March 19, 2010

Partnering with Parents

In his nationwide study on religion and this current generation of teens, Notre Dame researcher Christian Smith offered the following thoughts about parents and their role in helping their kids in their walk with Christ:

“A parent is the most important pastor a teenager will ever have.”

Think about this quote for a second…not only does other research from groups like Barna back this up, just consider the break down of hours we, as youth workers, spend with kids compared to parents. In the best scenarios, I maybe get about 30 hours a month with a kid if they are on my student leader team. Other kids maybe only come in around 15-20. Compare that to a parent who averages about 180 hours a month. Now obviously that number will flex based on schedules, jobs, extra curricular activities and more but even if a parent does only half that time, it still triples the max amount of time we get with a kid!

Bottom line: The parents will spend more time influencing, teaching and guiding their kids than we will!

Thinking about this has really challenged my thoughts about how we can partner with parents in youth ministry.

Over the past year, I have had a couple of parents that I have been frustrated with due to their lack of prioritizing youth ministry into their kids lives. It seemed like every weekend they were off doing something and those things always seemed to be scheduled at the same time as our High School program. It made me want to scream! These are highly influential kids, leaders with their peers AND these are Christian families…so why do their parents not care. Why are they teaching their kids that all these other things are more important than God.

I know that I am not the only Youth Pastor to have these thoughts. We’re all under a lot of pressure to produce numbers (see my last blog entitled The Numbers Game) and programs and its frustrating when it seems like a parent isn’t behind you. As I began to think about these families though I began to realize I was completely wrong in the way I was thinking and really was looking at their kids as just a number, or means to a bigger number, instead of really partnering with them to encourage and equip their families.

One of the families isn’t around much because they ski a lot and so they don’t have time to get back in time for youth group. What I eventually found out though was that this Mom would actually print out the manuscripts of our youth group talks and read them to her kids during the ride and then they would talk about them. How cool is that!!! What I have begun to realize is that time probably went so much farther for her kids spiritual growth than any amount of time showing up to youth group would have. Isn’t that something that I should be supporting and encouraging rather than getting frustrated because I can’t include her kids on our meeting roster!?!?! I think Jesus would say YES!

The other family is two guys and their Mom. This Mom is one of the most dedicated and hard-working Mom’s I think I have ever met. Watching her and how much she loves her kids and how hard she works to provide for them – both basic needs as well as fun stuff – is just awesome! They have missed youth group many times because of family time together. This too used to frustrate me but again, I took step back and realized that Sunday’s was some of the only time these guys got with their Mom all week. This again, is something I should be supporting and encouraging as a Youth Pastor. I can find other time to connect with those guys…who really cares if it is at our official program or if it’s over coffee during the week after school.

In the future, when I have another parent I get frustrated with because they aren’t prioritizing our youth programs, I really want to take a step back and ask what they are setting as a higher priority. Sometimes it warrants frustration because the answer is sports or something else but, what I am learning is that sometimes it’s actually things that should be placed at higher priority.