In my last post on this blog, I introduced the idea of sharing 6 things that I would do differently if I went back into youth ministry. I’ve been a Lead Pastor for 8 years, but before that spent over a decade in youth ministry.
If you didn’t catch my last post you can read it HERE.
So let’s get to my number 5 thing on my list I’d do differently. I loved spending time with teens. I loved our weekly gatherings, our trips, our events, our conferences we attended. I even loved the all-nighters. Youth Pastors are probably the only people in the world who love all-nighters!
But if I could go back and do something differently… and here’s #5… I’d make sure to spend more time with parents.
I poured my life into my teens. I taught them, loved on them, played games with them, went to their sport, musical or theater events. I had them over to my house on holidays, took them shopping, and worked alongside of them. If you’re a youth leader worth your salt, you’ve done all those things too. We spend so much time with our teens that sometimes we feel like we are the 3rd or 4th parent to them.
But the thing was, very seldom did I actually work as a team with the parents. Sure, I’d inform them of what we were doing, talk to them on the phone every once in a while and assure them that I’d return them from our trips in one piece. But I regret that I hardly ever sat down and asked the parent “How can I help your kid?” or “What are some goals you and I can set for your teenager to accomplish this school year and how can I be a part of it?” I wish I could go back and take a parent out for coffee and tell them all the great things about their kid that I see. I would certainly go back in time to tell a parent about risky behavior or poor decisions that I didn’t think were a big deal and later manifested into something bigger.
I look back at that season of my life when I started in youth ministry. I wasn’t a parent, I didn’t have my own kids. I had no clue how hard youth pastoring is. I had no clue how incredibly difficult kids can make life. I also didn’t know the sheer joy a parent can feel when someone shares a win for my kid. I also want to know if you see something in my child that can be adjusted or worked on.
Think about this for a second – you put a lot of time and effort into discipleship for your teens. You talk to them for hours on trips, you prepare relevant sermons. You teach them to pray, to worship, to read their Bibles. You have them for about an average of 8 hours a month. In that 8 hours you try to get the maximum amount of fruit from that time. But then you send them home to their parents. And they’re in the company of their parents a whole lot more than you! It is so important to make sure that you are on the same page as the parents. Make sure the parents know the values you’re helping to instill in them. Make sure they know your goals for their teens. Make sure they trust you enough to send them back.
Here’s the thing – you are not the parent to these teens. You haven’t carried them in your bellies, changed their pooped clothes, fed them, bathed them, provided for them for the past decade and a half. It’s your job to come alongside the parents, to be a confirming and supportive voice for them. If a parent doesn’t like a certain slang term, don’t use it around their kid. If they don’t like a certain nickname for their kid, don’t call them that. If they have certain moral or ethical standards, it’s your job to not only respect them, but defend them to their teens. Don’t be the one their teen can “get away with” certain actions that parent’s don’t allow.
And in order for you to do that you will have to get to know the parents. So take them out for coffee. Have a parent’s night. Have them fill out a questionnaire about their teen and about their family’s rules and guidelines. Have a vision night, but not a vision night for your ministry. A vision night for their teen. All parents have goals for their kids. Find out what the parent’s goal is and do what you can to unlock it.
So that’s number 5 for me. Spend more time with parents. I promise you that they aren’t out to get you. They aren’t going to tell you all the things you’re doing wrong, just maybe a few. They trust you enough to send their kids every week. So they probably think you’re doing a decent job. And even if they do complain a little, it’s probably something their kid has told them they don’t like, but the teen is too shy or embarrassed to tell you.
The parents of the kids in your group could be the key to unlocking the full potential of the teens in your youth group. Don’t let that slip through the cracks!