When working with students in a Youth Ministry context, there are so many moving parts that it’s often hard to keep an eye on everything. Youth leaders run services, come up with games, preach, pull off events, and eat more pizza than a human being should. In tandem with all of this, we need to be aware of and aligned to the vision of our local church. One of the areas of Youth Ministry that I have found most quickly falls off of the radar is the relationship between youth leaders and parents. Parent buy-in may seem like gravy on top of a thriving youth ministry, but the reality is that it’s absolutely critical to the health and fruitfulness of a Youth Ministry. I’d like to share a few tips from my 11 years of missteps, setbacks and (eventual) strides forward.
There is an extremely easy pitfall that has ensnared many a youth leader trying to build rapport with students. It goes something like this: Student complains about parents. Youth leader affirms their complaint in hopes to “win the student over”. Student prefers advice and wisdom from the youth leader. Lather, rinse, repeat. This pattern may seem innocent enough, but it will tank your relationship with parents. Youth leaders exist to be a support system for students and aid in the process of leading them toward Christ. We will never on our best day have as much opportunity to impact teens like their own parents or guardians will. God has given the parents of our ministry’s teens the responsibility to lead their homes in a Christ-centered, God-honoring way, and we must work with them and strengthen them in the process.
Be a Full Grown Adult
One of the perks of leading in Youth Ministry is the fact that we can be young at heart and channel our inner Peter Pan (not the wearing tights part)! Having fun with the students is a joy and should be held in high regard, but always remember that parents need to know that we can be trusted with their student. If we fail in this area, we may see parents opting their student out of special events, camps, mission trips etc. because they don’t feel comfortable entrusting their student into our care. Think of the opportunities for community, spiritual encounters, and relational depth that would be missed if this were the case! Having logistics worked out, being clear in communication and taking charge of the group play a pivotal role in showing responsibility for us as leaders.
Keep Safety as a High Value
This pro tip might seem like it belongs in the last category, but I believe that it needs stand alone for clarity. We have the luxury of fun being a large part of our jobs, but safety has to come first if parents are to trust us with the students. When choosing a game, planning an outreach or running a killer event, let the student’s safety weigh heavily into the decision making process to set the parent’s mind at ease.
Preach in Your Church’s Main Service Whenever You Can
There are a ton of painfully accurate cliches about youth leaders taking the main stage. We often times get the “less than optimal” dates such as following a major holiday, the Sunday after a large event, vacation coverage in the summer etc., but I want to encourage you to take every opportunity you possibly can to teach the Scripture to your adult congregation. You will have the chance to speak with passion and conviction to future leaders, your fellow staff/elders, and your student’s parents. This is a great way for the parents to feel a personal connection with you as well as opportunity for you to let them know that you study hard, prepare, and give your best to the students week in and week out.
Learn, Grow, and Share Resources
We all know that leaders are learners. Many youth leaders do not have children, or at least not teenagers of their own and, thus, sometimes personal experience raising teens is lacking. There are so many blogs, podcasts, books and teachings by Godly men and women that are at our disposal for little or no cost that could serve as great tools for growth and learning in our ministry! The best part is that when we learn something that could be of value to parents, we can share it with them to continue building the bridge of support.
Above all, remember that the Lord has called you into this. He can do the work of binding your heart to the hearts of your students and parents for the thriving of His church and the expansion of His Kingdom!