Incarnational Youth Ministry [Part 7]: Engaging Parents

This series is adapted from a paper that I wrote for a youth ministry class in Fall 2010.  Posts in this series will appear on Tuesdays for as long as it takes to get through the content in manageable pieces.  Enjoy!

In identifying the importance of parents in the lives of young people, Wayne rice points out some important characteristics of parents that can simply never be replaced by a youth minister: parents love their kids more, they care about their kids more, they spend more time with their kids, they know their kids better, they influence their kids more, they have more authority, and they have more responsibility (Rice, Engaging Parents as Allies, 21-27).  For these reasons, it is absolutely necessary that parents are engaged in faith formation.  A youth minister can never replace the parent of a young person.  However, the youth minister can do a great deal in helping parents to own their role as the primary faith former in their child’s life.
If the role of the family is so critical in the faith formation of young people, then there are some steps that the church must take in its practices of youth ministry to allow for that faith formation to happen.  The first and most important things that youth ministers can do is to begin to “cut the fat” of their programming.  Young people are already so over-involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports, musicals, drama, and more that the last thing families need is one more program that takes their kids out of the house every week.  The church can communicate a lot to families by making more time for families to be families.  In addition to helping create this additional margin for families, churches ought to be investing significant amounts of effort and energy in engaging and equipping parents to be the primary faith-formers in the lives of their children.  Wayne Rice suggests that blessing, communicating with, equipping, connecting, and involving parents can help to make this happen (Rice, 71-140).  When push comes to shove, the church needs to “be an advocate for the family system” (Rise, 67).  By partnering with parents instead of competing with them, youth ministries can begin to have an even greater impact not only on young people, but on culture as well.
As discussed in the Cultural Concerns section of this paper, youth ministry is now being practiced in an age where there has been a significant breakdown of the traditional family unit.  Young people are navigating through a life that is split between divorced parents, often dividing their time between two residences, two sets of values and beliefs, and even two separate sets of religious influences.  While family-based ministry and engaging parents seems like a no-brainer for churches, putting it into effective practice in today’s culture can be a daunting hurdle to be crossed by any youth minister.  Terry McGonigal jokingly encourages youth ministers in today’s cultures with this summarization of his four-year process for implementing family-based ministry: “Try something.  Fail.  Try something else.  Fail again.  Try something else.  Stumble on one thing that works.  Repeat what works.  Try something else… You get the idea” (McGonigal in Starting Right, 152).  The ultimate reality is that engaging parents is going to involve some failures, but it is worth the fight.  “Regardless of the model, every ministry needs to find ways to build on a foundation of parents providing intentional Christian nurture for their children and students connecting to an extended Christian family of faith-full adults” (McGonigal, 152).  The church needs youth ministers who are willing to fight for the cause of family-based ministry.
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