Dealing With a Lack of Parent Support

Youth Specialties
July 22nd, 2015

A mom was leaning anxiously against our youth room door as she sent her son over to me. Her tall, redheaded teen walked over and asked, “Do we have a student leadership meeting today after service?”

I replied, “Yes—it’ll be over around 1:30 PM.” He walked back to his mom and told her yes, and her demeanor changed from anxious to angry. She was not on board with this. Later I learned why: this student’s parents are divorced, and he spends every other Sunday with his mom. Our meeting was cutting into her time with him. She already had to drop him off really early that morning to run tech for the student band. Six hours—that’s how long her son would be at church with me.

I once was that youth pastor whining about parents not being committed to youth programs, but in that moment with an angry mom, I learned to stop competing with parents. I also got my butt kicked by the Shema:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

If parents are the primary spiritual influence in their kids’ lives and if I really care about students and parents having time in their day to practice Deuteronomy 6:4-9, I need to do things differently. Here are the five ways I stopped competing with parents:

1. A language change.

Stop saying, where have you been? when students reappear after a long absence. Start saying welcome back.

2. Stop complaining about sports, and start asking for sports schedules.

Show up in their lives—and at their games. Be incarnational. Do ministry from the sidelines or while sitting in an uncomfortable bleacher watching a super-long baseball game.

3. Stop guilt trips.

When a parent says, “My teen would rather stay home than come to youth group,” look the parent in the eye and say, “Hey that’s okay. After all, you’re the primary spiritual influence in his/her life.” You have no idea how many teary-eyed moms give me a hug when youth group guilt is no longer part of my strategy.

4. Simplify.

Give families the gift of time. Parents have limited time with their over-programed teenagers. I reduced our youth group schedule to one program a week. We meet on Sunday, when homework and sports are usually a non-issue. And if someone misses because of a family event, I tell them, “Peace be with you.”

5. Phone Calls.

This is the year to send fewer emails and get back on the phone. Instead of sending out emails, mass group texts, and social media posts about what you’re doing, contact parents to see what they’re doing. Ask in person. It’s awkward, I know. But get on the phone and ask, “How can I be praying for your family? Is there any way our ministry can serve you better?” Help resource parents to be the spiritual influence they are called by Scripture to be.

I don’t know who said it first, but these are the words that hang over my desk:

“Programs are what happens when ministry doesn’t.”


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Gina Abbas lives with her three kids and Star Wars loving husband in Michigan. She can be found decoding Taylor Swift lyrics or shooting foam finger rockets at her children. She’s on the ministry council for the National Network of Youth Ministry, representing women in youth ministry. Gina loves middle schoolers and is a middle school pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church. And sometimes she cooks—but rarely ever from scratch.

Youth Specialties

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