Tim Lansing, director of Urban Hope Training Center Los Angeles and Eric Miller, director of ministry operations for CE National, discuss how to help parents and students talk with each other about difficult topics.
While Eric was a youth pastor in Frederick, Maryland, a couple of times a year he had youth group meetings to discuss difficult topics like pornography, sex trafficking, etc. Most youth pastors do this, but Eric tossed everyone in the same room–parents and both guys and girls–in his youth ministry.
How did you get started in youth ministry?
When Eric was a high school student he got cut from the baseball team. That freed up his summer to go on Operation Barnabas. Operation Barnabas is a summer ministry team produced by CE National. It was that summer that God impressed on Eric’s heart to go into full-time ministry. Then Eric went on a mission trip to Urban hope Training Center in Philadelphia. It was there that he decided to be a youth pastor. Going to Momentum Youth Conference every year, God challenged Eric to trust and follow Him. He attended The National Institute at Grace College to study youth ministry. During the summer before his senior year of college, Eric did an internship with Grace Church in Frederick, Maryland. The summer went well, but he didn’t think he’d ever be back. A couple of weeks before graduation, Eric got a call from the church in Frederick asking him to be their youth pastor when he graduated. The current youth pastor, Jason Brown, was moving to Florida.
How do you equip parents to invest in their kids when you’re young and single?
Eric says it’s one of the hardest things in youth ministry. Often it’s overlooked because it’s a youth ministry not a parent ministry. But when a youth pastor zooms out and looks at the scope of the ministry, he might get to spend two hours a week with a student. Parents have 10 plus hours a week where they can invest in their students. A youth ministry would be much more effective if a youth pastor equipped parents.
It’s tough to equip parents when you’re not a parent. But the reality is that a youth pastor is studying and immersed in youth culture. This helps him to equip parents to engage their students.
At one point Eric realized there was a multiplying effect. As the youth pastor he could tell his students to read and study the Bible. If an adult leader told students to read and study the Bible, the message was multiplied. If parents told the students to read and study the Bible, the message was multiplied again. If students saw parents reading and studying the Bible, there was even more of a multiplication effect. Eric realized that everyone needed to get on the same page to create a multiplication effect in the ministry.
Why is it important for youth pastors to equip and engage with parents?
The first time ministry to parents came on Eric’s radar was during a weekly one-on-one with his pastor. Eric’s pastor asked him how he was doing reaching the parents in his youth ministry. Eric said he didn’t know he was supposed to. His pastor gave him some suggestions of parents who he could engage with him in youth ministry.
The Great Commission says to go and make disciples, but there are many passages that talk about parents influencing their children. The idea of the Great Commission is to influence ‘as you go’. Parents will say they don’t have time, but they can influence as they drive them to school, during dinner, and other casual times. It’s important to look for ways to be intentional with kids and leverage spiritual conversations. The work of a youth pastor can only go so far, but parents can have a real impact on their kids.
What are resources that can help?
It wasn’t until about 10 years into youth ministry that Eric realized that parent meetings were just informational. Parents didn’t need a meeting for information they could get in an email.
During one student meeting, Eric split up guys, girls, and parents to talk about holiness and sexual purity. After the meeting was over, parents came to him and asked what he told their kids. Students were asking what he told their parents. Guys wanted to know what he told the girls and the other way around.
Bethany, Eric’s wife, suggested he have one big conversation with everyone in the room. At first Eric thought that his wife didn’t know youth ministry. There’s no way he could do that. But the more he thought about it, the more he thought it would work. Eric processed the idea with his youth staff and his senior pastor.
The youth staff embraced the awkwardness and called the nights UNCENSORED. The goal was to break the ice with parents so they would talk with their students. Those nights had 6-12 grade guys and girls, along with their parents, in the same room. The first night was on sexual sin.The staff sent home letters explaining what they would be doing and invited parents to come. A lot of parents just don’t know where to begin and how to engage in difficult conversations with their students. The youth leaders decided to begin the conversation for the parents.
For sexual sin, they gave the group statistics of how students stumble into porn. They talked through definitions, gave them resources with scripture references, and discussion questions.They told the parents and students that they should enter into the conversation on the drive home. Sometimes they left 20 minutes at the end with questions for students to ask parents and parents to ask students. They also gave resources like videos, websites, books, etc. to help in the discussion.
Eric did 2-4 of these meetings each year. After a while they started recording the conversations. This helped parents who wanted to know what was going to be said before they engaged their students. Some parents stayed home those nights with their students. Then the parent watched the conversation, downloaded the resource guide, and had the conversation with their kids. Often parents would sit down with their kids and watch the video as a way to break the ice with their kids.
The meetings and topics were put on the regular calendar so parents knew far enough in advance to plan to come. If parents couldn’t come, students took home resources to have discussions with their parents. Sometimes students came back to Eric and said they had the most amazing, but awkward conversation with their parents.
Did you do all the teaching?
Eric did some of the teaching, but also brought in experts to talk about certain topics. Some of those were elders, others pastors. Some were friends of Eric’s who were experts who could speak on the topic.
How would you encourage a youth leader to partner with parents?
Talk to teens, your lead pastor, and parents. Ask students you know and trust about how parents engage with them. Most of all, pray and ask God how you should do this and what it looks like.
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