When I began youth ministry years ago I was encouraged to involve college age and young adults in our youth ministry. The premise behind this approach was that in order to reach youth culture the ministry needed to look like youth culture.
I did my best to equip the young team I had assembled but I kept bumping into problems—most of them related to maturity. The “maturity” problem came to a head the day I had to speak with one of my youth ministry team members who thought it was fine to order a couple beers (without my knowledge) at a restaurant on the way home from a youth mission trip. When I discovered what happened, I took the van keys (he was a driver) and had to drive the remaining eight hours home while he slept it off in the passenger seat.
I was angry.
It was a needed wake-up call for me.
Thankfully the day is mostly past when student ministries embrace the philosophy of recruiting the young to reach the young. Faith development studies have highlighted the power of parents in the formation of the spiritual lives of students. Emboldened by these studies we (Youth pastors) have the opportunity to embrace what we likely know in our hearts—that the role of parents in student ministries must increase. In addition, we no longer feel the need to separate our students from the ones who hold the most formational power in their lives.
But the parents of our students grew up in an era of ministry that looked different and there are many (uninformed) assumptions in place that will have to be overcome if they are to serve in student ministries—
Assumption #1 As students move into their teen years the influence of the parents diminish and the influence of peers (and youth culture) begin. False— The influence of peers does increase but parents remain the number one influence in faith formation.
Assumption #2 Faith development is the responsibility of trained experts (Youth Pastors/Student Ministries). False— No one is better equipped to know and understand teenagers than a parent of a teen.
Assumption #3 My child needs space and doesn’t want me to serve in the student ministry. False—Students likely don’t want their parents serving in their small group, but probably wouldn’t mind if their parent serve in other capacities.
Student ministries committed to incorporating parents will have to be prepared to dispel these assumptions.
Some Guidelines for Incorporating Parents—
Have a conversation with the parent and the student. If a parent volunteers, have a conversation gauging their interest and involvement level. Do they wish to serve directly on a weekly basis? Support role only? If you get the feeling that the parent is just volunteering to check up on their child you might need another (more lengthy) conversation regarding motivations.
Check in with the student as well. If the student would rather their parent not participate in the ministry try to honor that request. However, take time to clarify the needs of the ministry and introduce the concept of indirect (support) roles in the student ministry.
Provide space for the student. Students need to participate in groups that are not led by their parents. On the most practical level, students are not free to share as needed. I have found that students can endure a portion of the large meeting time with parents, but they prefer that they not be the lead in small groups or more intimate settings.
Provide indirect roles. Parents need opportunities to serve where they are simply a part of the ministry environment. There are a myriad of important things that provide momentum in a student ministry that parents are great at doing and that youth pastors don’t have time to do. We become victims of our own limited creativity when we relegate parents to traditional roles of Sunday school teacher, small group leader, and chaperone.
Here are some of my favorite areas for parents to serve that are often overlooked but incredibly helpful—
- Food coordinator for your ministry
- Construction coordinator—Gather tools and resources for mission trips
- Travel agent—Researches and books the best group rates for trips
- Big Event coordinator(s)
- Designated shopper for event resources
- Hosts for home-based Bible studies
- Event photographer
- Registration table folks
- Promoter of “good student ministry gossip” via social media
- Fundraising chairperson
- Hospitality—An adult to take the lead on the “welcome” portion of your weekly event
- Drivers—Folks trained to drive church vehicles and rental vehicles
- Professional marriage and family counselors (For referrals)
- Camp/Retreat Nurses/EMT’s
- Bulletin board creator
- Bon Voyage coordinator—Bake cookies to hand out on departure of trips and retreat.
- Welcome home coordinator—Organize welcome home parties after long trips.
- Luggage loader/Unloader—Designated Dads who arrive early and stay late before and after trips.
- Prayer coordinator—Organize prayer vigils and create prayer calendars for ministry events.
- Promotion coordinator—Lead church-wide promotion on specific events
- Provider of personal resources—vans, boats, lake houses, pools, grills, trailers, tools
There are well documented reasons (Biblical and sociological) why student ministries benefit from involving parents. The obvious direct benefit is expanding your ministry team, but there are also some amazing byproducts from the partnership as well—
- Youth attendance in your student ministry increases because parents are serving (and driving).
- Parents see spiritual conversations with teenagers being modeled and they become more comfortable having spiritual conversations with their own children.
- Parents grow in faith along with those they lead in ministry.
- Parents are in tune with the rhythms of family life and can quickly identify stresses and joys among youth group members.
- Less turnover on the ministry team.
- Greater community among the parents as a whole.
- Parents who serve have more by-in to the goals of the student ministry.
- Parents who serve become the best advocates for the ministry and bring credibility when they share what the student ministry is doing.
Incorporating parents in student ministry is not a magic bullet and it certainly is not void of challenges as well, but the upside is worth it. If a student ministry is not currently utilizing parents there is no need to revamp programs overnight. Simply adding a couple of parents per year to key positions is a good pace.
When I began youth ministry at age 22 I had energy but little wisdom. These days I have wisdom but less energy. We still need young leaders on our ministry teams, so don’t hear me saying we need to replace all of them with parents. There is a beauty in building an extended family of faith representing all stages of adulthood. I have found this mix is the perfect stew for the faith formation of our students and I believe you will too.