Wanna See More Students Come to Jesus? Pay Closer Attention to Their Parents

April 2nd, 2020

This series is based on the idea that the two most important people in your students’ lives are their parents. We’re looking at social trends that impact how those parents raise their kids.  This month’s trend can be stated briefly. Parenting is a much more fearful prospect than it used to be. We don’t have the space to review the data that substantiates that trend.

Instead, we’re going to focus on one, hugely important response to it. Adequate communication with parents has become essential in the age of fearful parenting.

I learned about communicating with parents the hard way. Here’s how it happened. 

It seems like yesterday. I was leading a high school ministry at a smaller church in SoCal. We had decided to create a customized mission trip called “City to Sea” for the group. About 10 kids signed up to go along with 3 adult volunteers and me. It consisted of spending 4 nights in South Central Los Angeles, doing volunteer work for non-profits. Then we planned to drive up to Santa Barbara and hop on board 3 sailboats and sail out to the Channel Islands. Once there, we decided to spend a few days debriefing our time in the city. It involved a lot of prayer. We read a lot of Scripture. God used the experience to change all our lives . . . . except for one kid. 

That student, named Jim, was an all star on the high school baseball team*. It turns out they had a game the afternoon we were leaving on the trip, so we arranged with Jim’s Mom to drive him down the following morning and drop him off with the rest of the group. 

*The details here are changed to protect the identity of the student and his family.

I’d never met the Mom. Theirs was not a church family. As a result, I failed to adequately communicate with her about the details of the trip. I had done that personally with the other parents involved, largely because they were church people whom I knew quite well. That communication was particularly important for this trip.

We were pushing the limits of the parents’ comfort zone. Even though we partnered with an organization that assured us our students would be safe in South Central LA, the parents were still nervous. But because I didn’t communicate with Jim’s Mom, she was emotionally unprepared for what she encountered the morning she drove her son to meet us. I’ll never forget what happened.

Our group was waiting on the sidewalk as Jim and his Mom drove up. The car came to a halt and Jim hopped out. His Mom turned off the car’s engine and slowly emerged from the driver’s side, staring at our admittedly rough surroundings. Then she turned to me with a look somewhere between anger and disbelief and said,

“I am not leaving my son here.”

Then she turned to her son and said,

“Jim. Get back in the car. We’re leaving.”

We were all stunned for a moment. Then we got on with the morning’s work.

That was not the last time we saw Jim that year. He continued to come off and on to our youth group. But his parents clearly did not approve of his involvement. They had lost their trust in the group’s leadership. That would be me. As a result, Jim’s engagement with Jesus was negatively impacted. And I never saw his Mom again.

The moral of the story is this – communicate adequately with the parents of your kids. All the parents. All the time. Even the un-churched ones. Especially the un-churched ones. Yours is ultimately not a ministry to students. It’s a ministry to families. And when trust is lost due to a lack of communication, that trust is virtually impossible to get back. That was true back in the day. It’s especially true today in a culture where parents are increasingly fearful about their children’s welfare.

Does this story have a happy ending? I hope so. A couple years after “City to Sea” I took another job at another church. I never saw Jim again. Maybe God reached out and connected with Jim and his parents. God is good at that. He’s certainly not incapacitated by a youth pastor’s failure to communicate.

But I hate that I made the process more difficult than it needed to be, at least from a human point of view. So remember, when it comes to parents – communicate, communicate, communicate, especially if the parents involved are not believers. It’s a big deal. It can make a big difference.


John hales from Ventura, California where he grew up surfing and playing guitar. He graduated second in his class from Pepperdine University and then attended Fuller Theological Seminary. His first call was to Community Presbyterian Church, also in Ventura, where he worked with high school students. He subsequently held positions with Young Life, The American Church in London, Kings College – University of London, and Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently on staff at North Point Community Church’s Buckhead Campus. He serves there as the Director of Staff Development and the Director of Starting Point.

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