How are we the problem in youth ministry?

How are youth pastors a problem in youth ministry?Last week I posted a somewhat provokative statement on the LISM Facebook Page where we had a pretty lively discussion:

AGREE OR DISAGREE: The main reason you have a job is because parents aren’t doing theirs.

How we respond to that reveals a lot about the assumptions we hold about ministry, parents, the church, and even ourselves.

Some of us took this conversation to a live Google+ Hangout where we could discuss some of this more in-depth in a face-to-face kind of way, which was awesome! Thanks to everyone who joined and contributed so many different viewpoints and perspectives!

One of the points that came up in our Google+ Hangout is that youth ministry seems to be good at identifying all the problems we have and quickly pointing the finger elsewhere. Often that includes placing blame on parents, sr. pastors, board members, schools, sports, and sometimes the teenagers themselves. But, personally, I find it hard to believe we, as youth workers, are completely innocent in contributing to the problems and issues youth ministry faces. Thankfully, no one in the Google+ Hangout disagreed, so we discussed a bit of how we think we contribute to the issues we struggle with.

QUESTION: Regarding this specific issue of some parents being spiritually disengaged from their kids, what role do we play in unintentionally contributing to that problem?

Sometimes we complain about things in youth ministry, but then turn around and enable the very things we say we don’t like.

I’d love to hear how you guys would answer that question because the implications of what we identify here are potentially huge! Comment below and let’s discuss.

And if you’d like to jump in on future live random youth ministry conversations, be sure to follow me on Twitter or like the LISM Facebook Page. I’ve already got another question stirring in my head that I’d love to discuss live with you all sometime soon!

Posted on March 20, 2012

  • Kenny Swanson

    From my experience, we complain that the parents could care less but then we care less to help the parents care more. The more I think & pray about it, the more Student Ministry is shaping into Family Ministry. If we really want to have an impact on the students God has given us, we need to have an impact on their families as well.

    • Yeah, and I would probably even be a bit more specific and say that we have to do whatever is necessary to impact the parents because there is nothing that messes with a teenager more than having parents who are sold out to the Lord in every area of their lives, both private and public.

  • Instead of asking “How are we the problem” why not shift our mindset to; How can I be the solution? Granted it is small shift and we will still have to address the questions: What I am I doing wrong? How am I the problem? How can I be part of the solution?

    That being said I don’t think we are necessarily a “problem” but perhaps stuck, like many others, in the “this is how I’ve always done it cycle.” Depending on our ministry set up we have only 2-6 years to make an impact on our students and parents. Both equally important. It’s important to not just empower and equip the students, but their parents as well. Let’s not forget to also equip our youth workers and the church. It’s not all up to the youth pastor to impact the lives of the students, but rather; train others to work along side us and separate from us to make this impact.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Dustin, and I think we do need to ask questions related to becoming part of the solution, but I also think there’s plenty of things about our role in the church and youth ministry that unintentionally hinder the very progress we’re trying to make. That’s the question I think we need to answer so that we can stop getting in the way of what we’d love to see happen in the lives of teenagers and families, and thus lead to better solutions.

    • Larry

      I think we also get stuck in the “nothing I do will makes a difference so why try?” mindset as well. We get tired of dealing with parents who constantly question us and enable their kids to question and devalue student ministry. I just had a parent the other day that explained their kids lack of fellowship with believers at church in this way: “If they miss their sports, they are letting their team down.” I asked, “So, should we have any bigger team than our fellow believers and our student ministry?” Can we do anything to help parents understand that we and their kids faith and place in the kingdom of God can’t be successful, when everything is more important than faith and our relationships with each other as believers?

      • So to go off what you’re saying, Larry, is there anything that we do (or what our position as youth workers does) to enable parents and teens to have that kind of perspective of the church? What about youth group and our role as youth workers makes them feel that way about their athletic teams and not about the church?

  • Tpryde3

    When youth ministry views themselves (either practically or actually) as more essential to the discipleship of their children, parents may well believe them. They simply can’t compete, day to day, with a weekly youth program, so the resulting feelings of inadequacy can easily cause them to withdraw from the process.

    Youth ministry cannot afford to leave parents feeling inadequate and then detached from the discipleship of their kids. Parents are not partners with the youth ministry; we must remember and act on the reality that it is the other way around…

  • Actually, I think that this is a bit more complicated. Parents may not be challenged by pastors as much to be involved in faith transmission if a youth minister is supposed to be taking care of it. Parents need words of challenge from the pulpit as well as from the YM – a good relationship with two way communication with the pastor would be a helpful tool with this problem.

