Replacing vs. Partnering with parents

Partnering with parentsThe more I read youth ministry blog posts, it feels like there’s a growing dichotomy between how we work with parents in our youth ministries.

The first approach doesn’t come right out and say this, but to me it feels like we’re essentially replacing parents by assuming the roles and responsibilities scripture gives to parents. That includes things like:

  • assuming responsibility for teenagers’ spiritual growth
  • preparing them for the future
  • building a spiritual foundation for them
  • teaching good morals
  • helping them make right choices and establish good habits
  • keeping their focus on Jesus
  • and more.

If the primary goal of our youth ministry is to accomplish these things without parents (even in practice if not in theory), I think we think too highly of ourselves than we ought.

The second approach looks at this list and knows that it’s not their place to be the primary caregiver in these areas, so instead they say, “Let’s figure out how we can enable parents to be effective in these roles.” The key is that these youth ministries do not primarily attempt to fill these roles, but proactively look for ways to help parents succeed in them and link arms however they can.

Is there overlap between the two? Of course. But there’s a subtle, yet distinct, difference that is essential to partnering with parents instead of just replacing them, and then wondering why parents aren’t stepping up to do their part.

QUESTION: Do you see a difference between replacing and partnering with parents? What effects does each have on our youth ministries and teenagers?

Posted on March 27, 2012

  • Mark

    love it!

  • George

    I have noticed that when parents think they are “failing” to do their part, they want us to fix their problems and when you try and approach these parents that we need to work together they almost are ready to throw the white flag up and expect us to fix it for them. It makes our job harder especially when parents are living the way that God wants them to.

    • I wonder how much of the parents reaction to our wanting to help is based on previous bad or unhelpful experiences. It also may be influenced in how we approach the issues. For example, saying, “We need to partner and work together on this,” doesn’t give as much hope as, “Explain to me what’s going on so I can support you guys however I can.” *shrugs*

  • Sappolon1

    The question becomes how do we partner with parents? Mainly how do you partner with parents that are not Christians?

    • In some ways, it might be even more critical to partner with parents who aren’t Christians, right? There’s certainly a lot of potential for our efforts to have a significant eternal impact there.

    • George

      I have 1 parent in mind that is not a believer but they like what we do and what is happening in their teenager’s life, but still no evidence that they want what he has, so that is hard to partner to so in that case I guess I am replacing the parent until the student starts telling their parents about Jesus, which at this point is not happening.

      • Keep up the good work, George! It’ll be awesome to see what happens as a result of your efforts here.

        BTW, as you know, you can still partner with the parent in other mundane areas, but the spiritual stuff you may still have to take the lead on.

  • david

    I think by partnering with parents by equipping them and holding them accountable, this will build stronger faith and stronger families. I recently read a book (can’t remember title) that explained when parents came to the pastor to counsel their child, the pastor would counsel the parents on how to counsel their child. And he would expect the parents to minister to their own child.

    There is a place for teaching morals and the like. Scripture is useful to train, correct, rebuke. So if the Scriptures are taught then it is inevitable that morals/choices/focus on JEsus would be the outcome. I think we do have a responsiblity to foster spiritual growth, we are to push them onto maturity. However, I do not believe it is 100% on my shoulders. And it shouldn’t be.

    Parents are the #1 influencer on their children. If faith and spiritual disciplines are not important at home, it won’t be important in a students life (for the most part). parents need to be taught and equipped how to minsiter to their students spiritual needs at home. I think partnering with paretns has more upside spiritually indivdually and within the family unit.

    • The example you gave is perfect! Thanks for sharing that. We definitely need to do more of that.

      I’m curious what you mean by holding parents accountable. How do we do that? And should that be part of our role?

      • david

        Holding them accountable is letting them know the church takes their role as parent seriously. It could be as simple as asking “what did you read as a family this week in the bible?” I would love to get to the point where we sit with parents and develop a plan of some sort to help them disciple their children and get to the place spiritually that they want their child to be at. Pastors wouldn’t make the plan, we’d come along side and help parents. But this would have to be a whole church vision and not just youth ministry.

        • I love that idea of sitting down with parents one-on-one like that to have such conversations! I think asking them the accountability questions without first having those equipping and motivating conversations may reinforce feelings of inadequacy that many parents already feel in this area.

          I think it’s also critical that we do this with our own families first and learn the ins and outs of the struggles and joys we face as part of the spiritual family journey. Only then can we help families from experience instead of from theory.

  • Tim,
    Great post, I think when you take a step back it’s easy to see the difference; however, when we are caught up in a situation we can quickly overstep boundaries. I think the idea of partnering with seems like a lot of work because it requires us to change our thinking. I think the first best step to partnering with parents is getting to know them, because it will clarify how we need to approach each situation.

    • Yeah, this is very true. It’s much easier for us just to do it ourself than to help parents do it. That takes much more work, effort, energy, and frustration.

