A Facebook post I spotted this morning got me thinking. A youth worker was asking his ministry peers for ideas on what he could address during this week’s annual meeting with parents. What caught my attention was his use of the word annual. That word, when combined with parent meeting, once got me in big trouble. The outcome of my trouble, however, was life-changing and ministry-shaping.
It was a hot summer day in Massachusetts and I was getting ready to transition from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back into local church youth ministry. While waiting to see and say “goodbye” to one of my favorite professors, another professor who at that time I didn’t know stopped for what I thought would be a quick greeting in the hallway. After introducing himself, he asked me what I was going to be doing once I left the seminary. “I’m headed to Philly and youth ministry in a local church.” Then, he looked at me and asked, “What are you going to be doing with parents?” To that point in time, I hadn’t really thought about it that much. Youth ministry, for me, was always about kids. But in an effort to answer his question I blurted out, “What I always used to do with parents. . . I’ll get them together a couple of times a year to let them know our youth ministry plans. Then, I’ll get back to spending time with kids.”
That was nowhere near good enough for him. . . and I’m glad.
He sat down next to me (this was looking like it might go a little bit long!) and proceeded to lay out a theology of spiritual nurture and the primary role of parents in that task in simple, compelling, and convincing terms. The words I remember most from that conversation are these: “Kids become like their parents. That’s the way God intended things to be. You are not called to be a primary nurturing influence. You are secondary. You are there to support and assist parents.” While he really didn’t open my eyes to anything new in terms of what the Scriptures taught, he did mess with the way I had always done youth ministry. It was as if scales fell from my eyes. Long story short, I left that conversation promising to not only continue the conversation with him over the coming months and years, but convinced that my well-thought-out philosophy of youth ministry needed a complete re-boot. And so, when my feet hit the ground in Philly, things were markedly different.
I don’t remember anybody talking about or doing what’s now been labeled as “Family-Based Youth Ministry” back at that time in our youth ministry history. With little or no precedent to follow, we simply started doing it by trial and error, fumbling along and hoping to find our way. The response/results that we saw from and in the lives of both the parents and students were amazing. I don’t know if we were really doing things well or not, but we were trying.
One thing led to another, and I was asked by Group Publishing to co-write a book called Ministry to Families With Teenagers. That was thirty years ago. And what I read on that Facebook post this morning led me to the bookshelf holding a dusty copy of Ministry to Families With Teenagers and a quick scan of some of what I had written way back when. I ran across these words: “Teenagers are influenced much more by their parents than by church. They have been shaped primarily by attitudes and behaviors they see at home. Moral and faith development are influenced first and foremost by the family. Inevitably, those clumsy 12-year-olds in the junior high group (that’s what it was called back then!) blossom into mature adults who are strikingly like their parents.”
Then, it got a little personal as I confessed my own past-efforts to build the biggest and best youth ministry through my own influence on kids. I wrote, “Despite apparent success, I knew inside that most of the kids weren’t growing spiritually as they should. they lacked the depth of commitment to keep them in church when youth group no longer attracted them or when they left for college. What was wrong? Their spiritual growth wasn’t being nurtured and supported by their families. . . . Years of experience in youth ministry have convinced me that a key ingredient for successful and effective ministry to teenagers is ministry to and with their parents.”
In the thirty years since writing those words, I am infinitely more convinced of our need to do more than just meet with parents one, two, or three times a year. And, in the thirty years since, our youth ministry world has increasingly offered education, support, and resources to make that happen.
This morning, I was thinking about some of the many organizations and ministries that now exist to help us in this task. Some friends come to mind. There’s the Fuller Youth Institute led by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Chap Clark. My friend Reggie Joiner is doing amazing work through Orange. And Jim Burns and Doug Fields are resourcing us through Homeword. You should be accessing, using, and learning from all these folks!
At CPYU, we’re working hard to offer practical theological foundations, educational resources, and a host of other resources to help people in youth ministry minister to, educate, and support parents. . . particularly when it comes to knowing and responding to the culture that so powerfully shapes, nurtures, and mis-shapes kids. Effective Christian nurture must include a recognition/understanding of the powerful cultural forces and trends that shape kids, and then carefully crafted responses that bring the corrective light of God’s Word to bear on the cultural realities that exist.
As you prepare for a year of doing much more with parents than just a parent meeting or two, let me suggest some ways that you can use us to help you minister to, support, and encourage parents.
- The CPYU monthly Parent Page – This is monthly four-page newsletter that you access digitally and can either forward digitally, or print out (as many copies as you like with just one subscription! . . a measly $5 a month) to pass on to parents. It’s designed to keep parents informed about the lastest happenings and trends in the world of youth culture. . . all from a distinctively Christian perspective. Hundreds of youth workers use this every month! Click here to see a sample issue. . . and here to get subscription information.
- Handouts and Fact Sheets – There are all FREE resources that you can download and distribute as you see fit. All are designed to raise parental awareness and equip parents to respond Christianly to cultural trends and forces. We are adding new handouts regularly. These include Trend Alerts, 3(D) reviews of music and film, handouts and fact sheets from our Digital Kids Initiative, and handouts and fact sheets from our Sexual Integrity Initiative. This is one of the easiest and most helpful resources you can get in the hands of parents. . . by simply sending them the link, posting the link, or printing out the handout itself. (Because we recorded a Youth Culture Matters podcast yesterday on the issue of pornography, we chatted about this Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography, a FREE resource that parents have found to be very helpful on an issue all kids and families are facing).
- Youth Culture Today 1-Minute Daily Culture Update – How can you talk about a youth culture trend in helpful, hope-filled ways in just one minute?!? Well, we’ve been doing this for over a decade. The daily spot is carried on over 800 stations across North America, but it can also be accessed online here. We archive them as well. Just post the link and pass it on to parents. Today’s show is on “Binge-Drinking and Stress.”
- Seminars – That’s right! Lots of folks don’t know that one of our most popular resources is our line-up of on-site seminars that we can present in your community, and your church, or in your school. Click here for a complete line-up of seminar topics and speakers.
- Weekly Youth Culture E-Update – We know you’re pressed for time. With that in mind, we invest the time in curating the latest youth culture happenings, research, and resources into a concise and user-friendly weekly email that allows you to scan, pick, and dig deeper into those things that you believe will be most helpful. To subscribe, go to our CPYU homepage, scroll down to the bottom, and look for the “E-Update Signup” box. Just stick your email address in the box, click “Subscribe,” and you’re in! Did I mention this one’s FREE as well!
That’s just a small sampling of ways that we can help you in your ministry to parents and families. Take some time to scan our website for loads and loads of additional resources!