“Parents are the pastors—we’re support staff.”
“We’re support staff; the real leading, the real shepherding, happens at home.”
These are true conversations from the Intern Island. I am starting a series of articles inspired by conversations I’ve had with interns over the past 20 years. Call me sadistic, but there’s nothing more fun to me than challenging the traditional mind-set of a young, fresh, supposedly out-of-the-box-thinking youth worker. Over the years, I’ve kept these things close and pondered them in my heart.
Almost every intern I have ever worked with has launched into ministry training thinking that youth ministry is up to the youth worker. When I’ve challenged that philosophy (like the conversation above), I’m met with stares of incredulity (“I’ve never thought of that before”) or stares of non-comprehension (“He’s started speaking Klingon and I don’t watch Star Trek”).
Parents ARE pastors—I’m lucky that I get to come alongside them and watch their kids work out their salvation with fear and trembling—but PARENTS are where true, regular, lasting ministry takes place.
Parents are the greatest influence teenagers have. We’re privileged and blessed to support parents as they reach their kids for Christ. (Yes, dear intern, I am aware that not all parents are Christian—and that some who are don’t do a very good job.) That doesn’t give me license to take over their position in the game. It just shows me where some of my efforts are needed in supporting that weakness on the team. Taking the spot of a parent on the team just makes me a ball hog…and that never works out well in the end.
So listen, my young Padawan. Find some ways to support parents as they shepherd their kids.
- Brag on their kids to them—in writing. By sending moms and dads notes about how amazing their student is—giving specific examples—you provide parents with fuel. It gives them confidence that they’re doing some things right. It forces them to look at positives in their teenagers. It gives them something to talk about with their kids.
- Find ways to include Mom and Dad in ministry. Sometimes you’ll need to set boundaries for them (like, “let another youth worker discipline your kid when you’re at church” or “don’t call your son pookie when in Bible study”). But including them in leadership shows you as a team player and helps their kids see them as relevant (sometimes). And whaddya know, it gives you regular opportunities to equip that parent as the pastor he or she really is…without it being weird when you call them up and say, “Hey, have you thought about not calling your kid an idiot?”
- RESOURCE! As much as you’re learning interning and going to school, you still don’t know everything. Find some great resources you can offer Mom and Dad. From free stuff like podcasts and newsletters, to spending a couple of bucks on books or magazines (yes, Virginia, there is a hard copy), to offering opportunities like parenting conferences and seminars, tools like these can be invaluable in equipping parents for the work of ministry in the lives of their teenagers. And wow, do you end up looking WAY smarter than you are just by offering opportunities to learn!
- Listen—and hear them. We do the greatest injustice to parents when we listen, but we don’t hear them. We hear the words they’re saying, but those words are going through our filter of inadequacy, doubt, defensiveness, or exhaustion. Somewhere it all gets lost in translation, and we respond not to what they said, but to what we heard. Reflect their statements (“So what I think I hear you saying is you hate my guts”) to gain a truer message. And if you need time to process, ask for it. “Listen, I know this is really important and I don’t want to answer without some time to think and pray; can we come back together tomorrow?”
God has given you favor, intern, in allowing you to be part of someone’s family. Don’t write off so easily that weighty responsibility. Moms and dads will always and forever have a more lasting, lifelong impact on their kids than you do. Long after you have become a senior pastor, they will still be the parent. Investing in them is the wisest ministry move you can make.
Join us for the next episode of Intern Island, where we’ll find “Love the Senior Pastor as You Love Yourself.”