would a parent / teacher conference work in student ministry?

December 5, 2011 — 17 Comments

I care so much about my children’s development:

As a parent I spend so much time worrying about my own kids and their development.  When my son plays soccer or little league, I am always judging him and his ability compared to his peers.  If everyone is hitting without a T and my son can’t, then we go home and spend the week practicing hitting.  I love my kid and I want him to succeed.

My son is in first grade right now and is learning how to read.  In the same as baseball, I am trying to get an understanding of how my son is developing academically.  Is he on grade level, is he falling behind.  If he is, then I want to work with him so that he will succeed.

In both these instances, I long for feedback, for help, for training.  When the coach says, “Dad, you might want to play catch a little more with your son.” Then I do.  When the teacher ask, “How many minutes are you reading a night?” I get the hint that we need to step it up.  While in the sports world it is a little less formal, in the academic world there is an actual process for this kind of feedback, it is the parent / teacher conference.

A parent / teacher conference:

About a month ago we had our first trimester check in, known as the parent teacher conference.  This is a half hour conference where my wife and I meet with the teacher to discuss the academic and social development of our son.  She show us his work, share highlights areas he is doing well in and shares areas of concern.

Because we care deeply about our child’s academic development, we carve out time to show up, we listen intently, and we are ready to put into practice what ever is suggested.  His teacher is an expert at first grade and has hundreds of kids come through her classroom.  She has a good idea of his development track and has plenty of tools to assist us in developing our son academically.  It is one of the best half hour investments we could make for our son.

Could this work in student ministry?

A lunch with a parent recently challenged me to consider this sort of encounter for the parents of our students.  We so value the academic development of our children and our lives and lifestyles communicate this truth.  We also value the spiritual development of our kids as well.  While we might communicate with our mouths the high value of this, the truth is that our actions tell a different story.

Of all the development that is supported by families, sports and academics get the lion share.  I get that the spiritual development of our children is difficult, it is challenging, and we often feel unequipped to do it.  But what would happen if the youth worker and the parent were seen as on the same team?  What would happen if the youth worker was given a little space and authority as the expert on the spiritual development of adolescents?  Would parents be willing to sit down with their youth worker and be open to a fair and honest assessment of the spiritual development of their child and take seriously the input they receive?

We live in a culture that devalues authority and “spirituality” is personal, so I can not imagine this actually working.  But since we can all agree, at least with our mouths, that the spiritual development of our children and students is of utmost importance, we must attempt to find ways to make that a reality.  I think a strong partnership between parents and the church where both institutions are respected, lifted up, and encouraged, can we truly make progress in this area.  Since this is just a brainstorming post, I would like to simply pose the question:

Could a parent / teacher conference work in student ministry?   As a youth worker and as a parent, what are the potential risks in implementing a conference check in into a student ministry?

17 responses to would a parent / teacher conference work in student ministry?

  1. Ben,

    This is a fantastic post, it is a hard truth in the Christian community that no parent wants another adult giving any sort of negative feedback about how their children are doing “spiritually” because ultimately it reflects on the maturity level of their own walk. I don’t know many parents that can confidently say they know who they are in Christ, I often hear adults say they know who they want to be or who they are becoming but I don’t often hear “Christians” say I know who I AM right here right now in this very moment. Most parents are usually rebelling against being mirrors of their own parents therefore whatever church experience they had if it was negative then they will do their best to make sure their kids have the opposite by rebelling against any sort of spiritual authority and if for the most part it was positive then they will not spend any time knowing the bent of their own child and will expect that their kid is having the same wonderful experience.

    I personally feel that sitting with a parent and encouraging them in what they are doing well with their child and mapping out the experience that they are providing at home would give great insight into what a youth worker can expect in terms of adolescent participation. We plant seeds of course but if those seeds are being up rooted at home because of disagreeing theologies or what not then it would seem some kids get lost in the shuffle of the youth group experience.

