Partnering with Parents: A Family Ministry Must

paretner-with-parentsWhen I first began my journey in Student Ministry, I had a mentor tell me that I will never be a successful Youth Pastor if I don’t partner with parents.  He said that parents would be my best friends in ministry, even if it seems like they don’t like me.

For the first few years I tried doing Student Ministry without parents – and never succeeded.  The only time I connected with parents was when they were in my office frustrated at me for not communicating clearly about an event, charging too much for a summer trip, talking about specific topics without their permission, or the worst – telling a student their parents didn’t know what they were talking about.

I learned pretty quickly that I had to do whatever it took to partner with parents.  I had to reach out to them, talk with them, go to lunch with them, get to know them, make myself available to them, allow them to speak into the ministry, and yes, even allow them to lead areas of the ministry!

Now, as a father of five children, I definitely see the importance of partnering with parents, from the perspective of a parent.

The moment our ministries become only about the children and students is the moment we begin missing the mark as leaders.  Each one of us has been blessed with an opportunity to not only reach students, but also and even more importantly, the entire family.  How can we partner with the parents God has placed in our ministry and empower them to become the spiritual leaders of their homes?

I now view our parents as our greatest asset – even more than having the quarterback of one of the local football teams attend our youth ministry.  Our leadership teams – from preschool to high school – are full of parents who desire to serve within their child’s ministry!  To me – one of the greatest success stories is to have parents as passionate about our youth ministry as their students!

Yes, it is neat to see parents passionate about ministry and they are extra volunteers for our ministries, but why would we want to partner with parents?

First, parents are the primary influences on the faith formation of children and young people.  They are the primary ‘impact people’ for better or for worse.

In their book, Partnering with Parents in Youth Ministry, Jim Burns and Mike DeVries write, ‘If we truly desire to be more effective in seeing the lives or our students transformed into the likeness of Christ, the greatest resource we have is the greatest influence in their lives – their parents.  Our goal is to come alongside parents to help them pass on the faith to their children… We should never underestimate the power of parents in the spiritual formation of their children.  If spiritual formation is the key – and we believe it is – parents are too valuable to leave out of the equation.  We need to bring parents into the circumstances and situations of their children, affirming and helping to re-establish parental roles in the spiritual formation of our students.’

In Think Orange, Reggie Joiner introduces the 3000/40 principle. The 3000/40 principle is based upon the observation that a typical child spends 3,000 hours per year with their parents and 40 hours per year in church-related activities. If we’re trying to build a master strategy to build faith and character in our kids, it makes a great deal of sense to leverage the 3,000 hours a year children have with their parents as opposed to putting all of our resources into the 40 hours kids spend at church.

Second, parents know their children better than we do!  They have the opportunity to have more ‘teachable moments’ with their children than we do.  Spiritual formation is more than just education – it is the learning and experiencing of faith in and through the folds and creases of everyday life.  The course of daily life must be the primary classroom for faith exploration, testing, and practice.

Third, for the most part, parents care for their children even more than us!  Here is a perfect example… Two of my nephews are in our middle school ministry.  I love both of them dearly, respect them, and have seen them grow tons over the past few years.  But when I go home at the end of the day, even though they are family and key students within our ministry, their parents display a love and care for them that I cannot even compare to.  It is the same with my five children.  We have some of the greatest preschool and elementary leaders I have ever met, but their love and care for my children cannot compare to the love and care I show to them.

If you have not already, each of you will come in contact with children who have parents that do not care for them at all…  One of the most difficult experiences I have ever faced in ministry is when a student shares with me the neglect, hatred, and lack of compassion their parent shows them.

When this happens, we first must remember – we cannot fix this problem over night.  It takes time, forgiveness, healing, and will often take hours of professional counseling.  As hard as it may be, never feel like you have to bear the burden of someone else’s hurt due to the mistakes a parent has made.

Even during these moments, we must remember that parents also need and deserve our respect, support, and help.  I have seen many of these circumstances reconciled due to the love and respect the family ministry leaders showed the parents!

So what practical things can we do to partner with parents and see the core of our families grow spiritually?

As family ministry leaders, we must establish a safe harbor for our parents.  The majority of parents will find safety when a church accepts their current situation and helps them make the most of that situation.  We must meet our parents where they are and affirm God’s grace as the foundation for parenting – trusting that God is actively pursuing all families – no matter their makeup, size, or background!

We must also build a compassionate community for parents.  Are you intentionally connecting with parents in meaningful ways?  I challenge you to create an environment where help is provided and mutual support is honored.  Develop opportunities for parents to connect and relate to one another – formally and informally.

One of the steps we are taking as a church is to develop an environment of community for our parents.  We are launching several Family Ministry Community Groups in the next several months that will involve parent mentors and small group material surrounding parenting of different aged children.  We hope and pray it opens doors for parents to share their struggles and grow in community with other parents.  We also believe it will create a culture of discipleship and accountability amongst our parents.

Another practical step to developing the partnership with parents is to provide activities that engage and empower parents.  Whether it is parenting workshops, annual parenting and marriage conferences, or weekly communication in regards to the week’s message – we must be creating a sense of urgency within our parents!  They are designed by God to be the spiritual leaders of their homes.  As church leaders, we must assist in empowering them to live this out on a daily basis!

One of our biggest wins as at Cape Christian Fellowship is our Fam Jam program.  It is a chance for kids to bring their parents to church to hear about the monthly virtue through an entertaining and comic service.  It involves skits, music, and tons of fun for the entire family!  Every month we provide follow up tools for our families to take and implement what their kids are learning in church.  We must constantly be giving parents the opportunity to reinforce God’s Word!

