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.
Topics to consider talking about
• Parent Involvement / Adversarial relationship with Parents and Youth Pastors / The Churches Role in Authorizing the Parents
• MTD – How do we avoid it? / Subsistence Faith and Capitalistic Faith / Creating a Vision for teens, how are we promoting the have fun don’t screw up vision.
• Model Change for Youth Ministry / Relational Ministry vs. programmatic ministry
• Helping Youth articulate their faith and Jesus
• Intentional connection between teens and adults
• How Do we build a church that cares about students
• What “Parenting” Style is our youth ministry? Authoritarian, Authoritative, Cognitive
• How to address the need for belonging / Create an Ethos of belonging
• The Church’s Role in Authorizing Parents
• How do we reach kids without parents of faith / those who are not devoted
• Gender Roles in Youth Group
• How do we engage kids in a group that doesn’t have sound leadership?
• How do we explain cognitive autonomy to students, parents, and volunteers
• How do we promote regular attendance without seeming militaristic
• Mark – Age Plays a role in Parents relationships with younger Youth Pastors
• Eric – How do we change our church systems, not just reach out to parents, but have a wholistic system change, How do we build these pathways?
• Mark O – How are we modeling adversarial relationships with our parents?
• Scott – We are not thinking about how our parents are incorporated, we are putting up a brick wall that says “Parents, we have it under control”
• Ken – Time is a problem, we are fighting with all the kids other activities, and may be a financial burden to parents
• Brooklyn – I come into parent relationships assuming that parents want the schedule and to know the events, but how do we enter into real relationship building conversations.
• Alan – As a Youth worker I am passionate about your students faith, but have no leverage to get the kids there, where is church in the priority list? I think in most cases its not near the top, so am I being adversarial, or simply like a soccer coach demanding that they come to church. So is this really adversarial? Why is a soccer coach allowed to push soccer as a priority, but when I push it then it is adversarial.
• Mark O – All adversarial means is that there is tension, you aren’t on the same page, I have a tendency to assume parents are authoritarian or dismissive.
• Tensions in pushing events, feeling pressured to do things. Kids meeting with Youth Pastors, and not parents, does that devalue the parents?
• Johnny – We leverage on guilt, and that has a lot of emotional involvement. Aka I am bummed that your kid cant do this because it is so awesome for their faith, now parents feel as if they are screwing their kids life up.
• Nate – We struggle to connect with the kids that are on the bubble ones without tons of friends
• Jason – Maybe we are not doing a great job of communicating, Do we need to rethink how to communicate with parents, I used to have meetings with parents that loved me, hated me, and didn’t really know me. It gave them a forum to express their thoughts on our ministry.
• Andy – Our communication is often through kids, and that causes tension because the parents don’t necessarily see the stuff. We are empowering kids, but distancing parents
• Eric – We are getting a barrage of information, maybe our stuff is getting lost in the mix.
• Alan R. – Conversation vs simply information, How do I have a good discussion when only 10 parents show up to my meetings.
• Phil – That isn’t relationship if you have to show up to a meeting, the only good parent min I have done is the 10 parents of the guys in my small group, because we actually talk back and forth, I have built trust with them. Our Big ministries are just not focused on relationships with parents. Relationships with students are priority, I haven’t gotten to the point where when I see the student I think about their parents. None of this communication will be through fliers.
• Jason – is it then the small group leaders that need to focus on the parents
• April – is it feasible for a 19 year old to be calling the parents
• Christina – these 19 year olds have a lot on their plate, can we expect them to do the same thing as a full time Youth Pastor.
• Jason – Every other week our small group leaders gather for 45 min, and I give them 3 things to be working on, and i need to give them a set up to help them connect with the parents. How can we have Family partnerships with our small group parents, not just with us but with each other.
• Christina – I have parent dinners, and I never realized that the parents feel awkward because they don’t know each other
• Sean – How can we approach Parent relationships in such a way that youth min flows out of families not vice versa. Otherwise it seems as if the Youth Pastor is only building a community in order to fulfill their agenda.
• Cristin – How do we help parents help eachother, how do we have them build a moral trust amongst themselves?
• April – The parents that we will be communicating with are the parents that are already devoted, we need to attract the others too
• Brooklyn – What if we begin to help parents deconstruct the myth that we are just there for students and not the church on a whole. We need to communicate this to the whole church, everyone needs to buy into our Youth relationships.
• Mark O – If we conclude that our ministry would be more affective if we spent half our time for parents and half for students, is that a job we would still want?
• Jason- Yes I want to help set up families as a whole, not just my teens
• Andy – the last two years have been so rich because I have been getting to know parents of students, and I attribute this because now I have my own child. So now I have a weight to really want to connect with Parents. The Parent connection has been exhilarating.