    I know we can’t be all things to all kids (or can we) teachers seem to be all things a coach is always all things so why can’t we have the same insight, I am in huge support of getting the parent involved mainly because how could they loose it will challenge them to step up their game in their own devotion.

  2. That’s hard to say. Ideally, as facilitators of family ministry and go-betweens for adults and kids, we want to be in communication and work in conjunction with the parents anyway. On the other hand, it’s hard enough to get them involved in the midst of their busy parental lives without asking them to have a meeting sometime during the day. We want to partner with parents, but is a parent-youth pastor conference really viable? And if so, how do we make it fly to where parents can/will commit?

  3. Hi Ben! Great thinking as always.

    I think a conference-style moment could work well. Everyone would need the freedom to tailor it to their church as well as to the student’s context regarding both the faith and family. For instance, what would this look like for a student who’s family doesn’t attend/engage with the church? Would the type of conversation you seek to have be different than the one who’s parents are regular supporters (meeting at the office? over dinner? with grandparents?)? Certainly, in either case, I think it be good to go for it though.

    Here’s the problem that most of us in YM have: how do you assess the student’s level of development? Most of us in the biz might not have any kind of rubric with which to do, and no stack of homework and art projects to back it up. This might indicate a failure on our parts to take this seriously, or make time for this when we’ve got the Pirate Pete’s Dress Up Like a Pirate Putt Putt Tournament next week and still need to find drivers. And usually we’re too busy setting up snacks and leading to prayer time to observe and take notes on how individual students are doing. The advantage that the school teacher already has is the system behind it.

    But who’s to say we don’t work hard with the leadership of our church and our ministries to make one? Sure, we’ll need to enlist volunteers to help us out so we can focus on tracking students. And we’ll need to come up with a vision and goals for our discipleship process in the first place, which we may not have. And sure, since or spiritual lives are personal, it’d be good for us to engage students and parents in deciding what growth or development goals are appropriate for their kid to begin with. But maybe this is a great way to think about engaging families in what you’ve got going on in the ministry and giving them an opportunity to partner with you in ministering to their children, whether they take it or not (but really, how many of our families wouldn’t if given the help?).

    I’m reading “Family Based Youth Ministry” and “Simple Church” right now, and I think they have a lot to say in this regard, and are totally kicking my butt in the best way.

    -Kevin

    • ken, you have so much good stuff to say. i like how you think and the questions you ask. it is a good challenge to even think of a rubric of evaluation. and to find time and space to value this so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of drivers for pirate pete’s putt putt tourney :) (you need your own blog, man!) may god continue to bless you and your ministry kevin!

      • Thanks, bro, I appreciate it. One day, if the Lord gives me time, there will be a blog. For now, I take heart in hearing my thoughts coming out much better in your writing.

  4. Ben, I LOVE this idea! This parent would be totally on board! And maybe because I’m one of those crazy over achieving, goal setting parents. But I sure am in good company…. We DO value our children’s spiritual development and would love to have a check in to make sure we’re doing all WE can do, while at the same time giving our children space to develop their own faith. We don’t want their spiritual development to get lost in the shuffle of soccer practice and piano lessons. Yet, while we’re trying to provide a certain level of spiritual “structure” our kids aren’t always willing to talk to us in confidence the way that they will talk to their peers or pastors.

    As far as what Kevin points out about getting a good diagnostic, I think you’ve set up a pretty darn good system with the small group leaders. Surely they would have some specific insights on each child–or at least the ones that are showing up. And if they’re not showing up, well that would certainly be step one….

    So, when can I schedule my conference ? ;-)

    • anne, you are my favorite type A parent :) i don’t intend in any way to say that parents don’t value this, we just don’t have a system or rhythm for this sort of conversation, where the academic and athletic groove is much deeper. i would love some more feed back and conversation with you and some of our other parents to see if this is something we can pull off. ps: weren’t you so proud of your boy last night?!

