Assumptions are the Achilles heel of relationships. Left on their own, with no truth to keep them in check, assumptions can grow into an impenetrable barrier. Any hope of relationship understanding or commonality is overshadowed by a belief that we already know what the other person is thinking. One’s motivation, no matter how pure, is met with skepticism, defensiveness and an overall lack of trust.
The relationship between youth worker and parents can be… tricky. I have to admit that for most of my time as a youth pastor the one thing that brought the most anxiety was parents. To my shame, I made a lot assumptions about parents. I often felt pressure from parents that I assumed revolved around statements like “I thought you were here to fix, save, babysit, entertain, educate and motivate my kid to live for Jesus.” In most youth workers there is this general fear of parents based on a set of assumptions that prohibit us from really learning from parents and partnering with them for the sake of the gospel in their sons and daughters.
I’m no longer in the day-to-day ministry trenches of student ministry. I am now a parent of two teenage young men. This new season has brought about some perspective on parents that cut against the grain of my previous assumptions. God, in his graciousness, began reshaping my perspective. I had to take an honest look at my own assumptions and came to the conclusion that I missed a significant opportunity in ministry by not engaging with parents and learning from their expertise in discipling the next generation. They are on the front lines every day of ministering to youth and because of their real time experience, they are the experts and I have much to learn. So in an effort to help the current generation of youth workers avoid the mistake I made I began surveying parents of teenagers.
What if I took the time to really listen to parents, what would I hear? This is what I heard loud and clear:
As a parent of a teenager, what are you learning?
- Parenting is the single hardest thing I have ever done.
- I need a community to come along side me.
- I need to choose the right battles to fight.
- I feel like it’s me against the world.
I wish my youth pastor knew ___________ about my child.
- The kid you see is not the kid at home or school.
- They don’t have it together as much as you think.
- They are desperate for authentic relationship and community.
- Top 3 things my kids wrestle with are anxiety, competition, and social pressure.
One thing you want youth workers to know?
- Authenticity always trumps hype.
- Take the time to really get to know my kids.
- Please bring other believers into my kids life.
If we took the time to listen to parents, what would we hear?
It’s clear that these bright, educated, hardworking, highly capable, and totally committed people are saying the single hardest thing they have ever done is… parent teenagers! Just let that sink in for a minute. Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Their kids are crumbling under the pressures of the world and even though the put on a brave face, they desperately want to be known and be part of authentic relationships.
As leaders, whether we admit it or not, we often feel like we need to have all the answers and feel it’s our responsibility to be the resident experts. The truth is, parents are the real experts. They have a wealth of knowledge from their first-hand experience. They know what is really going on. Are they tired? Do they feel alone? Are they continuing to faithfully fight for the souls of their kids? Yes! Yes! Yes! We have much to learn from these experts. We want the same thing: For their kids to take next steps with Jesus and live for Him.
If I could give you any advice as ministry leaders in the church regarding youth ministry and parents, it would be:
Create space where you can meet and hear from parents. Listen to what they are learning and what they really need from you.
2. DEVELOP RELATIONSHIP.
Parents are not your enemy; they are your ally. Get to know them. Get to know their kids. Take every opportunity to build authentic partnerships built on friendship.
3. COMMUNICATE WELL, COMMUNICATE OFTEN.
Parents need to know what’s happening in the student ministry. They want their kids involved as often as possible, it just means they need to know what’s going on well in advance.
4. DO YOUR JOB WELL FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR KIDS
We have been entrusted with a significant responsibility to teach the Word, foster gospel centered relationships and care for the students involved in your church. Make every effort to do the job you have been called to do to the best of your ability.
Friends, the parents represented in your student ministry can be the single greatest resource in your ministry. The question is, will you leverage the wisest among us for insight into how we can be the most useful resource in discipling the next generation?