• Mark O – If i’m honest, I conceptually like the idea of working with parents, but in reality I don’t really enjoy being around some parents.
• Jeff – I would much rather hang out with kids, its more fun and easier, parents are tough. But God has been working on my heart to affect the parents so that our kids can be encouraged.
• Alan M – I think it will be interesting to see where this goes in the next 15 years, our identity is wrapped up in students when we are younger, but now I feel like I should spend more time with parents, but can’t because I have so many other demands in ministry. It will be interesting to see how we as Youth ministers acclimate to parents as we ourselves grow as parents.
• Mark O – I don’t think it is as likely as you imply, the potential exists, but I see a lot of old dude youth ministers who drive old school youth min programs with parents as an enemy.
• Eric – Obviously you can be 45, but if your title is eric the middle school pastor, then the parent will think you are the one that works with my kid, not me. Could churches realize we could get more credibility if our title was family pastor.
• Scott – How many of us even have the opportunity to engage parents, How can we engage them with our title?
• Nate – I can’t remember ever reaching out to parents while I was in youth group.
• Steve – Parents are busy, our classes are just another thing to do.
• Heather – I know that sometimes kids think i’m cooler because I don’t punish, but the parents need to know we are supporting them.
• Andy – My senior pastor was challenged to visit everyone of his students houses which seems silly, but I think it is cool to do that.
• Alan – I do that once a month, 12 families a year, I go and ask them a barrage of questions.
• Scott – If we maintain that it is not just about students, then we are giving people roles that matter
• Eric- The Way that parents connect within the schools is with parents all connecting with each other, but even within the church there are handfuls of “connector” parents who can get you in the door.
• Mark O – As a volunteer I speak to 12 parents, my small group meets in my home, and I have told the parents that they need to come in to pick up their kid. So then the parents come and chat for a few minutes. I try to be intentional about calling them by their names as a peer relationship. I never communicate through my kids at all. I haven’t met in their homes, but I have spoken with some of them at starbucks and things like that.
• Jim – Sometimes our focus is communication with parents, what about parents communication with kids.
How Do We Engage Parents?
• Ken – I don’t think parents have to come to a meeting to be engaged, having parent boards, or involvement in one program helps bring all the parents together, giving parents some responsibility.
• Alan – letting them be a part of the youth group without making them lead a small group, giving them things that are comfortable, yet very intentional… Student advisor teams
• Heather – a one week rotation at the front desk to interact with new students and new parents. They get to see their kids walking around without being in their face.
• Nate – We do a once a month restaurant hang out with parents, where parents can come a chat and get to know us. Now I know the parents on a first name basis. Thursday lunches. About 12 show up. No agenda, its up to the parents.
• Mark – During the same time as Youth Group we would have parent small groups where they feel welcome to be there, plus it models for kids that small groups are important.
• Scott – Inside our student area there is a place for parents to sit and grab coffee.
• Johnny – Big Church, we try to fight for some time in the regular service, show a video, or invite them to check out our group. It promotes talking amongst the parents.
• Mark O – I am surprised with how little we are doing.
• Eric – we don’t have a lot of pathways for it.
• April – I have done a lot of things this past year that have just failed ex. 3 parent trainings, bring in speakers to talk to them. The first 2 there were 15 parents there. I do parent meetings right before the end of a trip, come back an hour early so that the parents can engage their children on important things.
• Heather – We do a celebration when we get back, but that might make them feel awkward.
• Scott – parents need to follow up on trips in the days after them.
• Heather – I like Dads to do bus driving. I have 4 Dads who drive, and they get involved in their kids.
• Andy – We showed the soul searching video, and we had 75 parents come! I have question cards for them. And gave them their own childrens surveys
• Mark O – Christina did a training with 150 parents on a Saturday morning. Then we had our teaching pastor take a third of the time, and people came because they could relate to him.
• Christina – We had a lot of good feedback, and that was the first time I had ever done one, it never worked anywhere else, so I do think it was the teaching pastor.
• Eric – It is important for Parents to trust eachother at the church, if all the kids sign up for something it is often times because the other parents signed up. We went and talked to Moms groups that helped us build credibility.
How Do We Empower Parents?
• Steve – Faith formation in the home, we are doing it as a Churchwide thing, we are not sure what it will look like yet, but it is going to highlight a learning time, a family meal.
• Christina – something I was told was that as a parent, they don’t have time to read lots of articles, instead give them a little bookmark that has more info behind it if you need it.
• Mark O – Christina uses a blog that is predominantly for parents that is an auto feed.
• Nate – A parent committee that focuses on student safety.
• Jeff – We use our existing family ministries to display our staff up front, this year we gave devotionals to work through, and then time to share together. It was a good trade off to step down and let them lead.
