Editor’s Note: Not long ago my wife volunteered to lead a small group for freshman girls (including my own daughter) in our church’s youth ministry. She’d previously led a very successful summer small group for middle-school girls in our home. But our senior high pastor told us that Bev wouldn’t be able to lead a group with our daughter in it because they’d had some bad experiences in the past with parents whose own kids were in the group.
I wrestled with that—not because I doubted they’d had bad experiences, but because I couldn’t see that happening in this situation. My wife had already led a group that included our daughter, and they have a very open and authentic relationship. And then I wondered, more broadly, what veteran youth workers have learned about plugging parents into leadership roles in their ministry. So I asked our 180-member team of youth ministry advisors for their input…
Tony Roos—I think it depends on the mom and daughter. I’ve had some that were disasters and some that were great. But to make a blanket policy based on some small groups not going well is silly. Could it also be that the small group didn’t go well based on poor leader training as much as it was the fault of moms and daughters and developmental stages?
Pattie Gibbons—When my own kids were in my youth group, I privately gave them the option of being in a group with me as their leader, or not. My promise to them was that I would listen to understand, and would not emotionally react to what they shared—I truly wanted them each to be able to express what they wanted and needed. My daughter did choose to be in my small group, but it was her option. Later, she stayed in my small group but also chose to attend a Bible study where I wasn’t involved. Both were good for her.
Jeremiah Isley—My experience has been that these situations, like many, depend very much on the parent and child involved. Sometimes they are like oil and water and they will never mix well in a small group setting. Other times it works, and very well. My suggestion would be to have another person co-lead with Bev. As your daughter matures, if she begins to shut down during the small group or it causes tension within the home, your wife can then gently transition out.
Troy Richards—I’m guessing there was one bad experience with this so they made a rule to not let it happen again. Growing up, my dad led almost everything I did and it was great. I wouldn’t want to take that away from a parent who wanted to be the spiritual mentor they are supposed to be.
Jon Batch—We tend to have others lead our own children. It’s a good thing for them to have an additional person to have as a safe place to get additional support.
Vincent Weimer—I understand the potential pitfalls, but I don’t think I would have made such a definitive decision. We have seen that having a parent/child relationship in a small group can stifle growth or openness in the student, but we have also seen it work. We start by talking to the student—if the student is okay, we then evaluate our comfort level with the parent. Are they capable of treating their student as a member of the group and not their child? It’s not ideal, but we would not categorically deny the request.
Tim Bo—I fully agree that parents should not be the leaders of their own teenager’s small group. But I am a huge proponent of having parents involved, so I always put them over other small groups. We always want kids to feel like they have the freedom to talk about things they might not feel comfortable talking about in front of their parents, even if they have a great relationship with Mom and Dad.
Roy Probus, Jr.—I don’t think a blanket policy is a good one. We had an instance where a father and son were in the same group but because the father traveled a lot they both saw it as more time together.
Paul Spittka—We ENCOURAGE parents to lead small groups, but do not force their own students to join them if they are uncomfortable.
Tony Clyde—In my situation both my daughters wanted me as their youth minister—that led to many meaningful faith-building times. They saw me as a father and leader, and not many children get to see their parents in both roles.
Wayne Yeager—In our small church it’s hard to find adult volunteers who don’t have some kind of family relationship with a student. If I didn’t have parental help or leaders I would not have any help at all. I’m also a big proponent of a parent being their child’s number-one discipler. If a parent approaches me about being involved, I find a way to do it.
Darren Sutton—I always have a meeting with the parent wanting to lead—we have them enter into leadership on a “trial” basis for six months, then we re-assess. Points of communication:
1) You are not your child’s parent when you are leading students—you’re a student leader, so if you see something about your student that concerns you, ask another leader to respond. Conversely, you are also not your child’s pack mule—don’t clean up after them or remind them to gather their stuff before they head home.
2) What happens at youth group stays at youth group, unless and until your student brings it up at home.
3) What happens at home stays at home, unless we’re having a collaborative conversation about it.
4) Never use the Bible as your disciplinary weapon—don’t teach something and make sure it’s “directed” at your teenager, specifically.
5) Please have every conversation about your position with me, not your student. And if your student is concerned about it, I want them to talk with me, as well.
Usually this is a win/win situation, because kids end up seeing their parents aren’t the idiots they thought they were as soon as other students start telling them how amazing their mom or dad is.
Brandon Early—I’m a huge fan of parent volunteers but not of parents leading their child’s small group. They get to do that at home, and the value of other godly adult’s influence in their kid’s life is to high a value. However, just because it’s not my favorite thing to do doesn’t mean we don’t do it, and blanket statements often hinder—or turn out to be passive aggressive because we don’t want to deal with the real issue. It kind of depends on the small group too—if it’s a Bible study then it’s probably not a big deal. If it’s an accountability group, it’s bad.
