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Your Students and Your Children

WARNING: What we say will fire some of you up. Great! Share your thoughts in the comments below. We want to learn from your experiences just like we’ve learned from our own!

Tasha and I started serving in youth ministry while we were still single. We had (virtually) unlimited free time, endless supplies of energy, and very little money to spend doing expensive things. We both had youth groups full of students who loved having a college-aged youth leader, because we spent a lot of time hanging out together. Even after we got married, we still treated the entire youth group like they were our children…which was awesome.

And then we had kids of our own.

After our children were born, we reached out to a lot of veteran youth leader friends and asked them how they navigated the “now we have children of our own” transition. The variety of answers was overwhelming. Clearly there wasn’t a right or wrong way to make this transition, so we prayed, crossed our fingers, and did the best we could.

Fifteen years later, we have two children in the youth group and one less than a year away. Managing the relationships we have with our students while raising children of our own hasn’t been easy, but we survived. And better yet, our children seem fairly normal! (We’ll let you know for sure in about 10 more years.)

Below are some thoughts we have after walking the last decade-and-a-half of youth ministry with children of our own.

  1. Guard your youth group from your children. Quite a few of our friends brought their children to every youth event they offered. We get it that sometimes bringing your kids to an event is unavoidable, but we’re not sure that bringing your kids to every event is the best route to take. Over the years we’ve learned that students don’t always want youth group to feel like daycare, and if your children participate in every youth event, you may find some students checking out. Sometimes your students need access to you and your spouse without your children around, and you two need kid-free moments with your students.
  1. Guard your children from youth group. The other side of #1 is the risk you run of reducing the “special-ness” of youth group for your children by letting them participate in everything. We would encourage you to save some of those special moments for your kids. While they’re children, let them experience the wonder and beauty of children’s ministry. When your children are teenagers, welcome them with huge smiles into the awesomeness of youth ministry. One of our fears as parents was that our kids would be “over” youth group by the time they were 14 because they had been doing the whole youth group gig since they were six. Some things are worth waiting for.
  1. Guard your family story from youth group. Our family has a rule: No Levert story or picture will be posted, shared, or used as a sermon illustration without permission. Children do goofy things that makes great youth group material, however, protect your family story. We feel called to youth ministry, but our children need to have the right to decide what is known and what is private about them. Can we blow your mind? Some of your students will be your children’s youth group peers in just a few short years. When your child is in second grade, your current seventh grade students will be seniors when your child is in the seventh grade. Protect your children’s story from their future youth group.
  1. Guard your students’ family stories. Tim and I love the youth ministry life, and we want our students to know us. The real us. We believe one of the most important things we can do for our students is be a good example of a healthy family. A decent percentage of our students have never seen what a strong marriage looks like, what appropriate discipline looks like, and what genuine happiness in a family looks like. We want our students to see the way we spend time together ­ at home and in the community ­ and we want to model in words and actions what a forgiving, grace-filled family looks like. You can help your students rewrite their own Levert Crewstories by giving them real #relationshipgoals and offering glimpses of the way your family loves on each other.

 

The blending of family life and ministry life can be challenging and frustrating, but it can also be amazing and fulfilling. Spend some time thinking through your own family boundaries, even if you don’t yet have children of your own, and help your students and your children experience the best youth ministry has to offer.

– Tim and Tasha

7 thoughts on “Your Students and Your Children

  1. Avatar

    Just this year Grace, our 7th grade daughter, joined youth group and y’all’s advice, numbers 1 and 2 above, was priceless. Grace was so excited to be a part of what was going on. For years she had seen what was going on but at a distance. I believe that it is what has helped her get fully plugged in and become a leader quicker. Thanks Tim and Tasha for the amazing mentorship throughout the past years! Folks, listen to these two, they know their stuff :))!!!!

  2. Avatar
    Allison Partridge

    I’m currently full-time paid youth pastor of 8 1/2 years now. My husband is one of my high school boys small group leaders. Our daughter is now in our youth group as one of the youth. Just entering 7th grade. I could so relate to your article about she has been the “tag-along” for her whole life! She could not wait to actually be one of the teens! So, here we are and so far two months into this transition it’s all still good! I know we will hit some road blocks but I appreciate reading about how you both have made this be intentional in the areas needed. I am going to share this with our pastor as “she” has a daughter in the same grade entering as well as their whole family newly appointed to our congregation. As of July 1, 2015!
    Thank you for sharing this! I may also need some online counseling from Tasha!

    Blessings,
    Allison Partridge

    • Avatar

      Allison! I’d love to hear from you. Check out my website: broomtreecounseling.com Thanks for the love. Keep loving students!!!

  3. Avatar

    I love the words you guys share. Thanks so much! Great wisdom here. My wife and I have been in full-time ministry for 15 years. We have now had our oldest son part of the junior high youth group for one year. So far he loves it! We found balance for us personally in what we would take our children to and what we would leave them behind for. My grandpa was a pastor and my dad shared with me when I began ministry that as a child he felt like his father was always leaving his family and going to minister to other people. So early on, my wife and I took our kids on most events. This worked well for our family. However, we chose to require a two year break for our children from all youth ministry. This meant that they would not participate in junior high ministry during 5th and 6th grade. The reason we chose this was similar to your reasoning. We desired that it would still be special for them upon entering with their peers as a seventh grader. But prior to those years, my kids have been on retreats and even benefited from mission trips. I figure there have got to be some pretty cool perks of being a youth pastors kid! Like you guys say, we’ll see if 10 years how our choices impact our children; but so far it is working well for our family.

  4. Avatar

    Great wisdom to share… We have 5 children and the last 4 have grown up ‘in youth ministry’. For me one of the biggest goals I set for myself was to give each of them their own ‘spiritual space’. At retreat, or youth conferences, I made sure they were in someone else’s small group, and I didn’t drill their leader to ask about what they shared about or where were they in their faith journey. I believe this respect for their own experience helped them not feel pressured to be at certain level when they weren’t ready for it. 3 of the 4 are in their 20’s now, and navigating at different levels. My daughter just recently interviewed for a youth ministry position at another parish, and I was thrilled she was open to sharing her faith in this ‘vocation’. We never know how God is going to lead them, but I feel their youth ministry experience in Jr. High and High School set a foundation for them to be open to the where the Holy Spirit guides them.

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Your Students and Your Children

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