Written by Jeremy Lee
For sixteen years, I executed youth and children’s ministry as if the parents didn’t exist. It’s not that I didn’t care about them. In reality, I just thought they didn’t care about the need for the position of a student and children’s minister. I had many other assumptions.
* They do not want to hear from a young guy.
* I am not married. How can a single guy understand their world?
* My wife and I do not have children. How can I relate to parents?
* My kids are young. I don’t understand teenagers.
* The only time I hear from parents is when I do something wrong. I need to avoid them.
When I started in ministry, it was the 1990s, the era of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. At that time, many churches wanted a “pied piper” minister to have fun with the kids. In other words, grow the program. I had weekly events and summer camps, and if the event succeeded in numbers, my job was often guaranteed a future. The events made kids happy, resulting in grateful parents. Thus, I delighted the pastor because a potential family might join the church.
This scenario did not leave much room for a ministry to parents, and therefore, I was unable to leverage the belief: parents are the most significant spiritual influence in the lives of their kids.
FEWER PIZZA PARTIES AND MORE PARENT MINISTRY
All of that changed one afternoon in the office of one of my ministry mentors. “Jeremy,” he said, “What would happen if you did fewer pizza parties and more parent ministry?” After he noticed the utter confusion on my face, he continued on, “I want you to make a list of the top 5 students in your ministry that really got it. They receive the gospel, continue to live it out consistently, and faithfully share with others.” Five names came to mind.
He asked, “How many of those students received spiritual support from home?” I answered, “All of them.” Suddenly, I recalled more and more students, and as I did, I noticed a pattern: the most significant spiritual influence in the life of a student was their parents, not the student minister.
My mentor pointed out how the vast majority of the students who got it were the ones to receive spiritual support from home. Yes, there were a few outliers who came into the ministry without a parents’ shared faith. However, the consistent pattern was the spiritual support system. The central location of spiritual activity was the home, not the church.
This realization changed everything for me. My prayer is that it will change everything for you, too.
ROCK STARS AND TOUR GUIDES
From that day forward, I changed the way I viewed myself as a minister. No longer a rock star to draw a crowd of students for a show, I am now a tour guide.
Rock stars and tour guides are very different. When my family and I traveled to New York City on vacation, I booked a tour of Rockefeller Studios. We saw where they filmed television shows, such as the NBC Nightly News, The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, and many others.
The tour guides led us down a narrow hallway into an incredibly small room where I thought about the performances of all the great comedians, actors, musicians, and politicians over the decades.
I remember everything about that experience–except the tour guides. You could pay me a million dollars, and I would not be able to tell you their names. I’m pretty sure they would not be offended.
If tour guides do their job well, then the people on tour are less interested in them and more moved by the experience they provide.
When we minister to parents, we are like tour guides who serve as a spiritual matchmaker between parents and kids. Bring them together, give them a little bit of direction, and then get out of the way to let God take over.
EXPERT vs. ENCOURAGER
I’ll never forget when I began to engage parents for the first time.
Scared to death with no idea where to start, I observed the needs of parents in hopes to help them. That’s when I discovered something HUGE.
All this time, I avoided parents because I thought they wanted an expert. I thought they wanted a Ph.D. in Adolescence or Psychology, yet all they wanted was someone to empathize with them.
Try and put yourself in the shoes of the parent: raise a child who, in the course of a few years, transitions into a person with new ideas, opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
Empathy places you at the scene of a parent’s heart. Once you arrive at an understanding of their world, act on this empathy with encouragement. Find the tools needed to speak courage into their parenting moments.
Pass aside the role of expert, and step into empathy. When you send parents the tools they need, you become the encourager.
SHARE THE STAGE
What would happen if you invited parents to share the stage of your ministry?
Imagine an auditorium filled with the students of your ministry. They sit on red fabric seats with black canned lights beaming from above. You ask the students to join you on stage. As they walk towards the stairs located to the left and right of the wooden platform, you pick up your microphone and ask their parents also to join the center stage.
Imagine what could happen if you choose to include them within your ministry.
Unbelievable, miraculous moments occur when you involve parents as part of the ministry. You join God’s blueprint where He asks families to pass down faith generation to generation. The ministry becomes a catalyst to fuel and support the spiritual influence that happens at home. The staff and volunteers identify students who don’t get support at home. They stand in the gap for them until they do receive that spiritual support.
Sharing the stage opens up a whole new frontier of ministry that you may not have explored, but is rich with opportunity to grow God’s kingdom in long-lasting, powerful ways.
What would a ministry to parents look like in your church?
When you begin to influence the parents, you’ll start to multiply your ministry efforts and make a long-term impact.
This is why fewer pizza parties and more parent ministry changes everything.
Jeremy Lee is the founder of Ministry to Parents, co-author of Pass It On, and has more than twenty-four years of ministry experience. He is passionate about helping ministers connect with the parents in their church. Jeremy lives outside Nashville, Tn with his wife Elisabeth and two sons. You can reach him at www.ministrytoparents.com.