We explored our hopes and dreams in relation to youth last week, but we all know youth ministry isn’t just about teenagers. We have to minister to whole families most of the time, especially the parents. How do we equip them, how do we walk along them, etc? That means this week we look at…..
“Top 10 things you want parents to say about youth ministry”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
What a great question! At the simplest of levels, I would hope that parents of our students would say at least a bit more than “it’s something that gets them away for a couple of hours on a Wednesday night” or “I think they like it.” But in an ideal world, I would hope that parents of our youth ministry would have these things to say:
- Our youth ministry empowered me to be the primary faith shaper/educator of my student
- Our youth ministry gave me opportunities to practice faith with my student.
- We were asked to be a part of our youth ministry multiple times. And if/when we accepted, we felt incredibly valued and appreciated!
- I felt like we were incredibly well informed and constantly knew what was going on for the sake of my student’s discipleship.
- I felt that our youth minister cared not just for our students, but for us, and did what he/she could to make us feel loved.
- My student asks a BUNCH of questions—some that I’ve never thought about—and regularly challenges my personal faith.
- My student wants to be a part of the youth ministry and wants to invite his/her friends.
- I can’t believe how active our students are in serving the community and the needy!
- I love the opportunities my student has to interact with other members of the church.
- I watched and participated in my student becoming more like Jesus.
- I will beg my youth minister to use my pool, and will always chaperone the events. (Wishful thinking, I know…)
Rev. Jessica Tidwell serves as Minister of Youth and Outreach at First Baptist in Rutherfordton, NC. Besides youth and outreach, one of her passions is fostering dogs with the help of her partner and their current furever pups. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology.
1) The youth ministry is accessible.
And I mean that in several senses of the word:
• Physically speaking. Youth space should be easily accessible for any student, regardless of handicap or injury.
• Spiritually. Students should feel free to be able to engage God in whatever manner they feel fit while in worship with the youth group.
• Emotionally. No bullying allowed, of any sort.
2) Every student feels welcome.
Feeling welcome is more than just knowing that the youth ministry is accessible. A student must also feel wanted, valued, cherished by the youth ministry. I do my best to let each student know their presence is important.
3) The youth ministry philosophy, regular activities, and special events are well communicated.
It took me a good five months of trial and error to figure out how to do this, and I still mess up. But my advice? Whatever fits your style of communication and also the style of your parents: find it. Find it, and use it. Do not rely on your students, and do not regularly rely on last minute text messages to students OR parents. If asked, the committed adults should be able to easily look up what youth events are happening in the next month (at least). If I’m always communicating at the last minute, the schedule of students today make it nearly impossible for many to just jump right on in. I’m much more likely to keep your ministry accessible if I take the time to both plan ahead and communicate those plans. Hey, maybe my busiest students can’t make an event even with sixth months notice! But hopefully they’ll feel a little less left out knowing I thought of their busy schedules and tried my best to make including them possible.
4) Students can ask any question and discuss any topic freely in youth ministry.
Hot topics should not be taboo, because if they can’t discuss it with me and the other youth, they’ll be discussing elsewhere, and possibly in ways that aren’t healthy.
5) The students learn about the Bible.
Definitely easier said than done – sometimes a sound bite is all you can squeeze in if Bible study time gets off topic. Regardless, it is worth the effort to find not only those foundational stories in the Bible that everyone knows but also the crazy and fun ones so that the students experience the truth breadth of the biblical material.
6) The students get to talk about what they think – they aren’t just told what to think.
If one thing has proven to be ineffective for making disciples, it is indoctrination without critical thinking. The STICKY FAITH curriculum came directly out of this initiative. Encouraging students to come to their own conclusions by wrestling with questions themselves will create opportunity for the students to develop a more durable, lasting faith than they would otherwise get by simply hearing quick, too-easy answers. After all, even we adults don’t have many firm answers!
7) The youth get the chance to connect with a variety of involved adult volunteers.
Getting volunteers can be difficult, but when possible, having a diverse set of adult volunteers helps appeal to diversity among students. I try to model my appreciation for diverse opinions through my adult volunteers.
8) Trips with the youth ministry are well organized.
Part of this goes back to the above point: communicate well and in advance. My parents need to know the who, what, where, when, and why’s of a youth trip because I am taking the lives of their students into my hands! I take the time to do the medical forms with notaries. I have all the travel and event paperwork organized and on hand. I know some of us are a little more “loose” on organization than others, but when we are given such a weighty responsibility of handling the travel information for a large group, parents (and even students!) want to know we have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C all ready to go in the event of an emergency.
9) The youth ministry works to find fundraiser opportunities to help cover costs of special events and trips.
Not every youth group will get the same budget benefits – and every youth minister will probably have to face the choice of either asking parents to pay some higher prices to stretch the budget OR cutting one of those more expensive events down because of cost concerns. Because I operate on a small budget and STILL want to take students to summer camp and on other special trips, I must keep in mind the economic concerns for the parents. Some parents will be more concerned than others. I am always, always, always researching ways to help students cut their costs! I also make it a priority for students only to earn the benefits of the fundraiser based on the work they put in, so they can feel the satisfaction of knowing they did, in the end, pay for themselves.
10) Students can trust that the youth pastor and adult volunteers will practice confidentiality.
I took the time to check out clergy laws on confidentiality in my state. They’re vital to helping draw where and when I would ever need to report a conversation with a youth. Everything else: under a tight lid.