Parent Privilege: The youth worker/parent relationship

Joel Joa and family at his baptism

Joel Joa and family at his baptism

Snark MeterrealMID.003The one thing I wish someone had helped me with when I was young in youth ministry: Relationships with parents. Like many young adults, I was a bit intimidated by parents. After all they had 10 to 20 years on me. In truth, I didn’t think about parents very often-mostly when one was upset because we didn’t return from an event on time. If someone had asked, I might have described the youth ministry as a sort of stand-alone program. But mostly no one did ask, as the rest of the church saw us as a stand-alone program as well. Our calendar was full and parents and their concerns were not really part of the classic youth ministry model. The disconnection from parents is even more pronounced if you are working in a parachurch organization, or if the student rather than the parent is the connecting point to the church.

Becoming a parent caused me to see through new eyes, though. For the first time I took seriously the scriptural call to the family to be the front line in the spiritual formation of children (Deut. 6, Ps. 78). It is parents who are tasked with the responsibility to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6). The Scriptures are supposed to be taught to our children in the home (Deut. 6) in order “that generations to come might know…and put their confidence in God” (Ps. 78:5-7). Youth ministry does NOT exist to replace parents. Or be smarter, cooler or more spiritual than them either. Youth ministry exists to come alongside of parents in their God-given role in the spiritual formation of children. This is true whether the parent is a follower of Christ or not.

Here are four things I wish someone had told me to do:

1. Pray for parents: Learn parent’s names. Keep a list and pray for them weekly.

2. Connect with parents: Meet a parent a week for coffee. Let them know that you support them. There are three things that I would love to hear from my kid’s youth leader: 1. “Your children are the most important thing in the world to you, and I want you to know that I take this responsibility and your trust seriously.” 2. “You have a great kid! I really appreciate______ about them.”  3. “It must be fantastic to be a parent on a good day and nearly impossible on a bad one. How can I pray for you?”

3. Resource parents: This one might take a bit of budget and involve other folks on the church staff-which is a good thing.

  • Ask your parents what sort of help would be “helpful” help.
  • See if there is a seminar or class they are interested in that your church could host.
  • Let them know what you are teaching and doing in the youth program. A monthly email might be a good way to do this.
  • Read a couple of parenting magazines and include “tips from experts” in your email. (But make sure the “tips” are not manipulatively aimed at something a particular parent is doing that you are frustrated with.)

4. Support parents: Adolescence is a time when kids are distancing themselves from their ‘rents. This is a developmental necessity. However, if a teen’s only alternative sources of relationships and information are their peers and the media, our young people will be in real trouble. That is why one core task of a youthworker is to be the trusted Christian adult who will say what the parents say but simply not be the parent when they say it. When you earn the right to be heard, use part of that capital to help kids understand where their parents are coming from. Our job is to not to replace parents, but to point their kids to Christ and be a dependable adult Christian leader in their life.

Someday you will most likely have kids. Be the leader you would want someone to be for your children. You can choose to see parents as a pain. Or you can choose to see them as a privilege. Parents are neither a curse nor a necessary evil: They are God’s means to bless their kids…and you too, if you cultivate your relationship with them.

Blessings to you, fellow youth workers, as you seek to impact not just students but partner with their entire family for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

Matt+

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4 thoughts on “Parent Privilege: The youth worker/parent relationship

  1. I was taught all these things – my college placed a very big emphasis on family ministry. But when I got in my first youth ministry position I was stuck in the basement youth room and actually discouraged from interacting with parents – even announcements about youth group meetings had to go through the church office and I had to work through the minister if I wanted to request help with anything. When I wanted to do home visits I was told straight out that it was his job, not mine, that even while he complained about having to do home visits.

    My training taught us how important it is to involve parents, but there’s nothing you can do if the senior pastor is standing in your way. For a young person in youth ministry it is crucial that the senior pastor mentors him, backs him up, and lifts him up before the congregation, telling them to expect this young person visiting them. But no one ever seems to educate senior pastors about their responsibility to the youth ministers under their care. Not here, at least.

    • Amen, KokkieH! The trick is to get senior pastors on board. Youth Ministry training programs have taught this stuff for decades. Senior pastors are often the log jam. I had one of those as well early on. Keep pushing.

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