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Whiteboard Wednesday: Partnering With Parents

In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday experiment, we tap into the realities today’s parents of teenagers are facing and target some powerful ways we can come alongside them in youth ministry…

For years I’ve strategized and brainstormed and innovated new ways to support and equip parents of teenagers. I’ve created parenting seminars on entitlement and digital addiction, and co-authored the bestselling book The Family-Friendly Church. I’ve been a passionate advocate of youth ministry that partners with parents in significant ways, because research and experience tell us they’re the #1 influencers of faith development in kids. In fact, Neil Howe (one of the most insightful, catalytic social science researchers in the world) once told me: “Dealing with parents is the #1 problem in every youth-serving institution.” He was preaching to the choir…

But lay all that aside, because here’s my most important “credential,” relative to a parent-focus in ministry…

For five years I’ve been a parent of teenagers myself—my daughters are 14 and 18.

I have the luxury of experiencing a ministry perspective on parents from both sides of the glass—as a leader involved in youth ministry and as a parent who’s on the “receiving end” of the church’s outreach to parents. A lot of the frustrations and outright fury youth workers feel when they see the choices parents make, or have to deal with their lack of support or their criticisms, aren’t informed by a deeper sense of their reality. That’s why I resonate with the way my longtime friend Mark DeVries (founder of the consulting organization Ministry Architects) frames his youth ministry approach to parents. After his last teenager was out of the house, Mark took a breather to look back on his experience and consider the challenges he faced as he tried to shepherd his kids into an intimate relationship with Jesus…

  • I was tired. Most parents of teenagers are exhausted. They’re logging more hours at work, bouncing between obligations, sometimes caring for aging parents, and juggling the exploding time-bombs called teenagers. It isn’t that they don’t want their kids involved in youth ministry; they just can’t keep all the balls in the air.
  • I wanted help. I longed for someone who could make my parenting job a little easier. I wanted my kids to spend time with godly adults, but I didn’t have the time or energy to force them to attend youth group. I wanted them to want to go.
  • I felt like a failure. We weren’t having meals together regularly enough. We weren’t having family devotions consistently. We were mad at our kids more than we wanted to be. Expecting perfection in parents is as shortsighted and misdirected as parents expecting perfection from us. If we hope to receive grace from parents, it starts with extending grace to them.

I think Mark has nailed some of what defines a parent’s reality. But we could go on and on about all the pressures, expectations, and overwhelming challenges parents face every day. It’s no wonder they so often under-shoot our expectations from a youth ministry perspective, because they often feel like “sheep without a shepherd.” And that’s exactly why Jesus is asking us to partner with parents with a determination to love them well…

Loving the Jesus Way

Jesus is an apple-cart-upsetter in every way. Just when you think you understand the right approach to a challenge, he throws you for a loop. That’s what happens when Jesus redefines love for the crowds gathered to hear him teach early in his ministry: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-44). So often, parents feel like enemies to us in ministry, and that’s just when our Jesus-love needs to kick in. I think two simple priorities matter most for partnering with parents:

  1. Be a parent-equipper. Find ways to offer parents the information and training they really need. Because they’re very often overwhelmed and unsure about what to do, you can give parents much-needed perspective on cultural influences, counseling basics, and parenting skills. It’s not all on you. You likely have many “experts” in your congregation who’d be willing to offer advice and equipping in these areas.
  2. Be a parent-encourager. What most parents need more than anything is someone who’s for them—who’s on their side, offering them courage to keep going when they’re spent. A lot of the things you do to equip parents can morph into parent-support efforts because you can help connect them with “fellow-traveler” parents and insightful professionals.

The idea is to come alongside parents in a way that ensures they know you’re a source of support and encouragement. And there are plenty of ways to do that…

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Great Parent-Connect Ideas

I asked youth leaders attending a three-day retreat at Group’s headquarters to brainstorm great parent-connect ideas. They came up with a broad, creative, and do-able list of possibilities.

The idea is to take a deep breath and consider how we can become profound influencers for parents, extending and magnifying our impact on their kids in the most strategic way we can.

Parent-Connect Ideas

  • Family movie night at church—Serve popcorn and drinks, have families sit together, then stay 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 the 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 provide 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, videogaming, painting, scrapbooking, car repair, or home decorating, for example.
  • Mother/daughter discipleship—Use a book such as The Jesus Interruption by Stephanie Hillberry or Captivating by Staci Eldredge as a “road map” for a weekly or monthly mother/daughter gathering focused on shared discipleship. They do something fun together once a month (a field trip, for example), then gather for a book discussion time.
  • 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.
  • Father/son shopping trip—Have fathers take their sons when they shop for a Valentine’s Day or birthday gift for their wife. Have them involve 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.
  • Mother/daughter scrapbooking—On the second Saturday of the month, moms and daughters go on a field trip together to a location tied to a theme. Have them take pictures using their smartphone, a digital camera, or a throwaway camera. On the last Saturday of the month, have them bring their pictures to create scrapbook pages together. After nine months, they’ll have a full scrapbook of activities.
  • Family service project—Every quarter, plan a family outreach event—serve at a homeless shelter, 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.
  • 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 tied to their experience.
  • Christmas shopping for people in need—Organize a shopping trip for parents and teenagers to buy Christmas gifts to donate. Encourage families to adopt families similar to their own. Or shop together to fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child (
  • Family creed—Have families brainstorm a Family Creed. Then have them present itand the convictions behind itat a regular youth group gathering.
  • Mini-golf—On a Saturday, have families 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 an interesting speaker who can focus on a relevant topic for families. Have teenagers and parents discuss the topic during and after the presentation.



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Whiteboard Wednesday: Partnering With...

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