5 Thoughts About Youth Ministry As Family Ministry
The ongoing conversation about the importance of and need for a more family oriented (centered? inclusive?) youth ministry philosophy is a valuable one. The youth workers who don’t believe discipleship starts in the home are few and far between, at least in my experiences.
And yet, there are some big challenges and some big considerations to keep in mind as we begin to think about implementation of a family ministry strategy.
Here are just a few thoughts I’ve had lately. It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means. And some of this is still in the “processing” mode. I’d love your thoughts on this important topic.
1. If Youth Workers Aren’t Thinking This Way, They’re Blowing It
We can’t afford to build silos around our youth ministries and expect to develop students who are mature in their faith. First, God created the family unit, not our youth ministries, as the lab for spiritual development. Ideally, we play a support role to mom and dad. Secondly, a mature faith is a faith that is integrated with the church and with the home. As someone who is tasked with shaping teenagers’ faith lives, you can’t turn a blind eye to these two areas.
2. The System Might Be Broken
Most youth workers will agree that discipleship is ideally supposed to start in the home. But studies such as the NSYR and the resulting books, Soul Searching and Almost Christian, show us that the faith that mom and dad are “passing down” to their children is a watered down, almost unrecognizable version of Christianity. Simply saying, “Discipleship should start in the home,” is wishful thinking in many cases. Are there awesome parents who disciple their children? Of course there are. I know many of them, and so do you. But there are also a whole lot of parents who either don’t know how, or worse, think they are!
3. Youth Workers Need To Step It Up
There are at least four different type of parents, as I describe in this article. All of them could use your help, on some level. I want to say this even as I know it may ruffle some feathers: If youth workers don’t have a strategy (no matter how basic) for including parents in their youth ministry, we're not helping. I know, I know. Easy for me to say! I’m not a bi-vocational youth minister in a church with no volunteers, etc., etc. I know that statement sounds compassionless. It’s not, I assure you.
I am deeply sympathetic to the plight of youth workers regardless of their ministry contexts. But, I stand by the thought. Do you deal with inner-city kids who don’t have solid support systems? You should have a strategy for including their parents. Work with primarily suburban churched kids? You should have a strategy for including their parents. If we don’t involve mom and/or dad (or grandmom), we’re perpetuating the idea that they’re not a needed part of the process.
4. Parents Need You
Studies have shown that the more meaningful, non-parent adult relationships a teenager has, the more likely he or she is to stick with their faith after high school. But we don’t need studies to prove this; common sense will do. There are things a teenager would never talk with their parents about. This was true for you when you were a teenager. This will always be true. Having a devoted, trustworthy adult in their lives, especially one who cares deeply about their faith development, is a tremendous asset. In my opinion, any talk of a family ministry approach that minimizes the amount of non-parent, adult relationships (aka, youth ministers and adult volunteers) is missing the mark.
5. Your Job Is Not To Teach Parents How To Parent
I hear this a lot: “I can’t tell parents how to parent their children because I don’t have teenagers.” In my opinion, this misses the mark. I don’t think it’s your place (unless invited) to help try and steer how a mom or dad parents their children. However, you can (and should) be a GREAT source of knowledge for how they should disciple their children. There is a difference. What if you made it your mission to either develop your own discipling strategy or learn an existing one with the goal of being able to pass it along to your students’ parents? What if you became a go-to source of knowledge and wisdom about the process of discipling students?
Again, just my thoughts. Plenty of room for pushback and/or different viewpoints.
It’s an important conversation, one we can’t really sit on the sidelines of any longer.
What are your thoughts?