Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 2. These approaches to parental involvement were discussed and developed at CYMT’s Preparing Parents for Spiritual Leadership Summit in May 2012.
by Andrew Zirschky
Involving parents in the spiritual growth of their kids is a hot topic in youth ministry these days, and models and perspectives run the gamut from including parents in ministry to seeing parents as the ministry. Their varying approaches range from simple strategies to complex systems, and from organic to programmatic. But not every approach is right for every church. Since faithful ministry is always contextual, there will never be an approach that is right for every congregation.
As you search for ways to involve parents in forming the faith of their kids, here are four broad approaches worth keeping in mind. While there are dozens of variations for each approach, these broad categories are helpful for sorting your options. As you search for the right solution for your community, consider ways to combine various approaches. What follows gives you a starting point and a few handholds for sorting through your options:
Parents as resources for the church’s ministry to youth
This is one of the most traditional youth ministry approaches to involving parents in the faith development of their kids. Since the church is equipped with trained leaders skilled at teaching and preaching, this approach assumes that a formal youth ministry will be able to more effectively communicate the faith to young people in a group setting where youth are engaged in learning about and discussing their faith alongside peers. This approach takes seriously the development reality that teenagers are branching out from their families of origin and looking for a wider association and place of belonging in the world. While the faith of parents is still regarded as important, those who take this approach also recognize that during adolescence, teenagers want some space from mom and dad.
How, then, are parents involved in youth ministry? They best serve as resources for the ministry who provide the material goods and services necessary to supply the congregation with all its needs for ministering to its young people. First, the job of the youth pastor is to see parents as professional resources: counselors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, business executives. All of these have skills and abilities that they can lend to the youth ministry from time to time. Do you know a parent who is a nurse? He or she can be a great resource for the ministry by assembling a first aid kit or even coming along on the summer mission trip. Additionally, parents have all kinds of material resources that youth ministries need: cabins, boats, minivans, and more. The weakness to this approach is that it doesn’t directly address parents as the primary spiritual guides for their kids, but this may also be a strength since, as teenagers develop, they increasingly look beyond their parents. Another strength of this model is that all youth receive the same care and quality of youth ministry no matter how spiritually absent their parents may be. This approach is best typified in many youth ministry resources from the 1980s and 1990s.
Church as resourcer of parents
This approach sees the youth pastor and the church as a clearinghouse for good information, resources, books, and seminars that help parents take an active role in forming the faith of their kids. “It’s your job to disciple kids,” Doug Fields tells parents, “and I want to come alongside.” While not many youth pastors have firsthand knowledge of raising teenagers, they can provide parents with items such as parenting guides, devotional books, newsletters full of good content, and connections to other parents. “I think you see yourself coming alongside . . . in some ways affirming them, but also giving them a lot of resources. What a youth worker can do is they don’t have to be the resource, but they can give them resources,” say Jim Burns.
Parents gathered as members of the ministering Body
This approach is similar to the “parents as resources” view, but takes the further step of seeing parents as important members of the ministering Body of Christ. Starting with the ecclesiological understanding that the church is Christ’s instrument of ministry in the world, this approach considers ministry to be the responsibility of all members of the Body of Christ, and this includes ministry to young people. Youth ministry should be owned by the church, and not by a youth pastor and a small group of parents. Too many congregations assume that it is the responsibility of parents to keep youth ministry running for teenagers, and as soon as your kids graduate, you’ll be free from youth ministry. On the contrary, this approach sees youth ministry as a ministry of the congregation, and parents should be included among the ministering members of the Body. This approach emphasizes the important of parents—and members of all ages and life stages—to be involved as relational youth ministry volunteers.
Church as the teacher and shaper of parents’ faith
This approach assumes that one of the greatest ways to minister to youth is to actively form the faith of parents. Starting with the notion that the faith of kids will largely reflect the faith of parents, this approach seeks to educate and shape the faith lives of adults. The result is that youth ministry isn’t just ministry to teenagers, but also ministry to adults on their behalf. Parenting seminars, strong parent-of-teen Sunday school classes, parent support small groups, and other activities that form the faith of adults are seen as effective forms of ministry to teenagers. This approach recognizes that the faith lives of teenagers cannot be separated from the faith lives of their parents, and we have the cart before the horse if we attempt to minister to youth without first ministering to their parents. One example is Fuller’s Sticky Faith curriculum for parents; one of its goals is to educate parental faith in order to form the faith of youth.
In Part 2, we’ll look at four more approaches, including parents as evoking and nurturing faithfulness, families as agents of ministry and faith enacted, church as preparers of parents to be the primary ministers, and church as cloud of witnesses surrounding parents and youth. Click here to read Part 2.