Partnering with Parents: A more effective approach to youth ministry

Partnering with Parents in Youth MinistryA couple months ago I had a conversation with Brian Eberly about some of the great ways his church is shifting from segregated age-specific ministries to a more holistic approach of parent-based ministry. I asked him to write about it for us and he did! This guest post is contributed by Brian Eberly. Thanks, Brian!

Recently I have been experiencing a rather large shift in my thinking. For years I have seen the Church as the place to teach, train and equip young people for living out a real and authentic faith. I was even trained in college on how to pull off such a feat. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe the Church has a big role to play in that process, I just wonder, is that the primary role of the Church in the life of a young person?

If results are the chief way of evaluating effectiveness, one must ask then, are we seeing the results we had hoped for? Sadly, I have to say, no. Sure, I see many students that have come through my ministry over the years that are actively living their lives for the Lord. The high numbers of those who are not living for the Lord is what concerns me.

We youth pastors sit around for hours discussing why it is we see so many of our students dropping off upon graduation. Why are they abandoning their faith? Why are they walking away from the Church? Is it because we as a Church have failed them? Have we missed something? If we create a more exciting worship experience for them will they stay? If we create better programs that are attractive to their generation, will they stay? I believe the reasons are multi-faceted, and yes we as a Church, play a part. Beyond the Churches role and responsibility, I believe the weight of that responsibility falls on two very important people: mom and dad. The reason so many students give up on church and their faith is not because they don’t like the music in our worship services, or don’t like our programs, rather it’s because they have not seen a real faith lived out in their parents lives. They as a result view faith as hypocritical. They have not seen it lived out at home, so they don’t want any part of it in their lives.

Who ultimately is responsible? Is it the Church, or is the family? There is no question that God has mandated the Church to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and equip people for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The question is, does all of the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the Church? I believe the primary role of the Church is to partner with the family, not take it’s place. Unfortunately, much of that responsibility has been abdicated to the Church.

We have created programs for kids to be dropped off at, in the hope that they will get everything they need for living a God centered life. The average church spends 40 to 50 hours a year with children. Contrast this to the 2,500 hours a parent has, and it’s easy to see, who has the greatest impact. I find it hard to believe that the drop off systems we have created is what God had in mind for the spiritual nurture of His children.

It is the families responsibility, that being mom and dad, to nurture the spiritual lives of children. Researcher George Barna correctly states, “When a church – intentionally or not – assumes a family’s responsibilities in the arena of spiritually nurturing children, it fosters an unhealthy dependence upon the church to relieve the family of its biblical responsibility.”*

So what is the role of parents? In instructing God’s people to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Moses presented them with very practical instruction on how to lead their children in living out that command. He writes, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). That is some pretty specific instruction!

We are to pass our faith on to our children all throughout the day. In the slow time, (when you sit at home) in the go time, (when you walk along the road) in the down time, (when you lie down), and in the up time. (when you get up). This will not be accomplished in the “drop off time.”

Let us remember as a Church, it is our role to partner with parents in this ever important task. In our programming let’s dream of ways we can come alongside parents and families to equip them and resource them in their God given task. Ephesians 4:12 instructs us to prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up. Let us as youth workers not merely focus on preparing students, but let us consider how we may also prepare parents for the task of discipling their children so the body of Christ may be built up.

*George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003), p 81.

Brian EberlyBrian Eberly is the Family Pastor at Grace Point Community Church in Tigard, Oregon. He’s been actively ministering to students for 23 years. When not doing ministry he spends most of his time with wife Robin and two kids, daugther, Brittnie and son Benjamin. He blogs at Feel free to contact him at

Posted on December 15, 2008

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