"Parents, they are clueless, if they would just listen to my advice then their relationship with their teenage student would be awesome." One of many journal entries in 1993 that made me sound like, well, an idiot! Looking back I can't believe the arrogance and "know-it-all" attitude I had as I was starting out in youth ministry.
I had some wonderful ideas of how to work with students and had great relationships with them. I didn't like their parents very much; they were the "enemy" and something I had to deal with if I wanted to continue in youth ministry.
I remember the many times I thought I could teach parents how to parent. I spent weeks with students on trips, retreats, camps, and more. To me, this time and title made me a professional. Every parent should seek my wisdom (of almost twelve months) and incorporate my ideas and techniques. I was an Idiot!
It took almost six years for me to come to an understanding that youth ministry was about ministering to the family not just the student. I started to look for opportunities to listen to parents not lecture them. I spent hours eating, sharing and praying for parents as they opened their hearts and shared what they were experiencing with their child. I heard many times the indirect accusation of the lack of support from the church and it's ministries. My heart began to soften and then break. I was guilty of not encouraging and supporting parents in the most difficult time of raising their children. I asked God to forgive me and guide me in my next steps. I felt lead to ask for "general" forgiveness from every parent I spoke with who was struggling. Every retreat, camp and service I was invited to speak at would involve me sharing with parents and asking for forgiveness for the church and youth ministries that were not ministering to the family as a whole. My ministry and opportunities changed and I grew as a pastor and a parent. I had been forgiven.
The last ten-plus years of my ministry have been an attempt to partner with families and the ministry they must have. More than 85% of all our volunteer leaders are now parents of teenagers. We realize families, parents and students are busy, but we also realize that the "cool" college students don't understand teenagers; they are one or will compete with them (and most college students don't enjoy being "shown-up" by teenagers). Parents are aware of the constant mood swings and the need every student has to find themselves and push the boundaries. Without going into a great amount of detail we ask all volunteer leaders to serve in one area of weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. We also recognize the desire of some students to not have parents serve in their ministry area (we may only have 25-30% of parents serve during the year). To support parents we have offered Parent Coffee Houses with professional family counselors facilitating, one-day parent retreats, semester classes for parents, house groups, seminars, student-parent retreats, purity retreats (parent and student), family mission trips, family amusement park trips, and such.
My ministry really began to bear fruit when I focused on partnering with parents not making them targets. Your commitment to the teenagers in your ministry can only be as strong as the commitment you make to the parents. If you begin to focus on the family ministry and support parents, you will begin to have supporters and volunteers who really care about the ministry and you!
EXTRA: Group Publishing has the Parent link Newsletter. This is a wonderful resource that EVERY student ministry should provide!
EXTRA, EXTRA: when speaking with parents your best response often will be, "I'm sorry you are going through that, I don't have words to help, but I can pray for you," then PRAY for them at that moment. Follow up with a note and try to find resources that can help. Check our CPYU for additional resources that will encourage and help parents better understand the world their teenagers live in.