3 Ways You Set The Tone for Families
It’s amazing how quickly something can change the tone. Think about how fast a conversation can shift.
“Hey, thanks for helping me today. I didn’t expect that from you.”
“You look really nice. You must have had more time to get ready than usual.”
“Thanks for cooking. At least it looked good.”
At times things start out good and then take an unexpected turn. I remember my wife and I visiting a church one weekend while on vacation. We had high hopes for a great experience based on things we had heard, so we walked in with optimism. When the pastor started speaking, the tone changed abruptly.
“Since this is my last time up here, I want to address some of the things God has put on my heart about this congregation.”
My interest was piqued, but that quickly turned to squirming.
“There are some people in this church that the Bible would call wolves. Those who might look good on the outside but on the inside are working against what God was doing.”
I turned to my wife and said, “It’s time to go. You leave first and I’ll follow.”
Amazing how quickly the tone had changed.
As Student Ministry leaders, we are put in a position to be tone setters within our ministries and beyond. As much as we might want to downplay our influence with faux humility, God often puts student ministry leaders in a position to greatly impact others. Yet the smallest thing can turn the tide in the wrong direction.
When I became a parent, God opened my eyes to the ways I had set the wrong tone for families early in my ministry years. I was mostly ignorant to it, but as I look back I realize there are three major ways you can set the tone for families within your ministry.
We often hear attitude used in a negative way; “Wow, what’s with the attitude?” Yet an attitude is a pattern of thinking developed over a period of time.
If you don’t actually believe that parents are essential to your ministry, it’s probably obvious to those around you. Making an announcement video doesn’t make you a good actor.
I remember sincerely thinking that the youth group was going to be more important in the lives of students than their home life. As I look back on more than twenty-five years of student ministry, I desperately want to find Doc Brown’s DeLorean so I can go back in time to find previous versions of myself and punch them in the nose for that arrogant perspective.
Ask those around you if your attitude reflects the reality that nobody, that’s right nobody, will ever be more influential in the lives of teenagers as their parents. It doesn’t mean their parents are always the best influences or the right influences, but they are going to spend the most time with your students, so set a tone that says you truly get that.
No brainer, right? Yet this one is still easy to miss. I was in my thirties before I realized I should work with the children’s ministry team when planning student events. It actually matters if we are asking parents to be out multiple nights a week, or splitting up families unnecessarily because of our lack of consideration for how programs impact them.
Every once in a while I see someone post in an online group asking something about how we can get students to prioritize youth group participation over sports. I think we are asking the wrong question. The better question is how can we support families who are trying to raise children in this busy culture?
These parents are often trying to do what they think is best for their child. Our programs should help them, educate them, and equip them to raise their children into responsible adults who love God.
We set the tone for families when we program for them instead of against them. We set the tone for them when we find ways to care for their teenagers and come alongside them in ways that demonstrate our understanding of the challenges they face.
It was my second month at a church where I served as Student Ministry Pastor, and someone came up to me on a weekend and heaped on the praise.
“You are doing such a great job. Thank you for all the great things we see happening.”
I believe my response was something along the lines of, “Can you remind me of your name?”
I still can’t remember their name, but I will never forget what they said after they re-introduced themselves and told me we’d met twice before (oops).
“We just love the monthly e-mail you’re sending with everything going on. We’ve never had that before.”
They didn’t care that I had no idea who they were, despite meeting them twice, or that I bombed my first youth group message. It didn’t matter that my first youth leaders’ meeting was a disaster, that I’m still a little scarred by, or that I ignorantly used the phrase “Netflix and Chill” in a message thinking it referred to hanging out while watching Friends. All they cared about was that I valued them enough to communicate. It was so simple, yet it mattered.
The importance of communicating what’s happening is no revelation to most student ministry leaders, but setting the tone for families starts there.
Communicate to parents but also communicate with them. If the attitude is right, then we will see parents as partners, as essential elements to our calling. Take intentional steps to ask them about their teenager. Go to students’ events and sit with their parents. Teach small group leaders to do the same.
I once stumbled upon a parent meeting hack that has never failed me. I ask them for input as part of the meeting.
“Hey, what are some challenges you’re facing as a parent of a teenager?”
“What are some things you are seeing your teenager walkthrough or struggle with?”
“How can the church better support you as parents?”
When they answer these questions, you don’t defend, you don’t offer a solution, you simply write down what they say. You will learn valuable things, help shape your teaching calendar and even your programming for parents. You’ll also set a tone that says we are in this together and I care what you think.
It’s amazing how quickly something can change the tone.
Our attitudes, programs, and communication will go a long way toward creating a ministry that maximizes its impact on teenagers. Let’s be leaders who set a tone for families and leaves no doubt we exist to serve them. Let’s set a tone that causes them to see we will do everything we can to help them raise up the next generation to know Jesus.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.