by Katie Gosswein
Suggestions for being a caring partner with the parents of your youth group.
Being a parent is a high and holy calling...and one of the toughest jobs around.
There are many other words we can use to describe the blessings and burdens of being a parent, but underlying them all is a gracious God providing the wisdom and strength needed to nurture a child from one's birth to the other's death. In truth, parents are one of God's greatest gifts to the church, for without parents there would be no need for future planning boards, no need for Sunday School, and certainly no need for youth ministry.
These people have accepted, with God's help, this calling and taken on the divine task of teaching, nurturing, and providing for the youngest in God's kingdom. It is into this remarkable world that we as youth leaders are given an invitation to join in the journey and assist with the adventure of shaping another person's life.
What is the role of the youth leader in this journey? It is a unique partnership--parents and youth leaders--but it is the youth leader who accepts an invitation into partnership, rather than being the one extending the invitation. This creates a different perspective for our ministry. The emphasis goes from "what are we doing for them," to "what we have been invited to share in...a high and holy calling...and one of the toughest jobs on earth!" The fact that young people are in our churches is where the party begins. The fact that parents have chosen to make your church, your youth ministry, a part of their family life is great, and rejoicing in heaven takes place with such a choice.
As a partner in the journey you may ask, "How can I help?" What can I do to make this nurturing process joyful for parents and youth? What kinds of activities would be interesting and helpful? What would enrich their lives? How is God guiding them to live out their calling in that place? In the end, we are helping families set priorities...joining in the process, rather than standing back and being discouraged with the priorities they may be setting.
Setting priorities is a personal matter, but perhaps those who need our prayers the most are those called to make those decisions for and with their children. The parental struggle is to make the right choice for their children, always desiring what is in their best interests.
These adolescent years are filled with the tug-of-war issues which ultimately form a war of independence. Choices about the level of participation in church life and youth group are a prime target for a battleground, and in many ways our active partnership can help keep the casualty numbers low. The partnership will also help us remember that the issue is what is spiritually best for the parent and youth, rather than focusing on more personal desires for numbers in our youth group or rave reviews for our planning.
So how can we help parents set priorities? While we, as youth leaders, have many things to offer the youth and their parents, it is helpful to remember three key things that parents have going for them which youth leaders do not. They are as follows:
- It is the parents' "party" (or war, depending on the day).
- Parents know their child better than we do.
- Parents love their child more than we do.
Do we still have a right to enter into priority setting issues? Yes, if it is offered in the form of support. God asks us to use our gifts as youth workers to inform, edify, and help parents develop better relationships with their children.
Where should we start? Listed below are several suggestions, but consider first your own situation. Only you can reflect on your youth ministry and determine which are ideas to pursue. These are not listed in any order of priority, because the level of importance may vary from one to another.
Structure your youth programs to allow better parenting.
Rather than having parent-training seminars, effectiveness may be increased if you build activities into your programs that give parents the chance to do what they, as parents, need to do--spend time with their child.
Examples would be providing youth/parent nights, providing a family retreat, or having a fun competition of some sort where parents and youth oppose each other. There are several resources out that even offer parent/youth questionnaires which can spark conversation and Bible study. When planning other events, be careful not to intrude on family time. A youth meeting during the dinner hour may rob a family of important time for conversation and nurturing.
While some parents' first reaction may be that their child doesn't want to spend time with them, encourage them to realize just like all of us, youth don't always say what they mean. If it is a group activity and everyone's parents are going to be there, no one youth is singled out.
Think the best of your parents and remember them in prayer.
It's easy to get discouraged when you plan a program but can't find enough adult help to make it successful. Be encouraged to take the more difficult road and reflect on why parents arent involved. Several suggestions are listed below as to why parents may not be setting the best example for making church and youth group a priority for the family. After reading them you may even have a few of your own.
Many parents today seem to be discouraged that their children are not experiencing the childhood they were able to experience. The world they grew up in no longer exists, but we forget this has been the case with every generation. There are so many areas which can heap guilt on how the parents of today are raising their children, but the church should not join in the chorus.
Fear has a paralyzing effect, particularly when you believe the ability to offer your child a safe, joyful childhood is beyond your grasp. It is easy, in our media-fed society, to live in fear for your child, but the church has the ability to break through the negative images with the hope of the Gospel. Give parents the opportunity to see the good in the youth of today through Christ.
3. Economic Realities.
Most families need two incomes to survive. We are often not privy to the inner struggles around economic issues, but be assured these decisions are not made lightly. Two working parents, no matter the circumstance, will impact the priorities set for the family. Cost and scheduling of events are directly impacted by how many parents are working and their availability to get youth there.
4. Time Management.
This is probably the area where the church and family can come into a constant conflict and yet the church has the ability to offer caring concern. These days, every minute of the week is invaded and family members are bombarded with opportunities--all of which take time. Spirit-guided creativity can help. Parents, youth, and leaders should pray together about this concern, and when you have determined a schedule, make the most of the time together. Planning and preparation reveal that the time spent together is a gift not to treat lightly.
We live in the age of information/communication and many take advantage of it. The number of experts who lurk around every corner to tell parents how to parent is overwhelming. Again, the church has the choice to join in the chorus or present a message of Gospel which speaks to all of life and which will provide comfort for the whole person. Finding ways to be supportive and taking the time to listen will speak the love of Christ more clearly than any "training session."
Provide encouragement rather than advice.
Many parents feel isolated, even though there are millions of resources out there to tell them that what they are experiencing is not unique. They begin to think they are the only ones having questions and wondering if what they are doing is beneficial for their child, especially in the teenage years. Since teens will often be negative, parents can easily be drawn into a negative and discouraged outlook on their ability to parent. Be the voice of encouragement. Speak words of Gospel to them.
Help build networks, putting parents in touch with parents.
There was a time in our society when this network was automatic, and parents, even as they were raising their own children, could live as apprentices as they watched aunts, uncles, older siblings raise their children.
Conversations would take place on parenting matters in casual settings about how to nurture a child, appropriate discipline, and sharing the common experiences of the parenting process. Unfortunately, this isn't the case today. A great gift the church community can offer is the sense of extended family. Be intentional about connecting one person with another. Connect people who might have similar experiences, interests, age of children, or common schools. Families dont always have or take the time to seek out other contacts in the church, but as caring youth leaders we can help make connections.
Being a partner for the parents of our church's youth is a great foundation to lay for youth ministry. For further reading on ways to understand and help parents of your congregation, check out Dr. Merton Strommen's book The Five Cries of Parents. To quote Dr. Strommen, "In parents, we need to recognize that though they seem to be in control, mature, and well organized, they are really going through a second adolescence of their own. They face enormous pressures from their own aging process, career changes, and economic stress." In other words, youth ministry can be as effective for the parents as for their children.
Youth ministry isn't just kid stuff, it is the heart and joy of the congregational family. May the Spirit of the Lord richly bless your efforts on behalf of some of the biggest kids in the family, the parents.