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Parental partnership key to youth ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ministry to parents, not just to youth, took center stage during the 2009 National Youth Workers Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“How do we incorporate families into our ministries?” asked Jeff Pratt during the opening night of the Sept. 14-16 conference. Pratt student minister at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., also works as LifeWay’s director of student ministry training.

It was a question the 400-plus attendees pondered throughout the conference at the LifeWay’s home office in Nashville, Tenn., which featured award-winning Christian recording artists and experienced pastors and youth ministers from around the country.

On the conference’s opening night, singer Steven Curtis Chapman took the stage with his two sons, Caleb and Will. Chapman told the audience he hopes his life can be viewed as a “case study” for families working as units in ministry. As a Christian musician, he said, he has been able to involve his family in his work, whether performing with his sons or drawing inspiration for his songs from life with his wife and kids.

Bob Bunn, content editor in LifeWay’s student ministry publishing area, said the idea of involving parents in their kids’ spiritual development has been overlooked in recent years. “Youth ministry went through a stage when it was viewed as a one-stop resource for making kids look like Jesus,” Bunn said. “As a result, parents abdicated their role and youth ministers sort of usurped that role.”

Bunn pointed to Deuteronomy 6, which calls parents to make permanent marks on their children’s lives. Parents, he said, are an invaluable facet of students developing into godly adults. “We are seeing a renaissance of the idea that God says parents should be the primary spiritual developers of their kids.”

The first step in reintroducing (or introducing) this idea is getting to know parents, Bunn advised the youth workers. “Find out who they are and what they are going through,” he said. “Relationships with the parents will allow you to be transparent with them so that you can, at some point, share the truth of Deuteronomy 6 with them.”

This shift also requires youth ministers to think about how their youth groups can be part of the larger church body.

“This is not about adding events to the church calendar,” said Sherry Spillman, a student ministry specialist at LifeWay, during a breakout session. “Think outside of the box to create a holistic, unified church.”

Two-time attendee Andy Carr, along blessed to work with a “wonderful church and wonderful parents,” acknowledged the need to do a better job ministering to parents.

“I’m fortunate to have parents who want to be involved,” said Carr, who serves as associate pastor and minister to students at Sand Ridge Baptist Church in Lexington, Tenn. “We need to help them even better understand their kids with things like culture education. Parents need to know what this youth culture looks like.”

Conference speakers emphasized, however, that involving parents in their students’ spiritual development does not mean youth ministers are irrelevant in that process.

“It’s your job to make mom and dad the hero,” Pratt said during an afternoon panel discussion. “My goal as a student minister is that my students go to mom and dad when they have a theological question.” He added that he is happy to help parents answer those questions should they request his assistance.

Youth ministers are the “resident experts” when it comes to student ministry, Pratt said. They must focus on ministering to, not functioning as social directors for, the students they’ve been given.

“Seeds planted [in my life] by people faithful in youth ministry helped us survive this last 14 months,” Chapman said, referring to when his 5-year-old daughter Maria “went to heaven” in 2008. “I want to encourage you and remind you that what you’re doing is incredibly important.”
Brooklyn Noel Lowery is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information about student ministry resources and events, visit LifeWay.com/students.

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