A Missing Relationship

Relationships are essential to life. No one knows this better than teenagers, and youth workers seem to be aware of this. We often provide creative activities to promote teen-peer relationships and word hard to build relationship between ourselves and individual students. But we are still missing a key connection.

In ministering to middle school students, I’ve seen their need and desire for companionship. They are excited to find someone – anyone – who will accept them as they are, in spite of the confusion they are experiencing in their changing bodies and minds. My heart goes out to them, and I want so much to be a friend in this wonderful time of growth and change. While I can endeavor to meet this need a couple times a week, there is someone who can do this every day.

In a recent ethnography I completed of middle school students in my community, I found that almost 100% of the teens interviewed counted their parents as the number one place to go for advice, support, and answers to life’s greatest questions. A few listed a religious leader, and only one ranked a teacher in the Top 3. In fact, many of the middle schoolers even said their favorite place to hang out with friends was at their own home.

Researcher Christian Smith has stated that “a parent is the most important pastor a teenager will ever have.” Of course, this only makes sense. God had planned it that way from the beginning. He gave the responsibility of spiritual growth and guidance to the parents (Deut. 6). So, if research confirms it, teens attest to it, and God commands it – then what are we as youth workers doing to cultivate relationships between our teens and their parents?  

Churches have some great programs and events, and we have done a great job of marketing ourselves to parents of teens. We’ve done such a great job, that we’ve made it easy for parents to drop off their teen and head for Starbucks until we’re done. Parents have come to see the church as the answer to their teen’s struggles, and youth workers get burned out trying to meet the expectations of disgruntled parents. As a result, there is a terrible lack of youth worker/parent conversation. And do we really think our teens don’t see this?

We need to become proactive in our approach to parent/teen relationships. Our youth groups aren’t the primary party responsible for faith development. We need to re-position our ministry as a support for parents to assume and succeed in their God-ordained task of raising children faithful to the Lord. What? Not all parents are there? Granted. So, what are we going to do to reach the parents? We have a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, a college ministry – what about a parent ministry? What about family ministry?

Let’s join in God’s plan for passing on a legacy of faith. Let’s research, experiment and take risks trying to reach out to parents. Consider programs and events that have teens and parents together so we can nurture those relationships and help provide perspective. We’re already into relationship-building, and we’re actually well-equipped for the task. We just need to make sure we’ve got the right people involved. Take all your passion and excitement for youth and help them make a connection with the most important pastor they’ll ever have. It will make a difference for generations to come.

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