I’ve had two conversations in the last month with two really awesome youth ministers where we discussed the level of parental involvement in discipling students. (The youth ministers? This guy and this guy. They’re both awesome.) The ministry path both of these guys took to get where they are is a lot different from mine (and each other), so these discussions offered some good insight.
One thing I took away from both of these chats is a certain crystallization of a thought I have had in my mind for a while. I’m curious to hear your thoughts…
When we consider the role parents play in discipling their teenagers, I think there may be four categories, or types, parents fall into.
They are as follows:
1. Christ-followers Making Christ-followers
These parents understand that the biblical model of discipleship calls for the chief disciplers to be mom and dad. Students are taught the basics of a vibrant faith life, but not just in words only. These parents model a committed faith. They see the spiritual development of their children as their responsibility, one they actively embrace.
- What effect does this have on students? The National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR) and the two books it spawned, Soul Searching by Christian Smith and Almost Christian by Kenda Dean, affirm that teenagers by and large live out a faith that looks very much like the faith of their parents. Thus, parents who actively disciple their children (surprise) raise children who in most cases have an active faith life.
- What is your role? Support, encourage, and equip where possible. Partner with these parents to enlist them to train and encourage the other parents in your youth ministry. Even better, what if they could pour into other students in your group (whose parents fall in the other categories) in a discipling relationship?
2. Christ-followers Who WANT to Make Christ-followers
There are a lot of parents who want to disciple their students, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t effectively do so. Maybe they don’t feel equipped, and maybe they aren’t. Maybe the normal strain that adolescence sometimes puts between kids and their parents is preventing meaningful discipleship; maybe issues such as shared custody or a single parent working two jobs create barriers of time and logistics.
- What effect does this have on students? Let’s give these parents the benefit of the doubt. Maybe their teenager sees the life they live and the faith they are modeling and at least has an example of what a solid faith life looks like. But, at the very least, these students may lack the meaningful spiritual connections that lead to a deep faith.
- What is your role? This may be the situation where we see the most vital partnership between parent and youth worker. You still get to play the role of supporter, encourager, and equipper just like you would for a parent who is actively discipling their child. But, in this case, you (or one of your adult volunteers) have the opportunity to provide a level of training for the parent and maybe a more meaningful level of discipleship for their student.
3. Christ-followers Who Want YOU to Make Christ-followers
So, I don’t want to pile-on or be hyperbolic here. But, in my opinion, many of the issues we are struggling with as youth workers, and as the Church in general, can be traced back to parents abdicating the discipleship of their students to someone else, namely the youth ministry of their church. There are probably a handful (maybe a lot?) of parents in your youth ministry who have no desire to disciple their children. This, in their minds, is what youth group is for.
- What effect does this have on students? Again, the NSYR has shown that students are quite likely to model the faith they see lived by their parents. I am willing to bet that the students in your youth group with a watered down faith have parents with a watered down faith. These students are not grounded in their faith because, at most, they are only being exposed to spiritual teaching/development the two or three hours a week they are at church.
- What is your role? This is tough, at times. This seems like the place where many youth workers feel like they are beating their heads against a wall. You must still make an effort to encourage these parents (and all parents) to engage in discipleship. You must make an effort to train and equip them. And it may be helpful, as much as possible, to take the steps to provide some meaningful adult interactions with volunteers in your youth group who “get it,” who are living a vibrant faith life. If students aren’t getting it at home, you or an adult volunteer in your ministry may be the best bet to show these students what “faith-lived-out” looks like.
4. Parents of a Christ-follower Who Do Not Follow Christ
These students are in a home where there are no parents who follow Christ. Maybe these students came to faith through your ministry or through some other avenue. At any rate, these youth are active in your group. And your ministry is probably the primary means of spiritual development these students encounter.
- What effect does this have on students? In this scenario, the primary means of discipleship will happen outside of the home. Obviously, this is a challenging position for students and for you to be in. It requires a great deal of tactful support on your part to both make the parent feel comfortable with your presence in the teenager’s life and to help lead the student in spiritual development
- What is your role? You might want to maintain as much connection with the parent(s) as possible, again, to build trust and to provide evidence for the meaning and purpose Christ brings to a person’s life. In this situation, you and your staff may very well be the only means of spiritual leadership this student sees. Pour yourselves into the discipling of these students. As much as possible, create situations where other adult volunteers can have meaningful leadership in these students’ lives.
So what do you think? Are there other categories?
What about the takeaways? What else could we be doing to help the overall discipleship of our students?