Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Game-Changers: The Lasting Life-Changing, Difference-Making Influences in Ministering to Today’s Students

It’s tournament time. “March Madness” is upon us. My travel and ministry schedule this month is quite busy, but I certainly plan to carve out some time to camp in front of my television to watch as many of the comebacks, last minute rallies, and buzzer-beaters as I possibly can. I’m not sure where the cliché actually came from, but at this time of year it makes sense. There undoubtedly will be some “game-changers” – some key plays that totally change the momentum of a game. It may be a long 3-pointer or a vicious slam dunk off of an alley-op, but a game’s outcome can often depend, or at least be traced back to, “one shining moment” (basketball fans will get that one), or one particular play. There are, and there will be, game-changers!

Game-Changers in Student Ministry

Readers, I am convinced that there are “game-changers” in our ministries with students as well. Sometimes the Lord cleans out the cobwebs in our minds and hearts to help us see that there are incredible and life-changing difference-makers in student ministries. (I’m very interested in what you think about this subject, so if you have the time, please think this through with me and post some of your thoughts below.) What are some of the game-changers in student ministries? What should be the priorities in our ministries with students that can be genuine difference-makers in their lives? I’m going to take my next few posts on this blog to identify some of what I believe can be authentic, legitimate game-changers in our ministries. Think this through with me.

Parents as Game-Changers in Student Ministry

Long-time youth ministry specialist, Dewey Bertolini once remarked, “Our ultimate effectiveness with kids may depend on our ability to minister to their parents.” I think he’s exactly right. Parents of teenagers must be partners with us in our ministry to students.

I’ve recently begun to notice something that I think is quite revealing, and maybe even a little discouraging. I’m sure you’ve heard the term in sociological and educational literature “helicopter parents”. It has made the news because this generation of parents tends to “hover over” their kids like helicopters. Author Ron Alsop talks about this phenomenon is his stimulating book The Trophy Kids Grow Up, “The millennials are truly trophy kids, the pride and joy of their parents who remain closely connected even as their children head off to college and enter the work force.” Alsop tells the stories of college graduating millennials either moving back home with their parents and taking their parents along with them on job interviews.

Little league baseball, community soccer teams, day schools, elementary schools, and even major secular universities have all learned the value of including parents in the fabric of their programming for students.

My question is this, why hasn’t the church done that?

It has been my observation that our churches tend to separate the generations. We struggle to find nursery workers and Awana leaders, and we are inclined to recruit young adults to serve as our church’s youth workers. Where are the parents?

Perhaps it’s time to change this paradigm. Maybe the church is lagging behind in a cultural trend that is totally changing our society’s basic structure right before our eyes. Let’s face it – we’re dealing with a generation of kids whose parents are totally involved in their lives; except maybe in church! Ouch.

This past summer on our Vision For Youth missions trip to New York City, we noticed students calling or texting their parents almost every hour. A friend recently told me about a Verizon survey that revealed that this year’s college freshmen receive 11 text messages each day from their parents. Yes, today’s parents are certainly hands-on.

Friends, the church ought to be leading the way on this – not culture. Christians are the ones with the Biblical mandates to make families and parenting a top priority. (See Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, Deuteronomy 6, and Psalm 78 for examples.) So, why do we separate parents from their kids so often in the church?

Please understand that I am a fan of peer ministry. I have been an active proponent and advocate of church youth ministry for over 35 years. I am NOT campaigning for churches to do away with children’s or youth ministry! I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of those disciplines. However, to effectively and ultimately make a life-changing impact on many of today’s students, we may need to include their parents more in our thinking and planning.

On the other side of this issue, I must admit that I’ve been in youth ministry long enough to understand the issues and pressures of involving parents in our ministries. I am also a parent and I understand parental fears, biases, opinions, and their tendency to overly protect their kids. I get it; I really do. But, this issue can be a game changer – and we need to figure it out in a balanced and Biblical manner.

Your thoughts? How are you involving parents in your church’s ministry to students?


Brandon said...

Mel, If you haven't already, you need to get ahold of the book "Generation iY" by Tim Elmore. Six of my twelve small group leaders have a child in our youth ministry. Some of them work directly with their own child and some choose not to. I have seen great benefit to this, and I have also seen it backfire. Some want to be leaders so they can continue to be a "helicopter parent". We have addressed some of these issues from time to time and usually its an easy fit by just changing their point of impact in the ministry. We have also involved parents by sending out weekly emails and even lesson notes and questions to help parent start conversations with their kids about what God is teaching them and challenging them with. This helps the parent feel involved and tells the teen that their parents do care and want to be involved.
At the end of your blog you talked about the balance that needs to be found and I agree. There are so many parents who are "drop-out" parents and have no involvement and then some who are "hovering" too much. The "game-changer" will come in finding this balance and training parents to understand it.
Good blog! Let me know the things you come up with as you work through this.

Brandon Baker

Mel Walker said...

I am reading "Generation iY" right now. Good stuff. You are right about that balance!!!

Floralba Arbelo Marrero said...

I'm all for involving parents - the research in academics points toward closed gaps, greater infrastructure, communication, and an increased awareness on both ends when parents are involved. I often wonder about this in churches where parents look to drop their kids off and let someone else do the work. It is our mandate and we do need a new model. Thanks for the thought provoking blog post I will be reflecting as I move into my next Children's Ministry Assessment.