  5. I’m way in! And I’m a type B parent. :) But, I feel very A-ish when it comes to knowing that my boys get to know who JC is and how they need to have their own relationship with him. I’d love to be one of those parents who knows exactly where their kid stands spiritually, but they are boys and unless I’m driving with them somewhere, I don’t get those long heartfelt conversations. I keep my fingers crossed and hope they absorb the good stuff we model and what we talk about around here. And I of course, just keep on praying. You had a post awhile back that asked the question can our high school kids really and truly get it. I loved that. It’s such a personal journey and one that has ups, downs and allarounds. I know that my kids for sure need other people who will speak truth into their lives and not just words of wisdom from us imperfect parents.
    Practically, I bring my high schooler anywhere anytime to be with you all. But I stay out of the details of his youthgroup life because it is “his.” And he does love coming and hanging. I don’t want to do anything to mess with that. But believe me, I’m totally wondering how he’s doing spiritually out there and I would love a YouthLeader/Parent Conference. It would feel great to know we’re in this together!

  6. what a great idea.
    i wonder if part of parents’ hesitation to receive input from leaders at the middle school/high school level is because they may not have any earlier spiritual input. any specific feedback i’ve ever been given from church for elementary age kids was purely behavioral. academic conferences start in preschool. it would be great for this kind of intentional thought and training to be done early on (i realize how much work this takes and it gives me a renewed appreciation for excellent children’s ministry). as a parent, it makes being part of a purposeful community take on a whole new meaning. i want my girls to have strong influences and “teachers” in their lives from the very start.
    good thoughts! thank you, ben!

  7. I’m always proud of my boy ;-)

  8. i love this idea! i’m not sure how it would be implemented or how students’ levels of spirituality might be evaluated for said conference, but it seems like this could be a very eye-opening conversations for many parents.

    i wonder, as someone already stated, whether parents might not freak out at the idea that their son/daughter’s spirituality would reflect their spirituality and thus bow out of this all together?

    what an opportunity this would be! as a coach i’ve thought many times about the great lengths parents go to get kids starting positions in junior high and high school; then as a youth pastor i’ve seen the minuscule commitment to developing and encouraging a life of faith.

    great post!

  9. I have thought about this but couldn’t think of how I would structure this. It would be great to talk about the spiritual development of a student with the parent. However I wouldn’t want this to be a checklist of your child is doing this not doing this so he is spiritual or not.

    If anyone does this I would love to see how they did this.

  10. Hey Ben, we actually do something like this twice a year and it has been a huge success for us. We are very small group focused, and we rely heavily on our Small Group Leaders to partner with parents to be “other voices” in the lives of their students.

    We have done 3 Small Group Leader & Parent Breakfasts in the last year and a half, and have also created a free downloadable Event Guide for other churches to use. It has all of the editable files to make it happen, feedback from parents and Small Group Leaders, and instructions.

    The response (from both parents and Small Group Leaders) has been phenomenal. We were concerned at first, like some people have mentioned, that parents wouldn’t see the value or that Small Group Leaders would feel awkward. But, actually, the opposite was true. Parents jumped at the chance to meet with their kids’ Small Group Leaders, and (with a little encouragement and some conversation starters that we created), our Small Group Leaders did a great job of connecting with parents, listening to them, and building a better partnership with them.

    These breakfasts have spurred our Small Group Leaders on to host parent get-togethers of their own, become more intentional about engaging parents in what they do, and also develop more confidence in their ability to minister to families.

    Probably the greatest win I’ve seen from these events has been the feedback from parents, which has definitely re-energized our Small Group Leaders and reinforced the fact that what they do is so valuable. One mom told us that after spending some time with her child’s Small Group Leader, for the first time, she realized she wasn’t alone as a parent – that she had other people she could trust to influence and invest in her kids.

    If anyone’s interested in the Event Guide, you can get it here: http://middleschoolshine.com/otherchurches.php#resources

What do you think?

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  1. What would you say in a parent / teacher conference for student ministry? - Average Youth Ministry - December 3, 2012

    [...] year ago I mused about what a parent / teacher conference might look like if done within the student ministry context.  I have to admit, that I didn’t have the guts to pull it off.  Danny Steis, a youth pastor [...]