It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.
This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry. No, joke, in unison, the all said parents! It was interesting as it was sad. For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God's agent for the spiritual development of students. We are awesome. We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation. (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.) We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus. But then our hearts get crushed as our students don't show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.
I mean, COME ON! Is soccer really more important!!
Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!
According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children. All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child's walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father. All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child's faith development is an incredible burden to carry.
What if there was a third way?
- What if my fellow youth workers and myself got over our self importance and didn't see parents as the problem, but as part of our ministry?
- What if my fellow youth workers walked alongside parents and provided care and support for parents as they care for the spiritual formation of their kids?
- What if the church and the family actually needed each other?
- What if the church and the family partnered together using their unique strengths for the spiritual development of children and students?
It breaks my heart when youth workers are at odds with parents, when we are so consumed with our own importance that we actually forget that our job is not only to care for the students in our ministry but the family system they are a part of. It also breaks my heart when families feel like they must be the sole person to shoulder the burden of their own child's faith development.
THE GIFT OF STUDENT MINISTRY:
I think that youth ministry has the opportunity to be an incredible gift to parents. Raising kids and forming them spiritually is an overwhelming task. As a parent all my issues and baggage seem to get in the way of my genuine desire to help my kids know and love Jesus. I am not perfect and I am not as intentional as I desire. And this is as a pastor / parent. I think many parents can relate for the strong desire to be the people to shape and help develop the faith of their kids. And I think even more parents can relate to the shame of not being as intentional or not even know how to accomplish this lofty goal.
But what if parents didn't have to do this alone? What if parents had a resource, other adults and a community of students where their son or daughter could land where they could explore faith and have other pictures of the Christian life. Youth ministry at its best provides parents with this incredible gift; a partner in the faith formation of their kids!
How great will it be when youth workers see themselves as servants to parents, partners in carrying this incredible burden.
We must not be at war. Helping students develop a love for Jesus is a difficult task, an impossible one actually. The kids who have the best shot at it are the ones in healthy family systems that are connected to a local church, where that kid is connected to a youth ministry.
Let us leverage the light of the church and the love of the family so that through intentional partnership, our students may actually come to know and love Jesus Christ.
I am honored to partner with Orange in this philosophy of ministry. If you would like to know more about this philosophy and the tools that are used to leverage these two spheres of influence for the sake of our kids, check out whatisorange.org. And if you really want a taste, clear your calendar and join us in the ATL this spring for the annual orange conference. I hope to see you there!