in late april, a group of 23 veteran junior high pastors gathered again for a 4-day summit. between all of us, we have 270 years of experience working with middle schoolers. it’s a great group of people, who are passionate about their calling to young teens, and very interested in re-thinking their assumptions and approaches.
this year, noted sociologist christian smith (see post here about christian) join us for a half day, and talked with us primarily about the role of parents in the faith formation of teenagers. out of christian’s data and thoughts, and his responses to our many questions, we formulated a long list of discussion topics, voted on them, and formulated the agenda for the remainder of our days.
we all agreed this was the best of the 8 annual times we’ve met, primarily because we didn’t have easy answers to the issues raised.
i’ll post the notes from the gathering here.
What would it look like to change our approach to ministry based on the fact that parents are the #1 influence on kids?
o What do we do that ignores or acknowledges the reality that parents are this influence?
o What can we do?
o Clear the deck –
o What’s your take home on this?
What do we do that ignores or works against this reality that parents are this influence?
o Brooklyn: When kids transition from children’s ministry to MS, this seems to break down. It may be an excuse that parents and youth leaders use. Not sure kids are the ones who think this.
o MarkO: If parents are getting this message – where does it come from?
o Scott: We have another battle going on. In the school system this changes from elementary to MS, so we naturally latch on to this trend and carry it over unconsciously that we are not supposed to be involved when our kids are in MS
o Eric: Parents for the first time are not “the hero” You notice when you walk on the MS campus, parents are not always the same status. Parents also feel more uncomfortable.
o Phil: If you don’t have a lot of parents involved, this tends to send an unwritten message.
o Christen: Either kids are involved in other things or time constraints, parents are scared, etc… I’ve tried, but get excuses and hit walls when trying to get them involved.
o Johnny: It seems to be seasonal – they are great at one time things, but not at the week to week stuff.
o MarkO: If you have at least 50% or more involved how do you do it?
o Steve: We’d be toast without them. I go after the parents and the young adults and seek to pair them up together for a wide variety of energy and wisdom.
o Christina: ex. A mom came up to me and wanted to help and my response was “is that okay with my daughter.” Did she get from me an impression that I did not want her?
o Alan: We’ve needed to create job descriptions that are more unique for each person, not “one size fits all”
o Jim: I agree with Alan, it’s one of the eight things. We need to customize job descriptions.
o How do you get parents to come to summer camp and a mission trip?
o Heather: we don’t put parents in the same small group?
o Steve: many come to camp, but not the mission trip
o Alan R: some of our parents have their own kids in their small group. Sometimes this works, sometimes this is more out of a bad motive, etc… Sometimes it’s a great thing.
o Andy: Problem we’ve had is it causes a weird conflict for sharing prayer requests etc… From some kids we’ve heard they are less likely to share because
o MarkO: that’s a generalization and it’s not always true – we have a tendency to take assumptions and make them rules.
o Jeff: If parents are the primary influence – should we be working TOWARD this not away from it?
o Nate: Christian Smith said parents just don’t know they are the primary influence; we need to come alongside them and be an advocate for parents and teens by helping them understand this.
o Scott: This is a perfect world thing, but when we have a parent and another leader in the small group, this tends to alleviate this pressure some.
o Cristin: I’ve gotten feedback that it’s nice to have other parents reinforce what we say at home, so I’ve not allowed parents to be in the small group because of this benefit
o Jason: Parents who have gone through three years with us have cycled down into sixth grade because of the experience they have had with their own kids and the desire to share this with another group.
Scott: I’ve been thinking about asking parents to stop doing other things in the church so they can have the margin to get involved with the MS ministry. What do you think about this?
o Not bad – could be a good thing.
o Yet, we get pushback from other ministries if we pull from them to get what we need
o Can we ask people to give up other things, like coaching baseball,
o By the time your kids are 11, you seem to be set more in what you will be involved in.
o How is this baseball coach “ripping off the church?”
o Because he’s not seeing this baseball team as a mission
o Can we help people like this learn to see what they are already doing as a ministry
o Brooklyn: How many of us are getting involved with the 5th graders or the ministry right below us to help solve this?
