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Parenting by proxy

Here’s a problem that drives youth workers crazy. Parents are so busy that they essentially delegate the discipling of their children to the church. Raising kids is hard work. Raising Christian teenagers to a radical faith in our modern times is very nearly impossible, a task not unlike Luke Sky…
By Seth Barnes

Here’s a problem that drives youth workers crazy. Parents are so busy that they essentially delegate the discipling of their children to the church.

Raising kids is hard work. Raising Christian teenagers to a radical faith in our modern times is very nearly impossible, a task not unlike Luke Skywalker trying to navigate the asteroid field. You need remarkable focus and a flawless navigational system to make it to the other side.

What makes things tougher still is that Americans work longer hours than anyone else in the world. They show up at home at the end of the day with zero energy. It’s hard to blame parents for wanting to turn the job of parenting over to someone else. Their own spiritual lives are anemic and they know it. Why not trust the experts, just like getting a CPA to do your taxes. Yes, it’s parenting by proxy, but it’s the only game in town.

What’s a youth worker to do when Mrs. Jones sends Steve, her surly middle schooler, to Sunday School, never once talking to the youth minister about it. He doesn’t want to be there and everyone around him can tell.

Look at the problems Steve’s presence poses:

1. His attitude may distract others.

2. His mom is a consumer of the youth ministry, but it’s not clear what she even wants. Babysitting? Discipleship?

3. If the ministry is trying to disciple young people, then he’s in the way. Arms crossed, cynical smirk on his face, all he’s really open to is entertainment.

It’s an untenable situation for the youth pastor. He can’t disciple Steve if Steve doesn’t want to be discipled. He can’t make any of his students grow or want to grow. What’s difficult is that Steve’s mom doesn’t want a partner. All she probably wants is relief from the unrelenting tension that fills the house.

Here is what youth pastors are saying about the issue on the Youth Specialties web site:

“Parents are harder than teens. Right now I am just trying to get the parents to be willing to meet with me…that is my first boundary to get through.”

“Be careful how you approach parents. Unless you have the parenting experience to back you up – most parents will not look kindly on you looking to teach in this area.”

“You can bang your head against the wall and eventually you’ll pass out, start bleeding or both.”

“Like it or not, parents evaluate parenting information/advice on the basis of the earned experience of those who give it.”

“We have a monthly parent meeting targeting the parents within the church who have senior high students. The goal is to keep them informed. We also added a ‘parent forum’ to our website. Once this group is self-sustaining, we will send letters out to the parents of the other students whose families are not in the church. How long does this take? I don’t know…I’m struggling with getting parents to show up!”

A good book: Youth Worker’s Guide to Parent Ministry: A Practical plan for defusing conflict and gaining allies by Marv Penner

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