Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church Post 3

Primary Audience – Local Context
Secondary Audience – Fellow youthworkers and Kingdombuilders

This post may be a bit more case-specific but it has been occupying my mind lately. For the last few weeks, I’ve been leading an adult Sunday School class entitled, “The Faith of the American Teenager” based on Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching and Dean’s Almost Christian. Their research insists upon the parents are the greatest influence of their student’s faith; not the youth pastor, not the youth volunteers, not the great camp speaker or the celebrity Christian, but mini-van driving Mom and sandal-and-socks-wearing Dad.

For years, many youth ministry types have said similar.   I have also heard it in the form of, “They may drive you crazy but you need to get parents involved in your ministry!” or “Parents can be a youth pastor’s worst nightmare or best friend.” The youth pastor-parent relationship has been a dicey one to say the least. In my church, we have always seen youth ministry as a support to the home but we have always felt that we are not utilizing the full potential of this belief. Many of us have been talking about this for some time and lately, more conversations are forming as well. That’s right, the wolves are laying down with the lambs.

Like most youth pastors, my relationships with parents has been diverse. Some have given me nothing but grief and blame, others have given me too much credit and of course many in the middle. Overall and over the years, I have enjoyed wonderful and encouraging relationships with many families and consider parents to not only be allies, but friends and co-laborers (and know that it matters to me that I write these words with integrity). , I have/am seen/seeing that when there is trust between parents and pastors, there is better ministry in and out of the home and in and out of the “youth room”.

In previous posts I have been stating that in order for their to be a healthy vibrant church in the future, it needs to be discipleship based now (read Christ-centered, relational, etc.) and second, it must be focused on the Millennials as we focused on the Boomers. Today, I want to emphasize that youth ministry has to to go beyond “allowing parents to help out once in a while” and truly partner with parents in the development of their children’s faith. Some families/churches are already doing this, at least in some ways, while some have out truly outsourced their child’s spiritual development to a weekly program that is scarcely attended and some are confused why their child lacks spiritual identity.

A ministry that partners with parents requires more than emails and newsletters. Frankly many parents have told me kindly that they do not “really read” correspondence from the church which makes things hard (I literally have an email and a weekly handout that is called, “News You Need to Read” but what can you do?). I’ve attended seminars and read articles/books that have focused on ministry to parents and while there are many excellent thoughts and ideas, it will take a reculturing and new understanding of youth ministry for all of us. It’s when we understand and care about the objectives that we not only read emails and correspondence but serve together for the collective goal.

The Sunday School class I have been teaching has reinforced this and a few have suggested that we do something like this a bit more frequent. Today I am brainstorming out loud that while I would like to teach/lead more discussions with parents, I think it’s also necessary that parents teach/lead these discussions to each other. This seems logical for youth workers like me who are in their 30’s and whose oldest child is not yet three.

I truly believe that youth ministry today serves the future church by not only bridging the gap between the parents but truly serving the parents. This raises many questions, like what about parents who are not believers or very dysfunctional, certain types of churches, etc. But these are matters to be resolved in a healthy culture, not reasons to be released from purusing it. I keep trying to remind myself of that.

So yeah, the first thing I think of when hearing parents working with youth workers for the sake of their students is the wolf lying down with the lamb, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs drinking coffee together, and Brett Brett Favre playing for the Minnesota Vikings – oh wait :) Well, anything is possible you know.


  1. Tim
    fantastic thoughts. we are striving to create a culture here that works with and for parents as advocates, coaches, friends, resources.
    we have tried all sorts of approaches, many with little results
    communication can be helpful, but it cannot be the primary way in which we engage parents.
    i have found that building authentic relationships with them is huge (much to the dismay of their teens though)
    we too have done an Understanding Your Teen type of class on Sundays (usually every 2 years)
    and are now hosting Parent nights once every 6 weeks targeted for the parents in our community to connect with other parents sort of a support group with some content
    ie Social Media, Teens and Sex, Peer Pressure
    relative topics parents are really concerned about

  2. That Vikings reference was for me wasn’t it?

    I have often thought about parents and exactly what to do with them, they seem to be able to add so much to the ministry sometimes and other times just make everything so difficult. Alas. I continue to do everything I can to over communicate and involve them in everything I can, I think I began to see them as partners and it changed the way I integrate parents into the ministry. After all, we both want the same thing, their kid living out a healthy vibrant faith in Jesus.

  3. @Dan, agreed, nothing beats the genuine relationships. But wow, parent nights every 6 weeks? You’ll have to walk me through that – would appreciate some advice. (Have an information night for our upcoming mission trip tomorrow – wish me luck).

  4. @Mark, lol – the whole post was for you ;)

    I tell you the truth, as difficult as some parents have been, I wonder if people like you and me will be our children’s youth pastor’s worst nightmare. “You mean you didn’t read Dean, Root or Folsmbe in undergrad? You are unfit to co-labor with me and my wife in the spiritual formation of our children.”

  5. @Mark, lol – the whole post was for you ;)

    I tell you the truth, as difficult as some parents have been, I wonder if people like you and me will be our children’s youth pastor’s worst nightmare. “You mean you didn’t read Dean, Root or Folmsbe in undergrad? You are unfit to co-labor with me and my wife in the spiritual formation of our children.”

  6. Agreed but we’ve earned the right to be a pain. :)

  7. Haha – ok that settles it then.

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