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Customizing Your Parent Ministry

By Dan Colwin November 17, 2016

It’s 7:15 on a Sunday night, and I’m freezing. Normally I’d be at church right now, participating in some larger than life youth group game, inside a nicely heated sanctuary. But tonight is different. Tonight I’m sitting in the bleachers watching 8th grade boys compete in their club football championship game. And it’s 45 degrees. Did I mention I’m freezing?

I’m here because of John, one of the boys that I mentor. Tonight I’m choosing to be at his game rather than youth group, and by the smiles on his parents’ faces, I know I’ve made the right call. My being here means a lot to John, but I’m realizing that it’s a big deal to his parents as well. They are delighted that I’ve shown up to cheer on their son because it shows how deeply I care about him. And it shows I deeply care about them, too.

If we want to effectively reach out to students on an individual basis, we need to reach out to their parents in an individual way as well. Each parenting situation is different, but sometimes we leave parents out of the discipleship equation or we fail to customize our approach to meet their diverse needs. As youth workers, we need a more intentional approach to partnering with parents, and it starts with understanding parents’ unique set of values, priorities, and experiences

  1. What is important to them?
    When we begin to value what parents value, we increase trust dramatically. John is home schooled, which means his parents value a tight knit family. Knowing this, after every time I meet with him, I type up a summary of our time and email it over to his parents. I told John up front I would do this, and I don’t share every single detail in these emails. But by doing this, I help his parents know about and celebrate the growth that is happening in their son’s life, and it also gives me a great chance to clarify where we’re headed next.
  1. Where are the parents at in their own spiritual growth?
    If we understand where parents are in their own spiritual lives, it’ll help us better understand how to communicate with them in regards to their children. John’s parents are committed Christ followers, and understanding this helps me know how to communicate with them and pray for them. If they weren’t it would affect how I go about the partnership, as well as how I pursue a mentoring relationship with their son.
  1. What goals do the parents have for their student that you can come alongside?
    We need to understand what each parent wants for their child if we’re to become partners with them in the discipleship process. When we understand the goals they have, we are able to come alongside those goals, as well as challenge parents to dream bigger and set even deeper goals.
  1. What is something you can learn from them?
    Too often we look at parents as out of touch and prepared to question our every decision. This way of thinking is arrogance, plain and simple. Instead, we need to humbly ask, “What can I learn from this parent?” Sometimes it could be something fun like a new skill. Or it could be a different way of thinking about a particular subject. John’s parents, for example, teach classes on how to raise young children. My wife and I have taken several courses with them and have learned a ton. Whatever it is you learn from parents, it’ll create humility in you and strengthen the relationship with the parent, thus allowing you to better disciple their child.

We know that the one-size-fits-all approach to youth ministry doesn’t work, and it won’t lead to our success in partnering with parents. Spend time getting to know the parents in your ministry; take opportunities to learn about and learn from them. Your investment in them will build trust, and you’ll find that they’ll become your greatest advocates and teammates in the discipleship of their student. Whether it’s a meeting over lunch, a conversation after church, or a freezing cold night at a football game, customizing our ministry with parents will always be worth the sacrifice.

About the Author

Dan Colwin

Dan Colwin is director of trips at LeaderTreks. He and his wife, Clare, live in West Chicago with their sons, Everett and Oliver, and little puggle, Roxy. They love their church family at Life Church in Wheaton, where they volunteer together in the youth group. He enjoys spending time outdoors, taking walks, having fires, reading, building Legos, working in the garden, and…  Read More