In all my years as a youth minister I’ve never come across a book that has reflected an appropriate methodology for family ministry in our youth ministry. This has been a great challenge to myself and my volunteers. The more years we put in and the more hurt we saw, the louder the call became to work on the illness and not the symptom.
While most of us aren’t equipped to deal with deep seeded psychological issues and would just pass along the buck to the work of a liscenced therapist, are there some measures that we can take early to greatly increase our chances of having a successful family ministry? This question led me into my wife’s world of developmental psychology and integrated family therapy. What I came back with is a simple but effective three-step plan that reflects the thoughts of many of the preeminent family counselors.
As youth make the transition from child to adolescent, Erickson tells us that the they begin to search for their Identity, who they are, and that they will end up on a scale from identity confusion to a solid identity. Now instead of just putting Christ next to each idea I kept searching for what to do to greatly increase the chances that an adolescent will find who they are (in Christ, look there I did it.) We have got to help parents learn how to:
1. Have Fun with their kids.
2. Encourage their kids.
3. Love their kids.
As any parent knows, there is a shift—I find around 7th grade—in how these three things can be received. Take for example “fun.” Fun used to look like collecting baseball cards or throwing the ball around, and now it looks something more like jumping off a ramp on a skateboard or yelling “boom headshot” at the screen. In the same way, what used to come across as “encouraging,” such as a simple hug or picking them up from school so they don’t have to ride the bus, is now met with “I don’t want people to know who you are” and “You’re embarrassing me.” The third one might be the most difficult one to overcome—it will certainly take the most work. Loving your kids turns sharply from being at all the soccer games to “Buy me an xbox 360 or else,” or maybe it means letting them spend the night at a friends house instead of only at your house.
Youth ministers can greatly assist parents to learn how to have fun with their kids again by introducing the whole family to new games, new events in the community, and new modes of communication. For example, when the “Texas Hold ‘Em” craze swept the nation, instead of holding a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, we taught families how to play card games in addition to this, such as “Omaha” and “Razz” and “Horse.” This puts everyone on a level ground and is something everyone can share. We then encouraged parents to look for new ways to be involved in the right things and less involved in the wrong things. In other words, we encouraged them to go to the soccer game, but also make it a priority to go out to dinner right afterwards; watching a soccer game is great, but it’s not quality time, and it doesn’t provide encouragement the way it used to. “Love” is a tough one for parents to accept needs to change. What used to be great time together around the table is met by one word answers and texting and calls during the meal. We try to encourage parents to see that just like in a marriage, several times through out the year you need to leave the house for at least a weekend with no lines of communication to the outside world to really connect.
Parents, your lives have gotten really busy and full of “stuff” and your kids are starting to fill up their lives too. Unless you really put the time and energy into intentionally loving your kids, that text message is going to get lost.