Ministering to the Needs of Parents
Working with parents can be challenging! Whether you’re working with students who have Christian parents or those with parents who have never connected with the church in their life, understanding how to interact with and best serve your students’ parents can be a pretty big challenge. But for the youth worker who desires to have lasting impact on the lives of students, it’s a challenge worth taking.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTS
Whether we realize it or not, parents play not just a central role, but they play the central role in their kids’ spiritual development. Numerous studies have shown that parents are the most important influence kids have when it comes to their faith. In their book, Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition, Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford point to a study by Dr. Christian Smith, which identifies that though many parents and teenagers don’t realize it, the most “important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives” is the “religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.” This is a game-changing piece of information to take into account when you’re considering how you should spend your time.
When I first started out in youth ministry, I saw myself as some sort of superhero. I believed that after an hour and a half with me each week—plus some assorted events—my students would find a lifetime of faith in Jesus. And in those early years I often struggled not to see parents as the enemy. Because to me it seemed that I was the only one pushing and guiding my students toward growth in their faith. I came to the conclusion that parents didn’t care, and I began to neglect them.
That was before I began to catch on to all the pressures parents face. Not only are they primarily responsible for their kids’ spiritual care, but also they’re also responsible for infinite other parts of their kids’ well being and development. Parents are out straight around the clock, trying to get their kids to and from school and to and from activities, feeding their kids, getting their kids to do homework . . . the list goes on. And for many parents, this is on top of a commitment to a demanding job that they need to keep just so they can continue to take care of their kids.
With all of these things in mind, I think there are a few things that we as youth workers need to do differently . . .
WE’VE GOT TO SUPPORT PARENTS
We need to recognize the central role that parents play in their kids’ spiritual development as well as recognize the enormous burdens many parents carry; and we, as youth workers, need to come alongside parents to support them. We need to see the burden that’s been placed on them and look for ways to encourage them: both as the leaders of their families and the primary spiritual nurturers of their kids. Obviously, we can’t do everything for everybody—but looking for little ways to be a support where we can is a great place to start.
WE’VE GOT TO EQUIP PARENTS
One of the reasons parents aren’t more effective in their role as spiritual nurturers is that many parents don’t feel equipped. The reality is that many parents aren’t equipped, and many parents aren’t even Christians. But for those who are, youth workers possess the tools to equip them for the spiritual tasks that they alone can undertake. Setting up regular times to meet with parents, providing seminars for parents, and putting good resources into the hands of parents are just a few ways in which we can help equip parents to more adequately take on the spiritual responsibility we so desire for them to succeed in.
WE’VE GOT TO CHANGE HOW WE VIEW PARENTS AND THEIR ROLE
Ultimately, one of the biggest things that needs to shift in how many youth workers interact with parents is that we need to change how we view the parental role. And this may mean changing how we view our own role as well. We need to recognize that parents are essential if our students are to experience healthy spiritual development. If we view them that way and begin to see our role as supplementary to theirs, then we may be able to remove some undue burdens from ourselves, while simultaneously helping our students grow in ways that we may never see while trying to go it alone.
MATT LARKIN serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.
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.