Three Tips for Youth Workers who are Parents
“I am better with other people’s kids than I am my own.”
We’ll never forget the first time we heard this honest, gut-wrenching confession from a successful youth pastor. This sharp, thoughtful leader was honestly sharing his own struggles with being a parent in ministry. When he articulated the words above, you could hear a collective resonance in the room as leaders from around the country agreed: Yes, this is an issue for us too.
Maybe you can relate. It’s one thing to have conversations with students in our ministries about everything from scripture to school to sex. It’s quite another thing to have those same conversations with our own kids. Especially during seasons when they are beginning to stretch the boundaries of our relationships beyond the limits we imagined we’d be stretched. Especially when we have to talk about curfew, math homework, and violin rehearsal in the same space and time. Especially when we walk past the bedroom we’ve asked them to clean up at least twelve times in the past two days.
Yeah, those young people who live under our roofs can be hard to talk with about faith.
They’re also the same young people, by the way, who see all of our inconsistencies, failures, and flaws. Not only do they see them, but they also feel personally impacted by them in ways the rest of the youth ministry never will.
So what about those kids?
Here are three practical tips for youth workers who double as parents of teenagers:
1. Admit your own struggles. We leaders often struggle with handling the tension between being models to others while being fully aware of our own struggles, flaws, and sin. Imagine being a youth leader’s kid and seeing that tension played out every day in your parent! Use your struggles as an opportunity to talk about how much you need Jesus’ grace to rescue and strengthen you every day. If your struggle affected your own child, apologize and ask for their forgiveness.
2. Share your own faith. According to our Sticky Faith research, not only does it matter for parents to ask their kids questions about the kids’ faith, but it also matters when parents share stories and insights about their own faith. In other words, rather than just interrogating your kids about what they learned in youth group or Bible study, we can take little and big opportunities to share what we’ve been learning in our small group, what we’ve been praying about lately, or how we’ve seen God showing up in our lives.
3. Share your testimony. One youth pastor friend asked twenty different students—all of whose parents were actively involved in the congregation—if they knew their parents’ testimony. Want to guess how many students knew their parents’ story of faith? Zero. Even if your testimony involves a less-than-ideal past, if you have a teenager in your home it’s likely time they knew more about Christ’s work in you across the seasons of life so far. And not only your testimony, but also that of your spouse, other relatives, and trusted adult friends. Start sharing stories and you might be surprised how much teenagers want to hear.