I’ve made a lot of mistakes in youth ministry—a lot!
Many of my mistakes came when I first started as a youth minister because I had no idea what I was doing. I devoured lots (and lots) of books to teach me what I needed to know, but I found that when actually doing youth ministry, I forgot much of what I read.
Sometimes I mistakenly sacrificed my students’ needs to focus on programs. And other times I remembered my students, but I forgot about my volunteers. What might be somewhat surprising is that my greatest oversight was not with students or volunteers—it was with parents of teens!
How to Support Parents of Teens
Why We Forget about Parents of Teens
Maybe you have neglected the importance of parents as cultivators of their teen’s spiritual growth. Here are two reasons why that might resonate with you:
I wasn’t a parent myself. Since I wasn’t a parent, and because my own parents were never involved in my faith while growing up, I forgot about the importance of parent participation in the spiritual life of teens.
I was told youth faith development was my job. When I began in youth ministry, I found that many parents assumed that their teen’s spiritual growth was solely my responsibility. The logic was simple- the church hired me to do the spiritual stuff. This is a tremendous weight on the youth minister’s shoulder. It also limits parents’ involvement to only “pick up” and “drop off” responsibilities.
Parents are central to the spiritual development of teenagers.
And if that’s the case, then as youth ministers, we need to support parents in fostering the spiritual growth of their teens. But how?
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Helping to Motivate Parents
One of the primary ways we can support parents is by motivating them. You may find that many parents lack the motivation to nurture spiritual growth in their teens because either (1) They don’t know why it’s important, or (2) they don’t know what to do.
If parents don’t know why being a spiritual leader is important, how can we expect them to be motivated to take on that responsibility?
Take a few minutes to write down a few bullet points on why parents should assume the role of spiritual teacher of their teen. Try to give as many reasons as you can, and even attempt to commit some of these reasons to memory.
This exercise will help you practice articulating an answer to why. Parents may ask you why it is not solely your job; why it’s better to have their involvement as well. When you commit these points to memory, you provide yourself with a well-articulated purpose. Then you will be prepared to motivate parents to take on the responsibility for themselves.
If parents don’t know how to act as teens’ spiritual teachers, how can we expect them to fulfill that role?
Another way we can support parents is by providing them with practical resources. Nobody likes to do a job they feel unequipped to do. Most of your parents did not go to Bible college or seminary, nor are they reading the latest books on youth ministry, so they need help.
So, here’s a list of a few practical resources which you can provide your parents to help them gain confidence:
Parents are not usually up to date with all the youth ministry resources available. You can help by sharing these resources with them. Books like Sticky Faith and blog posts on popular youth ministry blogs (like Youth Ministry Institute) that are pertinent to parents are worth sharing.
Have you ever thought about hosting a class for your parents? Consider hosting a class series for parents and their teens on navigating their faith through topics such as technology, sex, and drugs. These classes also provide a catalyst for parents and their teens to discuss such topics at home.
Sometimes all parents need to know is that they are not alone. Accountability can work in many ways. One way that may be helpful for parents to practice accountability is to encourage their family to participate in church-wide activities, such as a Lenten fast.
Don’t Forget to Listen!
The final, and most important, resource is the power of listening. Many parents just want to know that you are there for them.
Listening is especially helpful for youth ministers who do not have kids of their own. Listen to your youth’s parents and talk with them about how you can come alongside and encourage them.
When you motivate parents by explaining why their involvement is needed, provide them with how-to resources that give them confidence, and take time to listen to them, you avoid the common mistake of forgetting how valuable parents can be as spiritual leaders.
Zack holds a Master of Divinity degree, a bachelor’s in Biblical and Theological Studies from Palm Beach Atlantic University, and he is also an alumnus of YMI. He has the pleasure of serving as the Director of Youth & Young Adults and the Website & Social Media Coordinator at Sanlando United Methodist Church in Longwood, FL. Zack loves spending time with his wife, Olivia, usually by soaking up the Florida sun at the beach together.