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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.

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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 www.brianeberly.com. Feel free to contact him at brian@brianeberly.com.


Posted on December 15, 2008

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  • Great thoughts Brian- I’m completely with you. This sentence is huge:

    “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.”

    What if we began to use a portion of those 40-50 hours a year to create a place where youth and their parents can study, laugh, play, and talk together? What if, even if just a few times a year, youth group was not just for youth, but their families as well?

    I imagine those 2500 hours at home would begin to reflect those experiences.

    It is just so unfortunate for those teenagers whose parents really don’t care about church at all.

    Lots to think on- thanks!

  • Great ideas. First time here on this blog and what a great resource!

  • Justin, we have actually begun a ministry here at Grace Point similar to what you have described. It’s called Family Point. You can read more about it at http://ipastor.blogspot.com/2008/10/family-point.html The idea is to do what you said, worship, learn, fellowship together. Right now it is just for families with younger children, as opposed to teenagers, but I am hoping it will be a foundation for greater family ministry within our student ministry. It has been great!

  • I love this article! I just read Ministry Mutiny by Greg Stier and there is a chapter in there about encouraging parents to be responisible for their own actions at home and having conversations all throughout the week about their faith. It gave some great ideas like sending emails with questions related to the message from youth group to the parents to discuss with the teens during the week. I currently am sending SOUL FUEL devotions to the parents and teens in our youth group which are devotions from Dare to Share Ministries that are made for parents and teens to read with questions at the end for them to discuss. THANKS!

  • Jill

    Great blog!

    Heather
    I am wondering how you format the SOUL FUEL devotions. They look great though.

  • Brian,

    You couldn’t be more correct in your assessment. Parents have to be the primary spiritual leaders for their kids. And as you stated, God’s Word has commanded this to be true. One of my goals for 2009 is to increase parental involvement in our middle school ministry. I would be interested in hearing any ideas you have to help increase parental involvement.

    On another note, it must be noted that we ministering to a generation whose parents spend less and less quality time with their children. And we must be there to support those teens whose parents are not involved in their lives spiritually. It would seem that youth ministry have been built around such a circumstance. I don’t think this is a bad thing in and of itself…but we must be able to do both. We must effectively minister to those teens who have no parents to instruct them in the Lord and to effectively involve parents to instruct their teens in the Lord.

    I would love to have any of you check out my blog at youthrebellion.org. God Bless

  • Jeff, you may be surprised to learn how eager parents actually are to be involved in your ministry in some form or another. Some of my best staff are actually parents. Of course as staff they must have a heart for ministering students, not just watching their own kid. Utilize parents as prayer partners. Their prayers are effective and powerful. Parents are also very eager to support your ministry in providing resources, food, vehicles, homes. Communicate regularly with them and don’t be afraid to solicit their help and assistance.

    On your other point, I completely agree. It is critical that we surround those students that do not have the support of their parents with other caring adults that care for and love them. This even goes beyond your regular youth staff. Look for adults within the church that are outside of your youth ministry, that can come along side students to pray for them, and spend time with them. The more adults involved in students lives the better, especially when there are uninvolved parents in the picture.

  • Jamie,

    I think the process of parents discipling their children starts when their kids are young. Forcing it to happen when kids are teenagers will be very difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult. That is why I love what we are doing with Family Point. We are encouraging parents to begin engaging with their kids now, with the hope that it will create a paradigm of discipleship for them to operate under.

    In terms of encouraging parents with teens, I think the best thing we can do is resource and educate them in how to best relate to their kids. The article in the Parent Newsletter that I sent out today (http://campaign-archive.com/?u=5b931d57a3c2afbcf5… gives some great tips on doing that.

    What would a Family Point look like with middle school and high school students is great question. I think it could look fairly similar only geared to a more mature audience. One key component of the evening is the meal. So many families today don't even eat together. If we can show them how good that is, we encourage them to do it more at home.

    Another great idea for involving parents and students together is in mission. Anytime we can get people serving together, we hit a bulls eye, especially when it is students with their parents. In my experience nothing brings people closer in community than serving.

  • Jamie

    Brian,

    I am complete agreement with you. Can you give any examples of how this is played out within youth ministry? I am working on changing out structure a bit but I’m not sure what this truly looks like…How far do you go?

    It’s like banging your head against the wall at times trying to get students to grow in Christ without the parents growing in Christ…or even spending time with them.

    Also I think it’s important in the discussion of distinguishing between “church kids” and non-church kids. I think the goal is the same (getting their parent to disciple them) but we have to go about in two complete different ways.

    Thoughts?

  • Jill – Honestly, rather than making my parents/teens sign up for this, I just forward it on. The formatting stays the same in my outbox. Who knows what it looks like in their inbox, but I haven't had any complaints.

  • Jamie,

    Right now we are offering a program to families with young children called Family Point (see: http://ipastor.blogspot.com/2008/10/family-point.html). It is what I believe to be a good foundation for fostering the kind of parent/child relationships that I wrote about. Relationships that will last well into the teen years.

    Aside from Family Point I have led Parenting Workshops to help a parents understand their role and responsibility (see: http://ipastor.blogspot.com/2008/05/understanding-and-parenting-your-teen.html and http://ipastor.blogspot.com/2008/05/understanding-and-parenting-your-teen_14.html). I also send out a weekly Parent Newsletter designed to encourage and equip parents in their role. Here is what this week’s newsletter looked like: http://campaign-archive.com/?u=5b931d57a3c2afbcf5ad2e051&id=c87bf3cc88&e=1b6509a638 . Most of it’s contents are supplied by Youth Specialties.

    I also have parents on my youth ministry team and am always quick to involve parents in other ways within our ministry.

  • Jamie

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the reply…

    So what would family point look like for middle school and high school families?

    To push a little bit…

    It’s one thing to involve parents in ministry…as in getting them involved with helping out, fundraising, all the usual things…but how can we encourage them to intentionally disciple their kids at home?

    Thanks for making your stuff available….

  • Jamie

    Brian, or is that enough just to get the parents involved with helping out with youth nights and all the usual things?

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