The role of a youth leader is very important in the spiritual development of students. However, we will never replace the influence that parents have on their own teenagers. About 12 years ago, I first read Steve Wright’s book Rethink. A youth pastor at the time, he said the following as it relates to the parents of teenagers:
“Early in my ministry I overestimated my influence. My distorted perspective caused me to dig in and protect the limited time that I felt was ‘mine. I had my time, and the parents had theirs. There was little or no crossover, and I failed to equip parents to make the most of the incredible amount of time that they have with their children. Three of the biggest mistakes I made as a young youth pastor were:
- I assumed parents didn’t want to disciple their children.
- I believed parents didn’t have as much influence on their teens as I did.
- I drew students to myself and did not champion the influencers who would walk through their lives with them.”
When I first read this, I did not have teenagers of my own. Now, I am a youth leader with a college student and two high schoolers. Let me say, as the parent of teenagers, “HELP!” It is a tough job. As youth leaders, we need to be doing everything we can to partner with parents–because we both desire to see them grow to be more like Christ!
Partnering with parents sounds like a great idea, but it is rarely easy. There are three realities we need to face as we make parents a priority in our ministry.
Reality # 1 – You cannot control what parents do
Some parents are Christians, some are not.
- Christian Parents
- You cannot make a parent disciple their teenager, but you must assume that this is exactly what they want to do until they tell or show you otherwise.
- Non-Christian Parents
- Use the connection you have with their student to share Christ with them through your words and actions.
Reality # 2 – You are probably going to need to initiate the conversation with parents
How are you going to do this? Here are some practical ideas:
- Parent/Youth Ministry Open House (You can hold your open house one week before your ministry year kickoff)
- Cast your vision
- Give them small group leader profile cards with contact info
- Connect through your small group leaders
- Start the year with small group leaders hosting parents night at their house.
- Connect through social media (Each small group leader can create a private Facebook group for parents)
- Weekly texts and emails – Equip your small group leaders with content to share.
- Connect through Bible Study
- Keep your parents informed about what you are studying and how they can continue the conversation at home (The Word of Life Fifty1 student ministry includes a Parent Connection page for each lesson).
- Provide parent seminars on specific subjects they are dealing with (Axis is a great resource for these)
- How to lead age-appropriate family discussions
- How our church is partnering with parents
- Grace-based parenting
Reality # 3 – You are going to have students whose parents are disinterested
- This is more rare than you might think. Most parents want to influence the spiritual growth of their teenager, they just don’t know how.
- As you initiate conversation and realize they are not interested, consider the following:
- Create opportunities to engage the parents with their student on a non-spiritual level (students serve parents dinner, students vs. parents competition)
- Provide parent/student date nights, etc.
- You, as a youth leader, are going to have to do more to directly connect with this student about spiritual disciplines etc.
The struggles of parent/teen relationships are not the end of the road, but rather an opportunity for you to be creative and look for ways to make a difference. It will take hard work to engage parents in these ways, but it will be worth it.
Brian has been in youth ministry for 23 years. He is passionate about communicating truth to young people and the leaders that work with them. Brian loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. He and his wife Lynn have three awesome teenagers and live in upstate, NY.