I’ve observed that when a youth ministry is starting – or at a certain kind of transition point – it is common to ask, “What do we do next?” It’s a great question. Unfortunately, one of the common ways to go about it is to ask the youth, “What do you want to do?” In my experience most youth either do not know what they want to do, or else do not have a vision for discipleship with which to align their wants.
Inasmuch as a youth ministry exists within the church, those who do youth ministry are partners with parents. So my suggestion is that we start with the parents. Talk to them.
A root question to ask: “What can we (the church) do to help you raise your kids as Christians?”
This question has some built in assumptions:
Parents have the primary responsibility for raising their kids in Christ. We who are church leaders are their partners and supporters, not their replacements.
The parents want to raise their kids as Christians. This question addresses their standing with Christ.
The parents think about raising their kids as Christians. This question addresses their level of intentionality.
However good our standing is with Christ, however great our intentionality in raising our kids for Christ, we all lack the knowledge and skills to do the job ourselves. This is not a knock on parents. Rather, I believe God plans for Christians – individually and as families – to be interdependent. There will never be a time when we are in line with God’s agenda and able to live and operate self-sufficiently.
After you ask this question, it is possible that parents will have been thinking about the subject and be able to give you a detailed and helpful answer. More likely, however, even dedicated parents will find themselves inexperienced answering such questions. This is partly because we’re trained to think that raising kids – whether in general, or specifically as Christians – is purely an inside job, partly because churches tend not to ask this kind of question of their people. Churches tend to be led by experts. Experts have all the answers. We design and offer programs that impart our answers.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that most of our answers – our fine honed expertise – doesn’t always work very well. It’s what we know, though, so we keep dispensing it.
So let’s suppose the parents offer some variant of “I don’t know” as an answer. This is a great starting point. They don’t know (and apparently know they don’t know). You don’t know either – and since you’re asking, are perhaps demonstrating to them that you don’t know either. This gives you a perfect opportunity to pray together. You know that God loves their kids (and them) enough to have given Jesus for them. You know that God has broken your heart for the kid(s) through your prayers for him/her. As you pray together – and in my opinion you have to do this out loud (the leader at least – if the parents do also, that’s great, but we don’t compel them) – you pour out your hearts together for the children. Pray expecting God to give you light. It might be that after the prayer you will discover that God has spoken to one of you. If so, share. If not, you might try some guiding questions. Here are some that might help:
“What has God been doing in your life lately?” It could be that what God wants to do in the life of the child will be an outgrowth of what’s happening in the life of the parent. It is very commonly the other way around also..
“What are you doing that builds your own relationship with God?” This assumes the parent is a Christian of some sort.
Following on number 2, “Are there some ways you can draw your child into what you’re doing?”
Even if the parents you speak with are entirely articulate and have specific ideas of what you can do to help them disciple their kids, don’t skip the prayer part. That’s the most important. Also, take what they say seriously. If what they tell you is something you can do, do it. If not (“My kid needs $10,000 so he can do the mission trip to Switzerland”), tell them.
So – what do y’all think of this way of approaching parents?