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You don't have to be married or have kids to minister to parents
Photo by eudæmon.
In all honesty, I think I became aware of parents who were connected with my youth ministry only after I became a parent myself.
I never ignored them on purpose, and I often recruited them to get involved, but I sure didn’t understand how to encourage or equip parents.
As I reflect on my youth ministry before marriage or kids, I think I would have and could have supported parents, but it simply wasn’t on my radar screen. In recent years I’ve noticed young youth workers who have made great efforts to encourage and resource parents who are often 10 or 20 years older than they are. This type of leadership is refreshing, but I don’t think it’s the norm.
Lets name a few realities that face youth workers when it comes to ministering to parents:
1. Most of us have had little training in this specific area.
2. It can be intimidating.
3. The temptation to take a default posture of, “What do I have to offer a parent?”
4. Many youth workers rarely cross paths with the parents of their students.
5. Many parents simply want to dump their child in our ministry.
Have you found several of these realities to be problematic in connecting with parents? I sure have. Yet, partnering with parents is so crucial to the spiritual development of teenagers that we cannot afford to avoid parents.
So what can we do? Glad you asked. Whether you ever become a parent or not, you can:
This is the easiest and often the most underused strategy. One of my own children has been fairly difficult since she was born. There is a certain lady who works in our children’s ministry who goes out of her way to tell my wife how much she loves our daughter. These short statements often have the power to make my wife’s not-so-great day look a whole lot brighter.
2. Ask, Don’t Tell
Since you are not a parent, you have no pressure to act like one. I wish I would have asked way more questions of parents when I wasn’t a parent. I could have used the insight. For instance, start with a student that you know the best. Go ask their parent how they could imagine you (the youth worker) supporting their child and family in a more effective way. Don’t let them give you an answer on the spot. Ask them to think about it for a day or so and circle back to them to see what they say. I promise you, this will floor, encourage, and earn trust from many parents. If you are more on the introverted side, you could always ask by email, or send out a short parent survey asking some of the same questions of all the parents in your ministry.
3. Leverage Other Leaders
There are many great parent whisperers out there, and you probably have some in your community. Parenting seminars are often a financial investment for a church, yet they can be an even larger investment in the lives of parents. Create a gathering that is easy to attend, full of tools for their tool belts and encouragement for their souls. You don’t have to BE the expert; you just have to know a few.
A Closing Thought or Two
1. It has been my experience that the chasm between the youth minister (of any age) without kids and the parents of teenagers is not as far as we have made it in our minds. I actually believe that a healthy relationship between parents and youth ministry leaders is simply one invitation to coffee away. Try it, and let me know how it turns out.
2. I’m not sure how this thought seeped into our culture, but many folks believe they can only lead those who are younger than they are. In contrast, the Bible is full of young kings, leaders, and influencers like Samuel, Jeremiah, Ruth, and Timothy. You can lead up. Those adults who are older than you often crave your ideas, passion, and optimism.
PS: Here’s a free webcast with three ministry leaders on partnering with parents in youth ministry!
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