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!

Developing Spiritual Discipline Amongst Leadership Teams: Part 2

SpiritualDisciplinesSlideIn order to see spiritual discipline developed amongst our leadership teams, we must answer the following questions…

Why should we develop spiritual discipline within our own lives?

What practical steps can we take to develop spiritual discipline amongst our family ministry teams?

In I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Paul provides enough information for several weeks’ worth of messages out of these 4 verses.  Tomorrow I will walk through 3 simple points we can all take and apply to our daily walk with Christ as ministry leaders…

1 – Strive for your Prize

In verse 24, Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Very few of us remember the team or individual who finishes second – the team that loses the Super Bowl, the individual who wins the Silver Medal at the Olympics, or the team that loses by 1 point in the State Championship game.  A great difference between those games and the Christian “race” is that every Christian who will pay the price of careful training can win.  We must strive for victory in and through everything we do and say

Spiritual discipline must be evident in our Christian walk.  Too often in life we settle for mediocrity – we settle for being good and miss being great! I believe God has called us to be great in everything we do and say.  We must not settle for second place, but constantly be striving for greatness… striving for victory… striving towards a stronger, more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ… striving to become the ministry leaders God desires us to be!

2 – Train for your Crown

In verse 25, Paul says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Those of you who have spent any amount of time around the game of football know the physical endurance and training that goes into the game.  For many football players it begins with two practices a day beginning in early August.  On top of that, did you know that yoga is one of the most widely used training programs for NFL Offensive Lineman?  It takes extreme levels of discipline and training to play at high levels.

Beethoven, the famous composer, was known to practice hours at a time every day as a child.  I began playing golf at a very young age, and I ended up playing at the college level for 2 years.  But it took hours of practice and discipline every day for several years – leading up to college – to get to that level.  Success in many areas of life takes much more than physical discipline – it takes mental, emotional, financial, and relational discipline as well.

Our spiritual journey must also include strict training.  Your effectiveness as a Christian is first dependent on your character.  The focus of spiritual leadership demands that you maintain spiritual discipline, because you cannot take others where you have not been.

The success of your ministry will depend, at least in part, upon your personal growth – this is the greatest need within most student ministry teams!  One of the central charges given by Jesus was to make disciples of all nations.  We cannot accomplish this apart from spiritual discipline.  True spiritual discipline takes accountability, dedication to God’s Word, involvement in community, and ultimately truly knowing Christ more and more every day!

3 – Fight for your Faith

I Corinthians 9:26-27 – “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

I know this may not be the best example, but I want you to think of two boxers…  Every punch thrown is meant to land squarely on their opponent in order to send them crawling from the fight.  When Paul says, “I beat my body,” he figuratively means he would give his body a black eye and, if necessary, knock it out.

Paul put his body into slavery to his mission of winning souls for Christ.  We must fight our bodies the same way.  Think of how often and how easy it is to give into the sinful pleasures of this world – the things that make us feel good.  Instead, we must lead our body, making it our slave.  We must continually fight against our own sinful self – at the same time striving towards a deeper relationship with Christ.

Developing spiritual leadership amongst our teams begins and ends with each and every one of us.  We set the bar.  We establish the spiritual maturity of our team around us.  Whether you lead an entire ministry, a small group on Sunday mornings, or work as a volunteer within the nursery, your goal must be to set the bar of spiritual growth high for those around you!

I am one to give those in ministry leadership the benefit of the doubt, but I also believe in a high level of accountability.  As a leader, if you want the people around you to study the Bible, pray, fast and grow closer to Christ, then you must make sure you are doing it as well.  The vision for spiritual maturity in a church will rarely exceed that of a leader’s life.  We must strive to go where you want to take the people around you!

