. So being an aggressive communicator with the parents should be a key goal of youth ministry. In our church, I set up a "Parent Information Night" on the same night as youth group night to cut back on extra and unnecessary traveling. I spend an hour, going over 1) our curriculum for our yearly devotions, 2) our schedule of activities for the 1st half of the year, 3) expectations we have of the youth and the parents (e.g. no cell use during youth group, being on time for activities & pick-ups after activities, etc.), 4) how the parents can be involved throughout the year in youth group activities, 5) a q&a time for parents (especially new parents) and 6) a time for prayer requests and prayer for the youth group concerns.

This enables us as leaders to have “influence on the influencers”; and this is something that parents MUST do. But it's a scary role to play. For instance, parents have to deal with issues like appropriate media selection, suitable choice of friends and “hang-outs”, proper social habits and things to say, etc. It's easy when they are little children to curb most of these things, but as they’re growing and maturing there is more pushback and reasoning introduced to what teenagers think that they can and cannot do. Parents are looking for answers, too!

In conclusion, as a youth leader you are going to become a magnet to comments. Good or bad, you need to sift throughout them and determine what the underlying issue is. Respond to the issue, not the comment. Be on the offense, not the defense. Try to see every comment as a challenge that you can proactively do something about with a positive attitude. As you practice that approach, you will not only see less and less comments as negative ones, but you will find parents standing alongside you, supporting you, and encouraging your work. 

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