Phil Bell—Parent leadership in youth ministry can be awkward, depending on the family and the dynamics of the parent/student relationship. But some of my best leaders have been parents. Here are some guidelines that haven’t yet been mentioned:
• Even if the student is good with their mom/dad as a leader, make sure you review the arrangement from year to year since the relationship can change.
• Don’t allow parents to get involved in drama that involves their student.
• Don’t recruit parents who want to “check up” on their student. ◊
We asked youth leaders participating in one of our ReGroup events (small-scale three-day retreats at our headquarters) to brainstorm great parent-connect ideas. Here’s a sampler:
• Intergenerational small groups—Instead of dividing into age groups, organize small groups by family units.
• Family movie night at church—Serve popcorn and beverages, encourage families to sit together, and have families stay together afterward to answer a few discussion questions about the film.
• Parent/child ministry teams—Pair a student and his or her parents for “regular” ministry activities in your church—for example, reading a scripture passage together in your worship service.
• Questions for Take Your Child to Work Day—Before the next Take Your Child to Work day, give parents a simple resource to help them talk about their vocation in the context of God’s calling on their life. And give them questions that can stimulate discussion during the day.
• Hobby clubs—Plan intergenerational gatherings for parents and students interested in a shared hobby—cooking, photography, sculpture, video gaming, painting, scrapbooking, car repair, or home decorating, for example.
• Mother/daughter discipleship—Use a book such as Staci Eldredge’s Captivating as a “roadmap” for a weekly or monthly mother/daughter gathering focused on shared discipleship. Create a rhythm where they do something fun together once a month (a field trip, for example), then gather for a book discussion time once a month.
• Parent bulletin board—Keep parents updated with announcements, photos, and opportunities to serve.
• Family retreat weekend—Kids and their parents participate in parallel experiences/studies/conversations, giving them the basis for a common discussion.
• Movie night—Moms go to a movie of their son’s choosing, or dads go to a movie of their daughter’s choosing—afterwards, they go to a coffee shop or our for dessert to discuss the movie and how its message intersects or diverges from Kingdom of God values.
• Father/son shopping trip—Have fathers take their sons along with them when they shop for a Valentine’s Day gift or birthday gift for their wife. Encourage fathers to involved their sons in picking the gift. Give dads a few simple discussion questions to spark conversation about romance, serving sacrificially, and treating women with respect.
• Music store—Have parents take their son or daughter to a used music store—each should pick out an album or CD that interests them, then listen to at least one song off of each album and discuss what they like about it.
• Monthly Mother/Daughter Scrapbooking—Every second Saturday of the month, moms and daughters go on a field trip together to a specific location, tied to a theme. Have them take all the pictures they can (using their smartphone, a digital camera, or a throwaway camera) on the field trip. On the last Saturday of the month, have them bring their pictures to work on scrapbook pages together. After nine months they’ll have a full scrapbook of activities they’ve shared together.
• Family service project—Every quarter plan a family outreach event—serve at a homeless shelter, or adopt a disadvantaged family, or clean up a city block together.
• Barbecue University for fathers and sons—Plan a Saturday afternoon “basics of barbecue” time where sons get hands-on instruction and everyone gets to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” afterward.
• Horseback riding lessons—Plan an outing to an organization that offers trail-rides, then have kids and parents ride next to each other. Give parents a few simple conversation-starters they can use on the trail.
• Father/son fly-fishing lesson or hunter safety course—Some of these courses last several weeks—remember to give dads a few great discussion starters that are tied to their experience.
• Panel discussions—Organize two panels—one with all fathers/mothers and one with all sons/daughters—to discuss a faith and life issues back and forth.
• Church history interview—Give kids specific questions to ask parents and grandparents in your congregation. For example: “What’s the story of how you committed to follow Jesus?” or “Who was your favorite Christian leader when you were growing up?” or “What is your favorite Bible story or passage?” Have your students report on their interviews.
• Christmas shopping for the needy—Organize a shopping trip for parents and teenagers—to buy Christmas gifts for the needy. Encourage families to adopt families that are similar to their own. Or shop together to fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child (samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child).
• Scavenger hunt—Challenge students to gather a long list of information about their parents’ history.
• Family creed—Have families meet to brainstorm together a “Family Creed”—then have them present their creed, and the convictions behind it, at a regular youth group gathering.
• Men’s and women’s retreats—Encourage moms and dads to take their daughters and sons to their church’s women’s and men’s retreats.
• Mini-golf—On a Saturday, have families come to church to design a mini-golf course inside the church—then spend the rest of the time playing the course.
• Quarterly parent support groups—Every three months bring in a good speaker who can focus on a relevant topic for families—have kids and parents discuss the topic during and after the presentation.