Also, find ways to practice the spiritual discipline in community.  There is an old saying about leadership: ‘If you are leading and no one is following then you are just out for a walk.’  Don’t walk alone toward spiritual maturity.  Discover the various ways to lead people.  The list is endless.  Read the New Testament together over the summer months.  Memorize a key passage that follows the theme of a message series and repeat it during worship.  Commit to a church-wide fast while making key decisions.  Meet 15 minutes before every service for a Prayer Huddle. Make sure every one of the leaders around you is involved in community outside of your weekend services.  Emphasize the importance of quality family time within the lives of your leaders.  Make sure each and every one of your leaders is attending a church service every weekend!

But again – if you are not accomplishing these things, then how can you require or encourage your leaders to live out spiritual discipline in their own lives?

Often the spiritual disciplines are misrepresented as exclusively practiced on our own.  Make sure they are used to draw the body of Christ closer together as well.  As leaders we must be continually growing closer to Christ, leading through community and holding followers accountable to a life of spiritual discipline.

I challenge you right now to evaluate two things – where are you at in regards to spiritual discipline within your own life and what type of spiritual impact are you making on the lives around you? 

Humbly Unashamed

unashamedOur culture does an excellent job at identifying people by a title, position, or socioeconomic status.  We often refer to someone based on his or her cultural background or what they do for a living.  Family dynamics, abilities, talents, or relationship status can easily effect our perception of someone.  As we live each day, this can be to our advantage, but it can also become a major detriment to what God is calling us to be and do!

Let me take a few moments to personalize my thoughts…  I am blessed to be a part of an incredible Thursday morning Bible study with an awesome group of men.  It is a very diverse group that God has brought together for a purpose.  I am encouraged to see and hear the hearts of these men, all of whom desire to grow closer to Christ on a daily basis!

This past Thursday one of the guys began talking through the concept of a soldier and a servant.  The majority of soldiers are known for being bold, tough, rough around the edges, and for being able to handle extremely difficult circumstances.  We don’t ever hear of a soldier being lazy, reckless, or cowardice.  In order to be successful, a soldier must learn to overcome fear, be disciplined in every aspect of life, and have the ability to efficiently get the job done.  They are often fearless and at peace – even in the midst of war!

On the flip side, a servant is characterized by humility, compassion, grace, and submission.  Unless I am eating at Dick’s Last Resort, I prefer a server who is looking out for my best interest, someone who is full of compassion and sympathy if something goes wrong, and is there to make my dinner the best experience possible, which can be very tough if all 5 of our children are out to eat with us!

Throughout his letters to the various churches, Paul combines characteristics of a servant and a soldier when challenging us on our spiritual journey.  He begins every one of his letters by submitting to the calling God has placed on his life.  His words are full of humility, recognizing His relationship to Christ.  In Romans 1:1, Paul writes, ‘Paul, a servant of Christ…’ He uses the same word to begin his letter to the church of Philippi and in his letter to Titus.

Throughout the epistles, Paul challenges followers of Christ to live their lives in accordance with the humility of Jesus Christ – completely focusing on the needs of others before our own.  In I Timothy 1:15, Paul describes himself as the worst of sinners.  He is constantly humbling himself in the sight of man in order to lift up the cross of Christ.

At the same time, Paul writes extensively about the comparisons between a Christian and a soldier.  He refers to our spiritual journey as a constant battle between sin and holiness.  In Ephesians 6, he challenges Christians to put on the full armor of God so we can stand boldly against the temptations of this world.  Shortly after Paul’s conversion, we see him begin living with an incredible boldness as He preaches and teaches the message of the Gospel.  In Romans 1, Paul challenges us to not be ashamed of the Gospel message!

Are you unashamed of the Gospel?  Is it the reason you do what you do and are who you are?  Through a life of humility and boldness, are you characterized as a follower of Christ?  Too often we are either prideful of our abilities and talents or ashamed of being who Christ wants us to be.  We miss what it means to be humble in our character, yet bold in our faith!  We are God’s servants, called by Him to be on the front lines, standing courageously for Him!

As we strive to become more like Christ, may we not miss the significance of standing firm on the truth of God’s Word, while also humbly approaching every aspect of life!  As others see us, may our identity be found in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ!