Barriers to Preventing Parents Involvement in Youth Ministry

Originally published July 2004.

“When it comes to impacting teenagers for Christ, who’s the superhero and who’s the sidekick?  Well, both Christian and secular researchers say you’re Robin and your kids’ parents are Batman.”  --Rick Lawrence, Group, January/February 2005

1.  The parents need help in raising their own children.  They don’t need to help you to become the cool influence.  Parents do want that out of you but not at their expense.

 Ted Haggard* of New Life Church in Colorado Springs wrote this for ParentMinistry.org (June 16, 2004), “The youth pastor has to understand that there may be times when he or she becomes very influential in a young person's life. Their influence is not to be the parent or to be the police officer or people like that, but to teach young people how to respond to parents and how to respond to police officers and how to respond to the school system and education. It is the youth pastor's job to make young people successful. It is not the youth pastor's job to just personally connect with the young person, but to personally connect with them in order to coach them towards a successful life in the future.

“There's one other thing that's very important in this area for the youth pastor. The youth pastor must model life well. This means that they can not be a slob, they can not be lazy, they can not be disrespectful toward the pastor, toward the church, toward the elders, or toward parents. Instead, the youth pastor must understand the big principles of life well and model them well so that the parents within the community will look at that youth pastor and say, ‘I want my son/daughter to be like that guy/girl.’”

The question comes down to “Do you think so much of your own abilities to impact a student's life beyond the youth group that parents are not important?”  After the stress of school (which I also think youth ministry as a whole does not recognize enough), teens mention in survey after survey that getting along with parents is important and a stressor.  You would never say that question nor even think it or pray it when you are praying through your vision.  But look at your actions and how you have set the youth ministry up.  Have you done this without knowing it?

2.  Parents today feel so inadequate.  Do you have any idea what the words to help a parent raise their child actually and practically mean?

One of those Level 5 Leader youth pastors I know had this to say, “I also want to warn you 'young fellas' about shutting out parents to keep a 'safe place' for the students. I have a much different view of students after having a couple in my home that I am responsible for. I find out a lot more about other students (although my own kids try not to let out info), and I understand the unique needs of parents of students.  We (parents) need help!  I think if every minister to students could have to have a teen live in their house for six months that they were totally responsible for, it would change many outlooks. This is not a slam, just an observation. I have been on both sides of the aisle on this issue. I have also been in situations that help me realize how different kids can be within a home that have been raised the same. I have one kid who pushed the limits at almost every turn, but still wanted to make a difference for the kingdom but was often inconsistent in behavior. I have another who is content to spend time as much time at home, as with friends, wants to do the right thing, and also has a kingdom mindset. I wanted to apologize, and in fact publicly have, to parents whom I judged too harshly because of their kid's behavior when I realize that parents can guide, live out, etc., but it is up to the kids to choose for themselves whom and how they will follow.”  (Brian Farmer, First Baptist of Salisbury, North Carolina)

Jon Foreman of Switchfoot was interviewed and asked, “How does it make you feel to consider that aspiring artists are looking to you and your bandmates as mentors of sorts?”  His answer was, “ Mentors...hmmm...I always go back to 6th grade when I think about my heroes. I grew up with surf posters hanging on my walls: Curren, Slater, Occy. I watched them on TV, read about them in surfer mags, and breathed them in—every turn, every logo, every smile. Have they impacted the way I live my life today? A little, but they’re mostly just a piece of the past. But there is another type of mentor--one that stays with you. I’d like to be this type. You see, I’ve never had a picture of C.S. Lewis or my ninth grade history teacher or my dad hung up on my wall, but these men have had a significant impact on the way I live today.” (CCMMagazine.com)

Our parents live with youth who have posters on the walls of not great influencers.  We need to tell our parents over and over again that just because their pictures aren’t on the wall it doesn’t mean that their influence is less. 

3. Are you sure you are concerned about helping parents with raising their children, or about getting the parents to buy into your program?

4.  Many youth workers are now having parent meetings of some sort.  When asked about how to do some form of family-based youth ministry, this idea is always mentioned and is usually already in the works.  Question, “When you have a parent meeting, what is the purpose?  Is it to push your program or to help them with their teens?”

At our last parent meeting I purposely brought up a youth culture subject to pass on some important information to the parents because 1) it was important; 2) I looked at the agenda and it was all self-serving to my needs and the youth ministry.  My little youth culture spot took on life as parent after parent started sharing about the topic and then about other stuff they face daily.  Parents were encouraging each other, parents were gaining new insight and I sat back and watched.  My parent meeting provided a little support group time for parents who face battles every day.  And I was able to give them that.  I will do that as often as I can plus I do get to pass on calendar details.  Parents want to come also.

5.  If you do have parents as part of your youth ministry, is the involvement in areas of leadership: discipline, relationship, food provider?

Parents do make great adult leaders because they are wise to the wily ways of teens.  But parents also need to be parents--and you can help them do that.  I do get lots of food and transportation help out of my parents because I allow them to be parents first and they can't help themselves to do something more.  With parents invited to be along at every youth event, I never have transportation problems.  I do not have a need for a dangerous 15-passenger van.  I do not need to enlist legal drivers.  Parents want to be the drivers and other parents feel fine about their child riding with other parent drivers.  And parents are always offering to bring food, sometimes homemade!  Some parents love to do that and their child loves that they do that.  But I didn’t give them that role of food provider.  I gave them the role of being there because the event is important for them as well as their child.  Because they can’t help themselves to do extras blesses everyone.  Meanwhile, I first recognize them as parents and their need to feel encouraged as parents.  They have enough other cultural influences out there making them feel like failures in raising their beloved teens.

Ted Haggard again, “Youth pastors can help families navigate through difficult times, help parents recover from mistakes that they've made with their own children, help bring grace into the home rather than judgment and harshness, help bring peace and a fragrance of love into a home where different types of counsel would create opposition in the home. Youth pastors can really make a family a great family. Raising children does not have to be tough, and a youth pastor can make raising children much much easier. If the youth pastor and the parents are friends as they're walking through the years, then that really helps.”

*Since this has been published, we are all aware of Ted Haggard's fall from leadership.  These quotes were given by him  before this fall. We believe the content is still valid even though the source has been discredited.