Parents on the Sideline – Encouraging Them to Lead at Home

by Amy Diller

High School Musical came out at a time when my kids were watching a lot of the Disney Channel, so of course, we watched it several times. In the movie, one of the lead characters plays basketball but is distracted by the idea that he might want to be in the school musical. During practice, he sings a song called “Get’cha Head in the Game” because he felt pulled in two directions. As I’ve worked on this article, the song keeps playing over and over in my head. It describes this month’s topic well – How do we lead parents who want to lead their children but prefer standing on the sidelines.

The first step is ours.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we shouldn’t be the only players on the field. It’s easy to develop tunnel vision, focusing solely on the children we serve. When that happens, we communicate to parents that we are the primary source of spiritual leadership and give them permission not to engage at home. Instead of encouraging parents to share their faith at home, this mentality sidelines them. We must be honest enough to admit that our heads are not in the parent ministry game, even if we say otherwise. Examining ourselves and adjusting our thinking gets our heads back in the game so we can empower parents to build strong spiritual relationships in the home. Only then can we turn our attention to cheerleading-sidelined parents.

The most important area we can influence parents in is spiritual. Out of all the things dads and moms do, this may be the most daunting. Parents often feel inadequate and intimidated, pulling back when it comes to intentionally establishing a faith foundation in the lives of their kids. They look to us to take care of it all. But God’s instruction is clear – each generation is responsible for teaching and modeling a life of faith in Him. So, what can we do?

Encourage moms and dads to first begin with their own relationship with the Lord.
Kids know when people are saying one thing but doing another. Out of the abundance of a close walk with Jesus, parents will be able to pour out His goodness and truth into their kids.

Make yourself familiar with resources to help parents lead well, but be choosey when you do share. Keeping things simple will help lessen the intimidation factor. Look for materials that share ideas that are realistic and easily doable. When holding family events, plan time to model easy ways parents can incorporate faith into their daily lives and give them time to practice with their kids.  

When interacting with parents, be sure to communicate that leading their children doesn’t have to be complicated.
Some feel like it must be very formal, so encourage easy ways to be intentional, like taking advantage of teachable moments – a time that presents a good opportunity for learning something about faith. Driving in the car, around the dinner table, waiting for the bus, when kids ask questions, and at bedtime present opportunities for moms and dads to insert faith talks. 

Be careful to protect family time.
If you want to minister to families, you need to give them time to lead at home. This means examining your church events. Work on hosting kids’ events at the same time as student ministry events. Having kids involved in something concurrently eliminates taking up more days of the week and adds to a family’s time together at home. Host family events where parents and their kids of all ages get to do things together, too. These opportunities allow families to have fun together instead of separating each age and stage all the time. 

Finally, help parents connect with other parents in mentor/mentee relationships.
Moms and dads carry a lot of weight on their shoulders. Every stage of their children’s development presents new situations to navigate. Forming relationships with those who have been where they are and those who are currently parenting the same stage ease the question, “Are we the only ones experiencing this?” Connecting the generations lends support and encouragement to parents. 

Parents may stand on the sidelines for any number of reasons, including feeling inadequate to lead their children, feeling intimidated by an unrealistic view of what it means to be spiritual leaders, or because they believe the church is responsible to build a faith foundation in their kids. Address these issues often. Remind them that God didn’t tell parents to stand on the sidelines, and it’s time to get their heads in the game. Share God’s charge to moms and dads in Deuteronomy 4:4-9:  

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

You have the unique opportunity to influence parents to live out their faith at home. Remember that serving the kids in your ministry for a few hours a week isn’t your only focus. Building up parents to embrace their God-given role has an eternal return that you can’t (and shouldn’t) do on your own. Encouraging parents to keep their heads in the game invites them off the sidelines and into their role on the field. Parenting is hard. It requires endless intentional moments to keep the end in mind and to be all-in. Sideline parenting can be the easy choice, but it also is parenting through avoidance that accomplishes nothing of value. Be the parent who is all-in, actively participating in shaping your child spiritually, relationally, and culturally. And always remember, your kids’ church leaders are happy to support you and provide resources to help you in this journey.