    • You’re right, it definitely is complex. And I feel like we’re still pointing fingers a bit. What I’m thinking through is how are we contributing to the problem. Kinda tough and humbling to think about, at least for me it is.

  • KNorval111

    I love this whole discussion..I think that youthworkers can add to the problem by 1. seeing the parents as “not as spiritual” (when in fact a lot of those parents were probably youth groupers/Crusade/Young Life, YFC, etc. themselves in the 70s/80s), 2. by assuming that parents prioritize academics and sports/dance/gymnastics/band etc. over church and like it, and 3. believing that parents cannot be involved in the youth ministry. If we walk through the doors of a ministry already thinking those things, then we are doomed to view the parents as someone needing to be fixed through their kids’ exuberant involvement in “our” ministry. One parent meeting per year to lay out the plans and of course expenses and fund raising commitments is not a relationship nor is it the way to gain trust and support for the people we’re supposed to be in a partnership with as we spend time with their kids. I believe that parents need to know that there is someone (and it may not be the paid youthworker, by the way) on the youth ministry team who knows something and is interested in whatever their particular student is interested in. Many times I have shared the story of the volunteer who, with a busy full time job, couldn’t be at every meeting, planning session or other areas of the ministry, but who went to every tennis match of one of the students. You can only imagine the glowing view of the ministry shared by those parents because of that one simple action. (reposted from facebook!!)

  • KNorval111

    Ideas of what we can do..(I could go on for days but here is a beginning..)
    1. Offer to take a kid or two or three on college visits. In one of the churches I served we took current high schoolers beginning the search process to see former youth group friends at their schools. There is no substitute for stepping foot on a campus as students make this tough choice, and boy do they like stepping foot with their youth leader. THEN, schedule a college/post high school planning time with just a couple of parents to share your insights about what their student experienced, asking them what their student already shared with them. This is a nerve wracking and hugely time consuming thing for parents and most schools just do not offer enough time and resources, so the more you have sitting around in your office to offer, even if it is a list of websites or denominational scholarships, you are a help.
    2. Don’t just go to the sporting event or the high school play of a student-ask if you can sit with the family. Take pictures (no flash, of course) of the kid in the play AND of the family reactions to everything. Post it on facebook or better yet, send it in a frame or scrapbook page to the family, and hang it on your office wall.
    3. Do summer bible studies in people’s homes and ask the parents to help you out. No, not to make food or bake cookies, but to actually help you out with some details of the study. You affirm their spirituality and get them to dig in a bit while you prepare.
    4. Those students on “the fringe’- ask to meet their mom or dad for lunch near their workplace. A quick lunch not only helps you to know them better and vice versa, but it gives you insight into the student, maybe even learning why the fringe is the place they need to be.
    5. Invite some parents who have already raised their kids to do a “youth group” with the current parents of late middle schoolers. This is a panicked group of parents anticipating high school, and how cool is it to share some food and hear some great stories of mistakes, silly happenings and even some real troubles from people on the other side and here to tell about it. While this is happening, bring back the former students to do the same thing with those middle schoolers.

  • Do you know the movie “DIVIDED”? In the movie they say that modern youth ministry is unbiblical (!) and that youthleaders do a job that should be done by fathers. Heavy stuff, but worth thinking about. Heres the link

    • No, I haven’t seen it, but I’ve certainly read and heard a lot about it.

  • Tim,

    Awesome question, I think we contribute by not connecting with parents. Something I bad at and working on is getting to know the boy’s parents in my small groups because I find the conversations I have with them always benefit the growth of their boys. And that’s not because of the wisdom I pour in, but because I become a resource for a parent. When we aren’t building relationships with the parents, we aren’t really helping the teen.

  • This is a very good conversation, and I agree there are no easy answers. This is something that cannot be fixed with a program or process. Ultimately it comes down to relational connections, either with the student and/or their parents. Why are they connected so much to their sports team? Because they spend several hours a week with them in practice and travel and games and it is something they enjoy. Ultimately it is relational. Personally, I know that at times I have focused too much on programs and begging them to come instead of on the relational side.

    My book (which will be out in a month or so) speaks to this a bit. Can’t wait to have you read it.

  • Genaro Ocanas

    If us a youth leaders are disengaged or do not show a full transformed life because of the Gospel and our youth do not see that in us, then how are they are going to be part of the trasformation in their lives. It should not be an issue what so ever to provide them with what they need inorder to equip then so that their parent would want to have the same transformation. I say look inside one self first and ask your self, am I a Christian? when people see me is it clear (crystal clear) that they see a Christ like, transformed s disciple of Christ, one that when you speak, they listen because, the love of, for, Christ is so obviou that there is no need to introduce your self as a follower of Christ. I think I heard some one said that once,

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