• Heather- a fall 7th grade/parent retreat. To have parent s learn that the Youth Pastor is alongside of them not against.
• Scott – Who tells parents how significant their role is? I try to weave that into everything that I say to parents. Using positive affirmation
• Corrie – follow up conversations one on one with notes and emails. Encourage that what they are doing is right regardless of the childs response.
• Alan R. – We do a trip with students and parents, and we get to have an opportunity for them to serve alongside one another, and encourage each other. We have parent children talks on planes.
• April – we focus series then give parents a handout that focuses on that asset, and we give them ideas to interact with their kids.
• Alan M – We do a virtual weekly, it has some things for parents to ask their kids when they jump in the car, but I would say only 10 % actually do it.
• Mark O – how might we empower parents?
• Jim – We had a survey of pre school parents, and 50% of those parents said it was the churches job to develop spirituality, not the parents.
• Marko: should we try to “Climb the Mountain” (change everything) or “Save the Starfish” (impact this family and that family)?
• Mark O – We feel defeated, that it is such a huge problem that seems so difficult to fix, so do we try to in a context of church, do we change the culture of church to address this, or do we help the individual and become content with that.
• Alan M – This is an internal tension, I feel good about what we are doing, but horrible that more people aren’t doing it. IT IS NOT A WASTE OF TIME, I think we are doing the starfish but it is a cop out not to try to do more.
• Phil – It doesn’t seem right to do this on a wide scale, it needs to be specifically oriented to the situation, and has to do with people who really know these students. If a 19 year old kid cant do it, then that is a leadership problem, not a parent problem.
• Jim – I am going to try to prevent a problem rather than waiting until the problem is there in order to personally solve it. I think an advantage of going to a place that wants this is that the leadership is fired up about it.
• Alan M. – I need to remind myself that it is a marathon not a sprint. Some of these changes are parent to parent. Aka word of mouth. Maybe our 10% will grow to 25 in a few years. We can’t always live in this instant.
• Johnny – Feel of the Ministry, what are we modeling in our ministries this will affect how the volunteers model it as well.
• Sean – In my ministry I don’t have much contact with parents, from an event perspective I think how can I plant seeds in these youth workers that help them authorize parents. Is there a way to help youth pastors at the event and give that to parents.
• Johnny – I have a huge platform to tell lots of Youth Pastors about what we are talking about right now, and i need to leverage that.
• Christina – I feel like I can plan out all my speaking ideas and give those to parents, but they aren’t going to see it. What if the head pastor would tell the parents to do that. I made a joke in a parent meeting that I liked free meals, and I was taken up on that offer.
• Mark J. – I am excited to having someone on staff with me who is actually a parent of teens, so that I can stop theorizing.
• Cristin – I haven’t said a lot because I have heard a lot of what is already happening, but the starfish seems like more evangelism focused or discipleship focused. So I don’t think I have a positive or negative to contribute. Just where do we draw the line?
• Mark O – How can we climb the mountain?
• Jeff – I have been convicted that we need a systematic change, but where does that start? Because my conversations always come out of crisis, but the issue started 4-5 years ago and now I am just bandaging it. How do we start the relationship of parents with kids early so that they don’t feel as awkward when they are teens. We try to give examples in our own family so that parents can hold on to something that they can actually grasp.
• Ken – All I have been doing is talking to parents not kids, it is not the kids being afraid of parents, but the adults being afraid to come into the jr. high building. How do I get adults to interact, I don’t want them here to help, I want them to come flawed and say lets do this together.
• Brooklyn – I feel like parents need to be inspired, September 11th happened, and all the kids wanted to go home, they needed their parents. Maybe we overlook the fact that parents need to be inspired.
• April – They need to be positively affirmed in everything.
• Phil – How do you do ministry with a lot of kids? We can do a ministry in a big group but also in small groups, so how can that small personal aspect be applied to parents?
• Christina – We need to hire volunteers to meet with our parents
• Eric – Yeah we do this and that but we need to be able to stand up to bigger ministries in our church.
• Jim – I love formulas, so I would love to leave here with a magic bullet, but is it not just a mentality that we go about day to day.
• Scott – I am frustrated, but I think that it has to do with the church, we can fritter away our time but it needs to be a large scale, I need to stand up for my ministry.
3 thoughts on “junior high pastors summit notes, part 3”
I really like where this discussion is heading. here are some of my thoughts if anyone cares…
I appreciate the conversation (insightful) but how did what Dr. Christian Smith say about the primary role of parents in faith foundation play into your conversation? It seems the facts were heard and then time was spent on typical youth ministry problems with no solution as to how to work with this primary faith influencer.
I hope I’m interpreting this wrong.
Let it play out over the couple more posts at the beginning of the week, brenda