For years I always told the pastor, parent, or anyone else who asked that of course I am partnering with parents. We never want to be that youth ministry that does not work alongside parents, sense they are the primary disciple makers. However, a few years ago I realized that when it comes to working out this priority I was just giving lip service. Talking to other youth ministers I realized I was not the only one. How do the youth minister and parent practically work together to see that discipleship is actually happening in our teenagers' lives, as opposed to working in isolation and only pretending that we are working together?
The following elements must be in place for the relationship between youth ministers and parents to work in reality and not just on paper.
Yes, you already know that communication is a key to every relationship. However in my experience the youth minister normally only talks to the parent when something is wrong or when he needs a house for the youth ministry's high-energy weekend. The youth minister and parent have to be talking on a normal basis. If nothing else it is always a good idea to clue in your parents on what you are preaching every Wednesday night or Sunday morning. When you have your sermon or lesson prepared, email, text, or Facebook message the parents to let them know what you're teaching and give them some helpful questions so they can be prepared to discuss what they learned when they come home. Also, the youth minister needs to have regular meetings with parents to talk vision, upcoming events, and to hear from parents their questions and concerns.
You can either say it or actually plan it. Telling parents you are praying for them and their children is one thing, or you can actually set up a time to pray with them and for them. In our student ministry we meet with dads every other Monday morning before work to pray for them and with them. In this time we hear their concerns and join with them to lift up their children to the Father. One more summer camp alone probably won't get your student to finally "get it." That work comes from the Lord and especially through the parent in his or her life. Praying for your students' parents is how you truly pray for your students' growth.
Spend Time with Parents
As much as youth ministers want to hang out with students at high school football games or get breakfast before school, they need to initiate relationships with the parents. Ask a dad to lunch, sit by parents at a game, and invite parents over for dinner and coffee. Get to know them and have a relationship with them. This context will make things a lot easier on yourself as you communicate your vision. If this relationship does not develop it is unlikely that parents will know the youth minister's mind and heart, and they will likely always wonder about the direction of the youth ministry.
Create Pro-Family Calendars
If you want to go beyond lip service in partnering with parents, make sure you are not overloading your ministry calendar with events. A few years ago a group of parents asked me to free up spring break from ministry events so they could actually see their children. After listening to the group I found out their schedules were so busy that they were not spending adequate time together as families. Instead of going into a speech on their schedules, meet parents halfway and help them. Lectures to parents on what they are doing wrong is not going to be productive in the end. Coming alongside them to offer solutions is the loving and proactive thing to do.
What Could Be
What would it look like if most, even all parents supported you and prayed for you because they actually knew what you were trying to do? Your resources would have no limit. You need parents! In all your events and preaching, you will rarely get to the heart of students without knowing and spending time with their parents. They are the main disciple makers, and they can help you understand their children better than you could ever on your own. If this is not happening it is only because you have not taken the time to share your heart with the parents about the vision God gave you. You may be able to point out their weaknesses, just as quick as they point out yours. But they could use your prayer and resources more than your quick-tempered resentment.
Parents, what would it look like to know that what you teach at home is being echoed by the youth minister at church? Parents, you need the youth minister! The youth minister has real influence with your children, and he can be used to help shape and grow their minds and hearts. The youth minister will never replace you but has potential to be an important voice if you will give him your support, prayer, and time.
The youth minister and parent are each other's best allies when they work together. If we want our students to persevere with faith after high school, having joy in Christ and not in sin, parents and youth ministers have to support and encourage each other. Discipleship starts to go deep in the teenage years, and the whole church must cooperate. What's at stake? Only the future family of the church.
John Pond is pastor of students at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.