That leads us to the next practical tool… We must also provide constant support for our families.  Whether it is through a resource guide or a simple conversation – we must help our parents live out their God-ordained call as the spiritual leaders of their homes.  This can also be accomplished by teaching faith skills and practices to parents through baptism classes, Rites of Passage ministries, and parent meetings

Parents new to the church, or to church period, might not have a clue about buying a Bible or praying with their kids.  Don’t be afraid to offer a recommended resource list to parents to help them in their growing faith.

I recently came across an incredible web-based Rites of Passage ministry that has led us to develop an entire Milestones Ministry.  While children and students experience transitions, parents are also faced with change and challenges in their parenting journey.  The beauty of a Milestone or Rites of Passage Ministry lies in the extent in which the family and church work together to mentor children and students spiritually and emotionally during significant moments of life.  Through our weekly services, classes, events, training, and mentorships we will work to empower our families to become the spiritual leaders of their homes.

All of these are great concepts, but to me the last one is the most important.  As family ministry leaders, we must create a culture in which the God’s love shines through every one of our conversations and relationships.  You do not have to wait for your pastor or ministry director to approve this one!  We must be intentionally creating relationships with parents – showing them you care for who they are as individuals.

One last thought… creating a ‘family-friendly’ culture begins with you.  If you want to bring about change, start with yourself.  If you have children, let others see you partner with your children’s ministry and other adults who work with your kids at church.  Be intentional about sharing the impact those partnerships are making in your family.  Use whatever platform you can find or create to tell parents that God rejoices when parents lead family time with God, pray with their children, and worship with their kids inside and outside of church.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to have kids spend time with their parents.  Rather, the goal is to equip and motivate parents to be their kids’ teachers, shepherds, and heroes!

Attractive Christ Centered Student Ministry

I remember the first time I laid eyes on my wife…  It was exactly 11 years ago tomorrow, at a student ministry New Year’s Eve party.  There she was – blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbly personality, athletic, and a great family!  At least for me, there was an instant attraction that made me want to come back for more!  Now to be totally honest, she would tell you a completely different story.  She saw a cocky college kid who had a weird eye.  While there was not much of an attractional appeal on her end, she was nice enough to at least give me the time of day.

After I moved from Michigan to Florida, I made my first big move and asked Autumn out on a date. Again, she didn’t see it as a date, but a friendly dinner and game of putt-putt golf.  We spent several hours that evening talking about life, family, movies, sports, and more!  She became more and more attractive every time we got together, and yes, she even began falling for me lol!

Although my wife is the hottest woman on the planet, the friendship I have with her is far more attractive than the blonde hair or blue eyes.  The relationship we have may not always be perfect, but I know she is there for me at all times – no matter how good I am at something or how many times I fail.  She is there to love me, pray for me, pick me up, and kick me in the butt when necessary.  Now that is attractive!

“The Google” defines attractive as ‘pleasing or appealing to the senses…’  Too often I believe churches look at student ministry as an avenue of appealing devices, lights, sounds, food, and more!  In other words… if we have the loudest, rockiest band, the biggest light show, the craziest leaders, the best coffee and pizza, the wildest games and events, and the most emotionally attractive message we will draw hundreds, if not thousands of students to our location!  While that may be true, what is it actually accomplishing?  What are we truly drawing those students to? Are we just filling seats with crazy middle and high school students, or are truly seeing lives impacted for the cause of Christ?  What type of life journey are we taking those students on?  Is Christ at the center of everything we do and say, or is he sitting in the back row watching from a distance?

Now please hear me out for a minute… I believe in attractional ministry.  I love loud worship, crazy light shows, insanely wild leaders, and yes… we even serve coffee and pizza every Wednesday night!  But our focus is on sharing Christ through intentional conversations, relationships, message, and worship.  I am not nearly concerned as much with our worship set or service structure as I am with the amount of time and energy our leaders are pouring into their own personal relationships with Christ.  I am more concerned about how much time our small group leaders and speakers are spending in prayer and spiritual preparation than I am about whether or not they follow the exact list of questions given to them ahead of time.  

As leaders, we must rely on the direction of the Holy Spirit – within every individual conversation and overall service.  Our students must experience the love and compassion of Christ, while being challenged with the truths of God’s Word and what it means to have a relationship with Him.  Music will impact people, but it alone cannot eternally change lives.  Food will draw students, especially if it is free, but it will most likely not be the turning point in somebody accepting Christ as their personal Savior.  The moment the crazy, insane middle school leader gets a student to eat a blended McDonald’s Happy Meal will most likely not be the turning point that causes somebody to see their need for a Savior.

While creating a program or service that is culturally attractive for our students, we must never miss our purpose in carrying out the ministry God has called us to…creating a space for students to experience Jesus Christ!  Just like it is the relationship I have with my wife that makes her most attractive, it must be the relationship one can have with Jesus Christ that makes our ministries so attractive!  My prayer is that we have students returning each and every week because of their desire to become more like Christ.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your leadership team in regards to an Attractive Christ Centered Student Ministry…

  • What are the main reasons students attend your student ministry?
  • Have you defined and communicated the vision to your entire leadership team?
  • How much time do you and your leadership teams spend in prayer before every service or event?
  • What are you doing to encourage and help hold accountable the spiritual growth of your leaders?
  • Is there more time spent on the logistics of the service than on intentional relationships amongst students and leaders?
  • Do you and your leaders display the same amount of intentionality and passion during the message and small groups as they do during game time and worship?
  • Do you spend more time researching the latest craziest games or on studying how to clearly teach the truth and love of God’s Word to students?