We all have moments where we wish we could just work with students. We have this ideal of these little lives that we can help mold and steer towards a life lived within the body of Christ. Often, we may find ourselves forgetting that parents are a huge part of that body of Christ too.
According to the Barna youth ministry report released in 2016, 23% of youth pastors interviewed said getting parents more involved in spiritual formation is a goal of their ministries. I would argue that number is far too low. Any brief google search about the influence of parents on a child’s faith will tell us what we’ve always known, parents are always the number one influencer of a child’s faith into adulthood.
Parents can be scary for a youth minister to work with, especially if you are in ministry and do not have kids of your own. Here are some ways we can walk with parents as partners in spiritual development, instead of treating them like a byproduct of our ministry to students.
Become an Expert:
You are your church’s resident expert on all things Jr High related, even if you’ve just walked into this gig with a love for Jesus and students and little else. So, learn something. Every week seek to learn something new about child development, the culture of middle school, parenting techniques etc. Parents are looking for people to help them out, without telling them how to parent. Be someone they can come to with questions, not because you have all the answers, but because you know how to find them.
Present a United Front:
Sometimes it is really valuable for you to listen to students complain about their parents, and for you to commiserate with them about the struggles of their young lives. But it is immensely valuable for you to know when to present a united front with parents. Sometimes youth need to know that their parents aren’t the enemy, and that someone else they look up to agrees with them.
A few weeks ago, I was leading a small group at Starbucks, and a student began telling me troubles she was having with a boy. She ended with the way she was going to “get him back” for what he had done, and I reminded her that she might be better off just being truthful and upfront, and her response was “that’s exactly what my mom said”. She may not have been thrilled that I agreed with her mom, but as far as I was concerned that was exactly the right move.
Time out for Parents:
It can be easy to feel like we don’t need to really know parents, but knowing them will help us know their kids that they trust us with each week. Meet for coffee, invite them over for dinner, join the book club, anything that will help you know them better. You can influence the faith development of students even more if you can take time to build up your relationships with their parents. While adults in churches often have many faith development options, they sometimes still find themselves needing someone to help them with the tools they need to talk to their kids. That’s where your relationship building time doubly influences students, once with you, and again with their primary influencers, parents.
- Make a list of the things you’d like to learn more about in regards to Jr High students. Make a plan for a time this week you can set aside to start working on your list.
- Which parents of students do you already have good relationships with? What makes those relationships good? How could you improve your relationships with other parents?
- Think of a time when you could have presented a united front with a parent, and you didn’t. What made you not defend the parent? Were they wrong? Was it to improve a relationship with a student? How would it have been different if you would have defended their parents?