A Pilgrim's Progress Through Partnership & How It Can Change Your Ministry To Parents
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In September of 1620, a little over one hundred passengers set sail from Plymouth, England, on a ship called the Mayflower. These passengers were in search of a new life. Just under half of them were Separatists seeking religious freedom and a fresh start in a new land. After a long and treacherous 66-day voyage fraught with unforeseen storms, the ship dropped anchor that November off the shores of present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Over half of the Mayflower’s settlers died that first winter. Many more of those first colonial families would’ve suffered or perished in this New World had they not stumbled upon an unlikely partnership in March of 1621 with an English-speaking member of the Wampanoag tribe named Samoset. It was Samoset who later brought along another and more advanced English-speaking member of the Wampanoag named Tisquantum. He is better known by his nickname, Squanto.
Squanto lived with the Pilgrims for almost two years. He acted as a guide, translator, and advisor for these foreigners in a strange and unfamiliar land. He taught the colonists how to plant corn, grow plants, use natural resources, fish, and other practical skills for survival in this new world. Squanto’s knowledge of the distinct people groups who inhabited the land and his ability to act as an interpreter or mediator to the Native American chiefs proved vital to brokering peace. Squanto’s guidance, knowledge, and ability to act as an interpreter/peace broker proved to play an integral role in not only the survival of the early settlers but also their ability to thrive in the years to come.
Fast forward a little over 400 years, and in each of our ministries, we find another group of weary and wide-eyed travelers; parents who’ve recently set sail on a voyage to a new world fraught with unforeseen storms called the adolescent years. For many, it’s a treacherous nine-plus years of chaos, disillusionment, change, upheaval, and frustration. But what if parents had a guide—a partner with a keen knowledge of this distinct people group—with the ability to act as an educator, interpreter, mediator, advocate, and peace broker—who could live amongst and walk alongside them for a few years and teach them practical skills for survival in this New World?
I think this type of strategic partnership has the potential to change everything, in homes, at your church, and in your youth ministry.
That’s why when it comes to parent partnership in youth ministry, I believe some of the most helpful and effective roles we, as youth pastors, must consistently play are that of a knowledgeable guide/educator, translator/mediator, and advisor/advocate/equipper to parents—especially in 3 critical areas.
- Teenage Brain Development – Guide/Educator
Message To Parents: Your junior higher or high schooler isn’t broken or crazy. This is how God wired them this time in their life, and this is the time to celebrate how they are wonderfully made.
With the invention of two fairly recent technologies (PET scan and fMRI), neuroscientists can now study living teen brains in great detail. As youth workers, we need to be continuous learners and utilize this new information to guide parents to better understand the remarkable uniqueness of the teenage brain. Our friend Mark Oestreicher has some fantastic and easy-to-digest work out there on this topic. You need to take in information like this, teach it to parents, and find ways to help guide them through this crucial information on who their teenager is, how they are wired, and how the parents can best communicate with their teenager during this time. Part of our role as teenage brain development guides/educators is to help parents see their teenagers as a person to be loved (a wonder to behold) vs. a problem to be solved (a season to be endured). Here is a link to some helpful resources, including Mark’s talk on teenage brain development.
- Teenage Culture – Translator/Mediator
Message To Parents: Your high schooler isn’t a Gen X’er or millennial. If your teenager is a junior higher, they may not even be Gen Z. We have to learn to understand and love your teenager where they are (and who they are) versus where (and who) we wished they were.
It’s a new generation of independent, curious, confident, anxiety-ridden, screen-addicted, justice-minded teens who’ve never known a world without the internet and smartphones or a time when social media wasn’t fully interactive. They’ve never known a world where apps didn’t exist. They are not millennials, and they are certainly not boomers or X’ers. They live and operate in a very different culture, and we need to become missionaries to that culture. We need to seek to understand Gen Z’s and Gen Alpha’s cultural/social context and meet them where they are rather than where we wish they were. As youth workers, we must become students of youth culture and active translators of it to parents. Here is a link to some helpful resources.
- Advisor/Advocate/Equipper Through This Stage
Message To Parents: This is not the time for ostrich-ing. Get in the game!
Parenting a teenager is many things, but easy is not one of them. Due to the stress, anxiety, busyness, fear of failure, and emotional exhaustion that raising a teenager causes, many parents respond by attempting to bury their heads in the sand—waiting for the storm of adolescence to pass. As youth workers, part of our calling is to encourage and equip parents with the skills and knowledge they need to lean in and leverage the distinctive opportunities of these stages of adolescence before they are lost forever.
I get it; you might be reading this and thinking, “I’m no Squanto. I’ve never been trained on how to equip parents to be better spiritual leaders. How am I supposed to be a parental guide when I’m so unorganized? Look, I signed up to be a pastor to students, not parents. I don’t even have any teenagers of my own, so how can I be seen as a legitimate voice for helping a parent lead at home? Even if I have kids of my own, where am I supposed to find the time to equip parents on top of all the other things I’m supposed to be doing?”
Again, I get it; but the truth is, without guiding/educating parents to understand their teenager in this stage of development—without translating/mediating the gap between parents and student culture so parents can better engage—without advising/equipping/advocating on behalf of parents to help them become better spiritual leaders in their home, you’re fighting with one arm tied behind your back. Your ministry will never reach its true potential if you only focus on the students. I can’t encourage you enough to take the time and make an effort to continually take steps to more effectively partner with parents.
So, start small. Pick one day of the month and be consistent (same day and same time every month) in sending parents a quick email about what your ministry has coming up. Be intentional about including in your email one fact and one encouraging thing about teenage brain development, teen culture, or how to engage their teenagers more effectively. If you come across a great parenting article or blog, save it in a folder and attach a link to it in your monthly email.
You can also take advantage of a platform like YM360’s MinistryToParents.com (M2P) that takes the confusion out of parent ministry by curating and creating everything for you to effectively equip parents each month. A subscription to M2P provides you each month with an online parenting class, prewritten emails to parents, editable scripts for content, pre-built milestone activities, instant access to 11 years worth of parent resources, and a coaching video for you and your leaders. M2P also offers you blogs, articles, and podcasts every month.
No matter what you decide to do for the parents of students in your ministry, do something. First, take a deep breath, and then take a step, no matter how big or small, and find a way to lean into your role of knowledgeable guide/educator, translator/mediator, and advisor/advocate/equipper to parents. I promise you it will be appreciated and will make an impact.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What could you do in parent partnership to be a guide/educator to parents to help see their teenagers as a person to be loved (a wonder to behold) vs. a problem to be solved (a season to be endured)?
- What are some creative or practical ways that you can be a teen culture translator/mediator for parents of teenagers? When/how in your programmatic year could you strategically make the most of this?
- In your role as advisor/advocate/equipper, what resources and tools can you offer parents to help them better understand, engage, and navigate this often chaotic stage of adolescence? How can you help them be better spiritual leaders in their homes?
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