A family-based approach to youth ministry

Where youth ministry is going - Part 2If you missed the past several days of this series, I’m sharing some of the trends I see taking place in youth ministry and the implications they hold for our future. There’s been a lot of great discussion so far! Catch up with the, “Where youth ministry is going,” series with these posts:

2. Moving toward a family-based approach to youth ministry

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, outsourcing is very prominent in our culture. It’s not always entirely bad. In fact, if people didn’t outsource different projects to me that are outside their skill set I wouldn’t have an income right now! But sometimes we become so used to outsourcing that we stop taking responsibility for the things we ought.

I mean, we outsource our kids’ athletics to a coach, their driving lessons to an instructor, education to a teacher, and in Hollywood some people make full-time jobs out of teaching celebrities’ kids how to ride a bike and go shopping!

We may all agree that that is too far, but where’s the line? What is acceptable to outsource and what isn’t? Is education too far? Is sports acceptable? Is giving youth pastors the responsibility of teenagers’ spiritual formation too far?

Most of us probably agree that the parents are supposed to be the primary spiritual developers of their kids’ faith — their faith should not be outsourced to the “paid professional” on staff at church. Yet, despite what we say, how we do youth ministry begs to differ with our words because we still enable parents to do otherwise.

Thankfully, it seems that there’s a trend of youth workers and church leaders saying, “No, we won’t enable parents to continue to place the responsibility of teenagers spiritual development on our shoulders!”

But something is missing

Most of us are probably familiar with the need to have parents be the primarily spiritual influence in a teenager’s life, but we have no idea where to start.

So we start at the wrong places. We start with doing more things:

  • Parent meetings
  • Parent newsletters
  • Provide discussion questions for parents based on our lessons

Doing more things is better than doing nothing, but ultimately it leads to superficial results because it fails to address the root issue.

We have to start with identity, not function. What we do should flow from who we are, never vice versa.

And that’s true for parents, too. It’s not just about what a parent does that influences their teen’s faith, it’s how a parent lives. And how they live flows out of who they are.

The invisible elements of their parents’ faith, like passion and sincerity, can’t be faked. They play such a critical role in the spiritual formation of children and teenagers, yet they flow from sharing life together more than adding another program or event for parents to our already full youth ministry calendar.

A new model of ministry to parents

We really have to care about what’s going on in the heart of the moms and dads in our churches. Not just say we care about it, but care enough to make the necessary radical shifts in our own families and ministries. If the parents in our churches are passionately sold out to the Lord, that is going to mess with their teenagers in huge ways! They’ll see it in their parents’ lives, not just hear it talked about as a compartment of their lives.

Thankfully, I hear churches talking about this shift more and more. No one quite seems to know what this looks like nor the implications it will have for their ministry if they make the vision shift on an “identity” level instead of on the “function” level, but we’re talking about it just the same. And I trust that our discussions will continue to formulate our thinking and perspectives, change our own hearts, and that conviction will give way to contagious passion. Soon we’ll become intolerant of enabling the very behavior we say we resist.


  • How are you starting to lead and model a family-based youth ministry in your home?
  • What does family-based ministry look like for your church right now?
  • How have you seen your personal spiritual growth affect your children and your family?

Posted on January 26, 2012

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