MarkO: This conversation has been great, but not really answering the question we started with, so let’s get back to the original question. What are we doing that pushes against this reality?
o Jeff: In a recent meeting with parents, we talked a lot about what we will be doing, but we did nothing or very little to help them know what their role is and encourage them.
o MarkO: We have consistent messages that we weave into our talks with kids, but do we have this same intentionality in our conversations with parents? What are the few points or messages or themes that we need to consistently weave into our conversations with parents.
o Scott: What percentage of parents don’t know how to do this?
o MarkO: Most do not really know the extent to which they are the influence. Part of the reason they feel like a failure is they know what they should do and yet feel inadequate to get it done. There seems to be an information/affirmation duo that needs to happen.
o Jeff: In some ways they sometimes feel that bringing the kids to church helps them get this done.
o April: I send out a parent email with tons of encouragement and I’m not sure how effective it is.
o Christina: I think it can be more effective than you know it is. Stories that I’ve heard have encouraged me that this is a good thing to do.
o Phil: Does email really change people’s lives? What can we do that will really impact people? How many of us really have a life that is changed by an email.
o Jim: But email is somewhat effective, so why not use it? How many of us have a parent team and other parents will take this better from parents than from us. So how can we get parents to help parents?
o April: But it’s slow change – it takes a long time for more people to “get it.”
o Ken: I’ve seen at this new church, if you get the right people on it, they are not only your best advocates, but they help get the word out to other parents. It does not reach everyone, but for those it does reach, it’s a great thing.
You’ve just parachuted into your church. You don’t know anyone, but you know your church. There are no programs and all your assumptions are blank. Your only assumption is that you have a passion for MS students and you know that parents are the #1 influence on their kids lives. No expectations from your church. What do you do?
o Jeff: everyone has busy parents and kids who are busy and they don’t fit into a weekly program. Maybe we can provide resources and encouragement to parents to be small group leaders for their kids and some of their kids’ friends. They are not a part of our program, they are just doing it with our encouragement.
o Scott: When your kids are little you read them the Bible stories. When they get to older grade school, they ready other stuff. When the get to MS, parents are clueless on what to do to help their kids grow spiritually.
o Brooklyn: This model sucks because parents are not involved so many times. What do we do when the kids don’t have parents.
o MarkO: Of course it’s hard, that’s why we don’t do it. BUT – what if you come into this situation and you KNOW all you currently KNOW, what would you do differently to help fight this reality?
o Brooklyn: I’d equip them to get to know each other and each other’s stories. Maybe I don’t worry so much if the parents are involved or not.
o Andy: But they have parents – we’ve got to get parents involved. I want to start with parents and then help them do what they should be doing. I don’t want to replace the parents, I want to work with them. I can’t go from the students up, I need to go from the parents down to the students. Otherwise we send a “screw you” message to the parents.
o Christina: I would want to rally the parents and treat them like my volunteer staff. If parents were not there and kids were there without parents, I’d try to plug students into groups of parents that were there. I’d want to look at this as one big team.
o Sean: What bothers me about this I tend to be an arrogant person saying, “this is my team” and “you can partner with me” and “here’s what your kids need.” I would want to come into this with a giant piece of humble pie and hear what the parents might want to do and then go with what the parents think.
o Alan R: Yet, if we’ve been hired to come in and organize and coordinate, then there is a leadership role that I need to fill.
o Steve: Get all the parents together from pre-school – college. Rally them to start relationship with parents who are older than you and learn from those who have come before.
o Phil: working off what Sean said, if your plan is to influence students you would not need to rally people to make it run you would see that parents are your team. They are already there and they are already influencing.
o Scott: They still don’t know what to do
o Phil: Than you train them
o Scott: In what?
o Phil: To disciple their kids
o Jim: Those of you with MS students in your own home, how are you doing this with your own MS kids?
o Steve: I don’t do it great – they go to a Christian school so that’s one element. We, as a family, make church a priority. We talk through the day with them as they go to bed. We read a devotional each night with them. I interview my kids once in a while. I ask them what we could do better as a family.
o MarkO: I am not real structured in what I do, but I think the three or four things I do with my daughter are 1) I debrief church and small group 2) I make my own stuff known to her – I talk to her about why I do things like spiritual retreats. Why do I do what I do 3) I’m intentional about starting spiritual conversations with her – I bring stuff up. 4) When she is experiencing the weirdness of being 14, I am intentional about waiting until the moment has passed and then I have intentional conversations with her about the situation.