This is probably going to be one of the touchier subjects in the series on the Death of Youth Ministry. I am a parent, although my children are not yet teenagers, I understand the feelings and emotions that motivate and sometimes cloud the judgment of parents, I am guilty of the same clouded judgment. If you are touchy, please scroll down and read the conclusion first.
As a former youth pastor I can say that the greatest assets of a successful youth ministry is supportive and active parents, but at the same time the biggest road block is parents who just don’t get it. The 80/20 rule applies here, wherein about 80 percent of parents don’t get it.
Let me qualify the evidence by first setting the stage. Youth Pastors have (or should have) a single focus of caring for the spiritual journeys of youth. Youth pastors run everything about a students life through a lens of spirituality. This is the point of friction between parents and youth pastors that I think a lot of people miss. Let’s be honest, parents or otherwise, most people struggle to run their own life through a spiritual lens. And I do give parents a pass, because most of us are just figuring this thing out as we go along.
Parents generally have two priorities for their kids before they worry about their spiritual growth, safety and success. Neither of which is a value that I can find a Biblical mandate for Christians to have. We want our kids to be alive tomorrow, simple. We also want them to have a reasonably easy life. I can’t fault that. But the truth is, Christianity does not value either…man does. Christ promises us food to eat and clothes to wear, that’s it.
Lack of Priority
Time and time again I would run across parents that have a totally different view of the importance of youth ministry. If parents truly believed in the purpose and value that we want youth ministry to have, then it would be the most important thing their kids did, but it’s not. Soccer, football, dance, boy scouts, band, video games, TV and countless other things parents allow to hold as high a value and commitment as spiritual growth. These things could be a great way for students and parents to show their commitment to God and youth ministry by missing games and skipping practice once a week to go to youth group. This would be a great witness to coaches and peers as youth show the people in their life what is most important. But maybe youth ministry as we know it is not what it is cut out to be. Maybe it’s just another thing on the schedule.
Youth Ministry Leverage
Parents let us know what they think youth ministry really is when they use it as leverage against their kids. You know the scenario; Billy got into trouble and is now ‘grounded‘ from youth group for two weeks. Jamie got bad grades and will not be going to summer camp. Loud and clear youth ministry is defined as just something fun that kids do, not something of value that would shape their lives. You would think that the best place for kids to be when they are struggling is around people who are trying to invest in them spiritually. But we have made it known what youth ministry is, just something fun to do_
Youth Ministry ER
Every year we see the couple of parents who’s kids are not involved in youth ministry until something dramatic happens. This is the opposite of the leverage parents, where Billy got bad grades, or did drugs and now needs to be ‘fixed’ by the youth pastor. At first thought it seems like a complement that they would think of the youth ministry as a place to go for help, and it can be. But the reality is that the parents don’t see the truth that most of the time what ever problem that exists is a result of them. Again I won’t fault parents for this, since I am just as guilty of blowing it on many things. The fact that youth ministry is viewed as a dumping ground says a lot about it. Rather than being viewed as a holistic ministry to families it is viewed once again as a separate church for kids.
If you mis-read this post you think I am railing on parents, but I am not. I think all of these parents are right. They have an accurate picture of what youth ministry really is, the youth ministry that we have built really looks like this, parents are not missing the point, youth ministry has been clear about what it is.
Perception is reality, and the perception of parents is not what youth ministry advocates want it to be…but it is the truth.
Read the series :: intro :: the church doesn’t take youth ministry seriously