      It also means giving up control and letting parents do what they think is best even when, in some cases, it’s really not what’s best.

      It really does require a shift in thinking and getting to know parents individually instead of only trying to partner in mass by adding meetings and programs for them.

      Good stuff!

  • Not sure if you’ve written anything on this, but what exactly do you mean by partnering? Do they serve as youth workers or do you mean we focus more on aiding parents outside of the youth ministry? I see potential issues in the first one like kids not being as open when parents (whether their own or someone else) are around and students getting the idea we’re tattling on them during youth worker meetings. We want to proved a place where kids can come and feel comfortable and free to share.
    I do not want to push students away so I guess my question is where do we draw the line?

    • In my experience, the idea that kids won’t be as open during youth group if their parents are there is usually not true if the parents are already playing the role they’re supposed to be playing at home during the week. Youth group just becomes a natural extension of that. I know I’m making a generalization, but it seems to be true in each example I can think of in the past youth groups I’ve served. In most cases I’ve worked with, those kids actually wanted their parents to be their small group leaders. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for some separation at this age, but separating didn’t seem to be as much of as necessity when the parent/teen relationship with healthy from a young age.

      So the issue becomes more about what we can do to help that healthy relationship take place for more families. Whether or not those parents are in the youth group should be left up to the families to decide. I’ve had some healthy families say, “My kids have spiritual conversations with me all week long. I’ll bow out of youth group because I want them to have those conversations with someone else, too.” Other parents say, “I love my role as being the primary spiritual caregiver for my kids! I’d love to do that through a small group, too!” And as long as their kids genuinely feel the same way, I say go for it.

  • I definitely see a difference between partnering with parents and replacing parents, but I disagree that many of the things you observe above equate to youth pastors trying to replace parents. Those things can be seen as replacing parents, but at the same time, if we are called as pastors of these students, there are certain things we are responsible for. Partnering with parents doesn’t mean we don’t work to keep students focused on Christ, it doesn’t mean we don’t take responsibility of building spiritual health in students, etc. etc. These things should be done in partnership with parents, but to I want our Family oriented ministry to be one that puts a desire in the hearts of our whole church to take responsibility for the spiritual development of our students, and I don’t view that as replacing the parents responsibilities as laid out throughout the Bible.

    • I agree that’s there’s overlap between the things I listed and whether we’re partnering or replacing. The difference lies more in our focus and in how we execute those things.

  • I don’t want to replace the parents but failing to depend on them in the maturing process of the teenager is doing just that. I think when I ignore the parent I am attempting to replace them.

    • That’s a very humble and perceptive response, Jimmy. I love it! Thanks so much for sharing that with us.

  • Also what are some basic steps that I should take to begin to partner with the parents?

  • Thanks to this article and some conversations I have had with local youth pastors we are doing our first ‘Parent Connection” in a couple weeks. Looking to really push this idea of partnering with them. Any resources available on things like social media, discipline, grades, etc? I’d love to put some free resources in their hands! thanks for posting this!

    • Dude, that’s awesome! I’d really love to hear more about this “Parent Connection” you’re planning. Email me with details?

  • Over the decades, we the church have succeeded. Our children’s ministries and student ministries have spoken the language in your bulleted text, Tim. Parents in turn extended their authority and responsibility to us. Now… we have this burden that we cannot bear. Students spend the majority of time under the roof with their family.

    First, I believe that we need to humbly and respectively return these responsibilities to the parents in our churches and wider faith community.

    Secondly, we do need to better partner with parents. For example: the past several retreats I’ve returned home one hour early to meet with parents of participating students. I share the retreat booklet and go over the discussions/lessons so they can continue the faith conversations at home. Some are parents who are not believers … but they love their children and their sons/daughters were invited to the retreat. It’s a beautiful time to share the gospel through the weekend’s teaching to the parents! Love it! Another critical partnering tool is to communicate. Families lives are full. Let’s not get into the debate of individual activities importance over ministry … instead, let’s get our information to parents as early as possible on weekly, monthly, quarterly basis using websites, texts, facebook, and even phone calls and face-to-face conversations. When we neglect this role, we put families in a position to squeeze ministry events among everything else. Let’s reverse that trend!

    We serve because Jesus first served. We serve families because we are passionate about teens. We need to recognize then that parents are the primary influencers over our precious students.

  • Nate Sallee

    I’m currently a year into a student ministry and am trying to navigate how to create a culture that partners with parents instead of replacing them. This post sums up perfectly how parents tend to outsource the spiritual development of their children and how many ministries are enabling that process.

  • Tim, we are trying to partner with parents in a deeper way. I am beginning some XP3 student curriculum, and stoked about the parent cue. I am trying to get it through my parents mind that we are partnering with them, not necessarily them partnering with us. This is a great post, and I am going to share this as a guest post soon on my blog.

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