What I’ve observed over the years is that my view of the parents in my ministry has evolved. I’ve seen it in other youth workers as well. Parent ministry has a life cycle that mirrors a leader’s maturity and longevity. I think you can separate how we view parent ministry into 5 phases.
I believe the goal is to reach maturity in how we relate to the parents in our ministry. Likely comes with age and often comes when youth workers become parents themselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe that ANY youth worker can change the way they see parents and enhance their parent ministry. Below I’ve outlined each distinct phase and what the pathway to growth for youth worker in that phase.
Phase # 1 - Avoidance - “I’m just here for the kids, ministry to parents is NOT my job.”
This is common for young youth workers. Why? Because most of us get into ministry to impact students. That’s what we love. We’re so busy having a blast with students that we forget how closely connected parents are to their teens. Also, as young youth workers, parents intimidate us, so it’s easier to just avoid them.
The result of parent avoidance leads to a perceived fear, which then creates a cycle of more avoidance. In the end, a youth worker stuck in “Avoidance” will never really be welcomed by ministry families.
Pathway to growth - Instead of avoiding parents, it’s time to pursue a relationship with parents. You can see the value of parent ministry because you get to know students THROUGH getting to know their families. In the end you’ll learn more about the students you love and you’ll get to develop deeper relationships with families.
Phase # 2 - Competition - “Parents just don’t understand what we’re trying to do here.”
With increased experience comes increased confidence. After a few years likely you’ll have developed a plan for your ministry. You’re convinced that your plan is the thing that’s going to make a difference in the lives of the students you love. Parents, therefore become a means to an end. You probably have relationships with parents, but you favor the ones who are “bought in” and who serve in your ministry.
The problem is that you’ll become frustrated with all the other parents. You’ll wonder why they let their teen go to a baseball tournament instead of your retreat. You may be able to hide your frustration…for a while. But in the end, your untreated frustration will prevent you from listening to parents and understanding that their world is complicated and doesn’t revolve around your ministry.
Pathway to growth - Instead of coming in with your plan. Foster open dialogue where even fringe or unconnected parents have a voice into your ministry. Also, by listening to these parents, you’ll begin to see how your ministry plan affects ALL your ministry families, not just the ones who are already bought in. This could be informal (meals or coffee) or formal (parent meetings), but the key is to keep the conversation going.
Phase # 3 - Arrogance - “If you would just listen to me, then you would be a better parent.”
After a few more years, you’ll likely start to get a sense that your students are opposed to the decisions, actions, and words of their parents. Because you spend most of the time with students you never get the full story. In addition, your compassion for teens leads you to place blame on failed parenting attempts.
In response, you assume that because you have a better relationship with teens, parents could learn a thing or two from you. While that may be true, it doesn’t acknowledge the full scope of how hard it is to be a parent day in and day out. By taking on the role of a parenting expert, parents will feel your arrogance and eventually just avoid interacting with you.
Pathway to growth - As a youth worker you do have SOME expertise in the lives of teenagers, but parents have expertise that you don’t. Maturity recognizes when to speak and when to be silent. During this phase you can enlist your star parents to speak on matters that you don’t have expertise on.
Phase # 4 - Compassion - “Parenting is hard. I’m here for you.”
As you start to see the world through your parents’ eyes, your compassion level rises. You begin to see that the teens you love are just as broken as the parents are. Teens also contribute to dysfunctional family systems. In this phase we will willingly meet with parents, pray for them, and walk through the hard times with them. But this is where we stop. Armed with enough humility, we may feel hesitant to offer solutions. However, there’s a good chance you’re ready for success.
Experience + Expertise + Relationship + Compassion. This has set you up to be more than just a listening ear. You can offer real tangible support.
Pathway to growth - When you’ve won the right to be heard, it’s time to take advantage of that. Parents need support, encouragement, but also a challenge to fight the good fight. Take on the mantle to speak up. Also, be willing to say the hard truths that will help families grow beyond the trials.
Phase # 5 - Partnership - “Let’s work together for your child’s spiritual growth.”
This is the pinnacle of parent ministry. You don’t see parents as a threat or a problem to solve. Instead you humanize parents and welcome their feedback. You develop a healthy relationship where you know your role as spiritual leader and appreciate their role as the primary discipler of their children. Parents have a vital role in your ministry and help you shape the direction of your ministry.
If you’ve reach this season of ministry, congratulations. It was probably built through being present in the lives of families and being a champion to involve them.
Pathway to growth - Now is your time to help other youth workers and your small group leaders to develop the same love for parents that you have. Reproducing parent partnership in other leaders will help them avoid the mistakes that you made and save them from heartache. Finally, they will get to experience more of that joy that comes with parent partnership.
Do you recognize what phase you’re in? If not, the parents in your ministry probably do. Do the hard work to get better at parent ministry. There is joy ahead as you move toward maturity in your parent ministry.
Kevin Libick is a student pastor with over 15 years of ministry experience. Most of that time has been dedicated to middle school ministry. Currently, he is the Student Ministry Pastor at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, TX. He’s the husband of Kara and father of Knox. In his off time he loves watching his Texas Rangers and making his own bacon.
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