Why Parents Matter in Youth Ministry
Intentionally or not, many parents end up delegating spiritual growth and discipleship for their teens to the “professionals” — youth pastors and leaders like you. After all, it’s your job. You’ve been trained; you have the experience. You know how to talk to young people. But though youth leaders play an important role in the spiritual growth of young people, parents play an even more crucial part in their child forming a lasting faith, whether they’re aware of it or not.
The problem of disengagement is not typically that parents are disinterested in their children’s spiritual growth, but they simply feel ill-equipped to do so, or assume that’s what youth ministry is for — to disciple their kids. Add to that the common teen feelings of not wanting their parents involved in everything they do, and parents often feel relegated to the sidelines to watch from a distance and hope for the best.
But being involved in the youth ministry is actually a great way for parents to shepherd the spiritual development of their children. It might just take some encouragement from youth leaders to make it happen.
There are many reasons encouraging parents’ active involvement in youth ministry creates true, long-lasting change in teens, families and communities:
- It provides a stronger foundation for long-term faith.
Youth ministry is temporary. Families are not.(1) It can be tempting to treat youth group as just another extra-curricular — and youth pastors are the coaches. Parents drop off, parents pick up, but parents aren’t in tune with what happens in between. That’s the coach’s job. When parents are consistent and intentional about being a part of their teens’ journey of faith, those young people are much more likely to make their faith a priority after high school. When youth group is not simply an activity taking up a couple hours a week, but an investment in spiritual growth, parents can build upon and support that growth before and after their child is involved, making faith more of a lifestyle and less of an extracurricular. Parents will still be there long after a youth pastor sees their child every week, so it’s important they stay involved throughout.
- It creates the opportunity for parents to see spiritual conversations and discipleship with teens modeled so they can become more confident doing it themselves. (2) Though some parents genuinely do not want to be involved in their child’s spiritual development, whether they’re nonbelievers or don’t feel it’s their responsibility, most simply don’t know how. Parenting teens can be overwhelming and challenging, especially when it comes to having serious conversations. And when a parent didn’t grow up talking freely about spiritual matters in their families, or if faith wasn’t a priority in their home as a child, it can be difficult to discern how to approach it with their own children. This is where being involved with youth ministry can be beneficial to not only the child but the parents as well. By staying up to date on the discussions their children are having within the context of youth group, they can continue the conversations at home. By volunteering with the group, they can see how youth pastors and leaders engage young people and what is effective versus not effective. They can connect the dots between what is happening at church and the changes they’re seeing (or not seeing) in their children’s spiritual and emotional development. It puts parents and youth leaders on the same team, which is always more effective in influencing youth.
- It shapes the parents’ faith, too. Going through the same Bible study or series alongside a son or daughter can fortify a parent’s spiritual development just as effectively. Not only that, but cultivating a trust-based relationship that includes discipleship between a parent and child can be a powerful teacher for the parent as well. Getting involved with youth ministry can also connect parents with other parents, creating a stronger faith community and support system for the parents and the youth.
By engaging parents, we help ensure the people who are most influential in the lives of youth are all speaking the same language. Challenge the parents of your youth to get involved in some capacity. Keep them up-to-date on what’s going on during those two hours a week, and encourage them to have conversations with their kids, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Aligning with parents is one of the most effective ways to influence the next generation for Christ — and transform the community at the same time.