Is Youth Ministry a Waste of Time? Ministering to Parents

My executive pastor was all too anxious to share the latest Josh McDowell video with me. It was Josh teaching at a conference where he simply said, “All youth pastors should be fired.” Pause the video. I was the youth pastor.

The termination didn’t happen that day and I, for one, was able to capture the meaning from the whole of the teaching. Josh was saying that youth ministry in the church was a failed endeavor, not because of the quality or professionalism of those who were called to it, but because of the compartmentalized and often impotent role most youth pastors played in the North American church. His suggestion was to start over; to fire youth pastors and hire them back as, well, just pastors of the church with an emphasis on families, especially those with adolescent children. This meant the church and its leadership would no longer view age-group ministries as auxiliaries or youth pastors as program directors for teenagers. This made sense to me, but I don’t think the executive pastor got past the first sentence.

It became clearer to me the longer I served in youth ministry.

To be truly effective in ministering to youth we must be extending our reach to the parents of students in our ministries. 

We must be including our students into the whole of the church. We must be challenging our parents to become cross-cultural missionaries investing themselves into the lives of their children and working to truly be acculturated in such a way as to at least attempt to understand the current climates their children are forced to function in. Youth ministries must include parents in tangible ways.

The importance of parental ministry became particularly clear to me after a youth retreat. We took 60 students out of their homes, communities, and environments for a weekend at an old campground. There were amazing memories made. God broke through in poignant and real ways. We had all been praying for one particular girl named Amy. She was new to the church and for the first time in her life made a decision to really start following the ways of Christ. It was an exciting time for all of us. When we pulled into the church parking lot, all the parents were there to pick up their kids, except Amy’s. Everyone was gone as I waited with Amy for her mom to arrive. When she finally pulled into the parking lot, it was evident that she was frustrated. She jumped out of the car and berated Amy, “Where the hell have you been?”

 Amy was embarrassed, “I told you mom, I was going on a retreat with the church kids.”

 “What a waste of time!” The mom was directing the comment at me.

Amy, dejected, got in the car and they drove away. And as I walked across the parking lot to the parsonage I thought to myself, “She may be right.” In a matter of seconds, all of the positive decisions from the weekend were derailed. We were never able to get Amy back down the road with Christ. I did my best to connect with the mother but the damage was done.

Situations like these occur when we treat students like they are an island to themselves. We all know better. Each of our students come to us with their own presuppositions and those are strongly influenced by parents and families or the lack thereof. Youth ministry may need to BEGIN with parents. I tend to believe that any church ministry that simply includes children without an attempt to engage parents is ineffective when it comes to developing long-term disciples.

This became even clearer to me as my own kids entered into my youth ministry.

This kid didn’t magically arrive in 6th grade to my youth ministry. I knew that well. It took 11 or 12 years of hard work, sacrifice, schedule keeping, family prayers, commitments to faith and church and the Kingdom of God to get them to that point.

It was going to take another 6 years of even harder work to help them navigate adolescence. So, it might serve the youth pastor well to maybe ask me about my own kid. It could be beneficial to all to keep me, the parent, in mind when they start programming for my child. Nothing teaches you this faster when the parent of the child your programming for is your own wife (or husband)! You better consider them when you’re making your grandiose ministry plans.

We should all know by now, children are most influenced by their parents. Families should become a priority in our ministries. Maybe this could keep us from believing that all of this is just a waste of time.

Blair Spindle
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