Written by: Leo Galarza from Christ’s Church of the Valley
Early in my youth ministry career I didn’t value investing in relationships with the parents of my students. I was happy as long as I was able to use their pool for an event, borrow their van to take to camp, or ask them to buy pizza for a small group. After all, my focus was their student! My goal was to learn as much as possible about youth culture, come up with creative ways to preach the Gospel, and create fun environments for students to bring their friends.
That strategy can work for a season; however, if we want to build strong and healthy ministries that last decades, we need to remember that youth ministry is a family ministry.
This summer we had the biggest camp season we’ve ever had in the history of our church. Our Next Gen team did a phenomenal job, and God showed up in amazing ways. After High School Camp, I took a few days off to reflect and rest. During that time, I came across a verse in Matthew 9: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (vv. 37-38 NIV).
I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, have preached on it, and have even done Bible studies on this topic. But this time these verses spoke to me differently. I started to pray that God would send more volunteers to our ministries and that He would help us as youth pastors grow in communicating His Word.
Then it hit me! Parents are part of the workers that God has sent to love, care for, and disciple students. Why are we not focusing on them more? Why are we not equipping them and coming alongside them during this crucial season of their students’ lives?
In the The Intentional Father, Jon Tyson speaks to the relationship between youth pastors and parents and states: “[Youth pastors] can be wonderful partners, but God has given [the parents] a sacred responsibility to disciple their kids, to help them walk that path, and to give them the tools they need.”
While we as youth pastors love to lead students in their spiritual journey, the parent still has the most time and influence on the child. That’s why it’s critical, not optional, that we have eyes for the parent attached to the student that shows up in our ministry.
We can’t just think about the students in our ministry; we need to radically shift our energies toward how we can help parents become heroes.
As I look back on my 17 years in ministry, I’m able to say that I missed the mark when it came to parent engagement for a long time. I cared more about the assets they could share with me than partnering with them and asking for wisdom on how I could serve them and their child better.
These days I do my best to stay up to date with the four major topics I believe parents are dealing with: technology, education, mental health, and discipline. Why do I know these are hot topics for parents? Well, I have three kids myself! A 13-year-old girl, and two boys who are 9 and 5. They challenge my wife and me in all these areas. But not only that, I try to connect with parents serving in our ministry and ask, “What are some challenges that you have as a parent these days?”
Parents love it when I ask them that question.
They feel seen and heard, and they know that we want to come alongside them because we want the best for their whole family. We don’t need to become experts on all these topics; we just need to educate ourselves enough to point them in the right direction, equip them with the right tools, connect them to the right person, and encourage them every step of the way.
We can’t forget that our responsibilities go beyond students. If we want to have a healthy and thriving youth ministry, we need to pastor the whole family.
- Check out our Feed Lead Table Talk: Working With Parents and hear how leaders are working with parents in youth ministry!
- Reach out to other youth pastors and ask them how they serve parents in their ministry!
- The Feed team would love to connect with you as you seek to lead parents and students! Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.