The Best Question in Youth Ministry
If you’re a youth minister you’re no stranger to questions from parents:
“What time do the kids get back from the mission trip?”
“When do Wednesday nights start back from Christmas Break?”
“What is your cell phone number?”
We get a lot of questions. No matter how well we communicate and publicize, we will always get our fair share of questions. As fun as those are (please note the sarcasm), this is not an article about those types of questions. This is an article about the best question that parents can ask in our youth ministries and how we can and should be prepared to answer it.
Question: What do I need to know most about my child?
This is a beautiful question. It not only shows that the parent is engaged and wants to know more about their child than they alone can observe, but it also shows a trust that they have for you, the youth minister. I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am when a parent asks this or another incarnation of this question.
Asking the question is a gateway for you to be one of the most helpful and trusted resources in a parent’s life. Your role is so valuable not only because you have a connection to students on a social and spiritual level, but because you also are connected to their friends and the greater youth culture. Sometimes I think youth workers miss just how valuable of a resource they can be for families in their ministries. A parent asking the “best question in youth ministry” is only as valuable as the answers we are prepared to give them. Here are a few ways to make sure that you are always prepared to answer the “best question in your youth ministry”.
Know What’s Happening in Youth Culture:
Your youth ministry does not exist in a vacuum. I cannot tell you how many church workers I consult with who live under the false assumption that their church exists in some sort of vacuum apart from youth culture at large. There are larger systemic aspects in youth culture going on at any given time that are affecting and influencing your microcosm of ministry. As a youth minister, you are a broker of this culture and these trends for the parents of youth in your church.
Make sure to pay attention to national trends, surveys, and studies, and be ready to translate them into your ministry. I am a firm believer that the best student ministers are students themselves. In order to fully minister to our youth and families, we have to be students of youth culture, always analyzing and ready to speak fluently the language of the broader culture to and for our parents.
Know What’s Happening in Local Culture:
While our students are absolutely a part of a larger youth culture, they are even more so a part of their local culture. We had a period of several teenage suicides in our local high school a couple of years ago. We were obviously dealing with the immediate ramifications, questions, and emotions for those first three to six months but those suicides shaped the culture of those kids for years and will continue to shape the community long after people stop posting tributes to those students on their Facebook walls. We have to be scholars of our local culture and remember that our students are multi-faceted, multi-dimensional individuals whose influences exist on many different planes and for periods of time that are not always immediately evident.
Know What’s Happening in Church Culture:
Our students are also shaped by our church culture. If you did not grow up in the church, this might seem like a no brainer as much of the culture will probably stand in contrast with your own. This perspective, however, is unique. Most of the folks who are parents in your church probably grew up there or in the near vicinity. What is truthfully a unique church culture, special to that individual church, is probably understood by those adults as the standard of what church is and should be. Each church has its own nuances and patterns. These nuances can make a church great or it can make it a very difficult place for a youth. Part of your job is to help parents and the church understand these nuances and how they either help or hurt the spirituality of its students.
Know What’s Happening in Their Individual Culture:
At the end of the day, you can know the three cultures already mentioned and still not be able to answer the parents’ question satisfactorily if you do not understand the individual student. The trouble is that you cannot know every student, at least not on this level. This is yet another reason for developing a strong, well-connected, trusted, relational adult volunteer base. This base will not only help keep you informed about the inner workings of the students, but they will also help the ministry be fully present in ways you could never do on your own.
We as youth ministers have the potential to have insights that are incredibly valuable to the parents of our church. Being a strong resource and advocate is one of the greatest gifts we can give parents who are, most of the time, just trying to do their best. Be ready to give this gift with the joy and professionalism it and your parents deserve.
STEPHEN INGRAM is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” ORGANICSTUDENTMINISTRY.COM