By Tim Riley
I had a scary moment 8 months ago; I was called to youth ministry! The Lord called me to leave the safety of my private practice counseling office, with its comfy couch and oversized chair. Gone were the days of sipping on a cup of coffee while listening to adolescents share about their life concerns. I traded it all in for overnighters and countless hours of potential chaos.
As I looked at how I would structure our youth programming in my new position, I relied on my counseling experiences. The most frustrating piece of counseling adolescents is the shortage of time you actually have to make a difference (3-4 hours a month if you’re lucky). In most cases, change could only occur if there was a buy-in from the parents.
In order for this to happen, parents had to understand that their family was no different than a mobile over a baby’s crib, if one side moves, everything moves. In other words, if one family member changes, they all change, whether they want to or not. Families that were able to understand this concept were able to see drastic changes, not only in their child, but in their entire family dynamic.
So, as I stepped into the scary world of youth ministry, I knew the only way I could be confident in the direction of the youth group was to implement a similar approach. The truth is, if I took everything I learned from counseling and created a youth curriculum from scratch, I couldn’t come up with anything better than Orange.
My choice to put in the work to empower the family has paid huge dividends. Out of our youth group of over 100, I intentionally seek out an in-depth conversation with one of our parents on a weekly basis. The idea is to make contact with them outside of an e-mail or a quick “Hello.” By asking for their feedback, I am letting them know they are a part of what we are doing in youth, even if they don’t attend. This—along with a weekly Parent Cue—has created open lines of communication.
If you’re thinking about “turning Orange” or need a reminder of why parent communication is so crucial, here are a few of the benefits I have experienced:
- The word “fine” is being eliminated from the teen vocabulary in my church. The Parent Cue gives parents the advanced knowledge of our talk time. Parents don’t say, “How was youth, honey?” They say, “What did you learn about ‘forgiveness’ tonight?”
- Parents have become intrigued by our lessons and want to see what we are doing. We have added 5 new youth workers in the last 2 months because of a quick peek.
- We are equipping parents to invite other families to church. They are able to speak, in detail, about what their family can expect. Parents can even make statements like, “If you come this week your teen will be there for the first week of the new series they’re starting.”
- Parents have also expressed to me that the consistent communication has allowed them to feel more comfortable about their child attending youth functions, raising our attendance.
- The most important benefit I see is that at an age where teens tend to exert independence from their family, we are providing moments of connection that would otherwise be lost.
There is no perfect solution to help a youth grow in their relationship with Christ or in equipping families. However, one thing is certain: the greatest influence on a child is their parent and connecting with the parent is the best thing I can do to support my teens. I guess I’m sipping the Orange Kool-Aid!
Tim Riley is the Student Ministries Pastor at Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, OH. Prior to being called to this crazy journey of youth ministry, Tim worked as a private practice counselor, specializing in adolescents and family relationships for 8 years. His family consists of his wife of 10 years, Sarah, and two kids Jack (age 4) and Izzy (age 2). Tim’s passions include: teens, worship, and playing “dress up” with Jack and Izzy!