The focus of youth ministry is clear: walk alongside students while they learn and grow as disciples. Throw in some go-cart events, a lock-in or two and you are on the right path to a successful youth ministry.
However, the time a youth worker spends with their students represents only a small chunk of their week. Does that mean the spiritual formation of your students is limited to the few days each week while they're at the church? Hopefully not! So, what do you do?
Knowing when and how to empower parents and guardians is critical to successful youth ministry. When we increase the scope of our ministries beyond one-on-one time with students, we invite parents to have an invested interest in the theological education of their children.
Resource family dinners
Parents are busy and likely already feel guilty when they can't serve dinner that's hot, healthy, and not previously frozen. As youth workers, our job isn't to fan the flames of guilt (and in fact, there may be a pastoral role of assuring parents they're doing a fine job, frozen dinners or not). Instead, give your parents and guardians tools to make dinner – whenever and however they can manage it – an opportunity to reconnect as a family and with God.
This can be as simple as a weekly reminder that parents are doing a good job and providing a set of "check-in" questions that can be discussed during the meal. Going around the table naming moments of joy, silly "would you rather..." questions, quick mealtime prayers and devotional materials are all great options.
Remember, the information doesn't have to be exhaustive. In fact, the simpler the better. Commit to sending out an affirmation, a discussion or icebreaker question, and a quick devotional each week (Monday mornings are a great time for this) also check in from time to time to see what's working and what's not. If one of your attempts does not work, great! This is not a failure but a success, as you now know one method not to do again, on to the next.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
I know, I know. Youth pastors send out emails and texts and tweets and... well, pretty much any and all other forms of communication all the time. Sometimes it feels like you're simply Tweeting into the void, right? Well, keep going!
Giving parents access to the what's happening and what's being discussed in Sunday school, Bible study, and youth group give parents entry ways into the conversations their kids just had and encourage them to turn the ride home (or any time, really) into an "after hours" sort of discussion. You may not see engagement on these attempts, however parents are seeing them.
This, of course, requires planning (and maybe a little more work on your end), but it will be worth it in the long run. If a parent knows what you're going to be discussing, they're able to help students connect the dots while at home.
Empower parents to fail
Many parents will be nervous about the prospect of teaching their kids the Bible and theology. As a result, the questions will be big and honest.
Do I have to be an expert?
What happens if I don't know the answer?
What if they leave the church and Christianity and it's all my fault?!
Most youth workers can relate. Theological education is important and, at times, scary. We won't (can't?) have all the answers, especially when it comes to big questions about God. While we may be comfortable living into that tension, parents might not be ready for it.
Therefore, give them the freedom to fail. Let them know that saying, "I don't know" is just as profound a theological answer as something from Tillich or Brueggemann. Tell them, "you're not going to ruin anything."
All parents have to do is be willing to love their kids, listen deeply, and be okay with conversations that often end with more questions than answers.
Be a resource
Remind parents that you're available to talk about strategies, offer tips, and generally be a resource for whatever they might need.
Consider starting a monthly (bi-monthly) parent support group where parents gather to talk about what works and what doesn't with their own kids. Simply making a time and space available for parents to gather – without their kids – will be helpful not only in navigating the twists and turns of home discipleship but will also create a strong community within your ministry.
Finally, just be there for your parents. Much like them, you're not going to have all the answers. You're not going to be able to fix every problem. But there is ministry in presence. In offering an invitation for coffee or lunch. To gather and remember that what you're doing is good and holy work.
Get more tips, best practices, and insights about youth ministry by tuning in to the Youth Ministry Podcast. New episodes drop every Friday!