Spring is just around the corner, which means baseball’s first pitch is not far behind. When putting together a good baseball team, a team manager must fill every position. First, second and third basemen, pitcher, catcher, shortstop and the outfielders – all important roles on the team. For a team to play well, each player must understand the role that he is called to play. A first baseman, for instance, needs to know how to specifically play first base, as opposed to second or third, where a player has a completely different objective. If the center fielder plays like a pitcher, the team is probably going to have some problems. The same could be said about ministry.
In this series we have been looking deeper into the process of helping students prepare for life after high school. Later in the month, we will begin to establish what I call a student exit strategy. This is a vision for what your students will need to learn before you send them out of your high school ministry and into the next chapter of life. But before this can be done, we must first build a team and establish team roles.
A Two-Player Transition Team
When it comes to helping students prepare for life after high school, you, the youth ministry leader, cannot do it alone. Nor should you. Discipleship is the healthiest when it is a team “sport.” Not only should you not be the solo catalyst for transition discipleship, you are not even the most important player on the team. That role belongs to the parents. But I know what you are thinking: “The parents? The parents can’t…won’t…shouldn’t…couldn’t…wouldn’t…” I realize that is the reality for many in youth ministry. The truth is parents don’t often step into this role for one of three reasons. First, they don’t know that they should. Second, they aren’t sure how to do it. Third, they don’t feel like they need to because you seem to be doing such a fine job. The truth is, the parent is the one who is called to be the main discipler of a child, and your role is to be a major partner in that process. Below, we will look at each of the roles and how you can lead the process from a secondary position.
Parents: The Team Captain
For many Christian parents, there is a misconception that it is the role of the church, and more specifically the youth pastor, to prepare students for the challenges and freedoms of life after high school. You may even be a believer in that theory as well, but biblically, the parents are called to be what I like to refer as the CDO, or chief discipling officer, of the child. We see this calling in Ephesians 6:4 where fathers are instructed to “bring (their kids) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In Proverbs 22:6 we see that if a parent will “train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is a picture of a parent preparing a child for life outside of the home, and in our society that happens after high school and often at college. In Deuteronomy 6 we see that parents should do this spiritual training daily and in everyday life activities. The parent’s job as the CDO is to make this discipling journey a priority where, over time, the child develops the maturity needed to live out his or her own faith without the constant direction and instruction of the parent. This is the primary responsibility of the parent, and you are a valuable partner in that process. But how, and to what degree?
The Partnership of Discipleship
To answer that question, let’s look deeper into each role and see how we can make it work. I want to break it down into three levels of the partnership: Mission, Objective, and Action.
The mission of the parent in the discipleship role is to bring up the individual in the ways of the Lord. We see that again in Paul’s instruction to fathers in Ephesians 6:4. Likewise, the mission of the church, or more specifically in this case the youth ministry, is also to bring the student up in the ways of the Lord BUT to do it corporately. So, we can begin to picture a full discipleship plan by thinking of it in a macro/micro model. The parent has 18+ years to be the chief discipling officer, teaching the scriptures and modeling faith in life, leading daily discipling conversations as the family lives life together. That is macro. Your influence is so much smaller. You have only a few years with the student, and just a few days a week or a month at that. Your job is to build on the foundation that has already been made and teach faith in a non-family community. Your role is micro.
The next level of responsibility is objective. The objective of the parent is to teach the basics of faith and model them daily. It is the hope of every discipling parent that this relationship would grow to a level where the parent and child can discuss issues of life in the context of faith, as a family. It should be the parents’ objective to raise their kids in the church and give you opportunities to make your impact on the lives of their teenagers as well. Your objective as a discipling partner is to provide corporate worship experiences, small group accountability, group serving opportunities, community fellowship gatherings, and a mentoring relationship to the student. When this partnership works, it creates a mature follower of Christ. When it doesn’t work, either because one of the partners is not holding up his part of the bargain or because the two parties are not communicating enough, the teenager is the first one who suffers.
As we look at the third level of responsibility, we take note of the mutual discipleship action. First, the parent takes the role of the chief discipliner, and the ministry leader takes on the secondary role of the mentor. Then, the parent leads by practicing faith together as a family, while the youth pastor leads each individual student in community together with other peers. This next step puts action to faith and allows the teen to understand how to follow Jesus daily at home and out in the world in community. This step is important because it helps the teenager put feet on the faith he has developed. This is not to say that the church will never help the teen mature his faith (of course it will) or that the family will not serve together (we hope they do), but rather what it is does is to illustrate how this partnership of discipleship can work holistically. Then the family must support and reinforce what the church is teaching as the church communicates with them, and vise versa.
Now for this model to work, there are a few things that YOU might have to initiate. The reason that I say you have to initiate is because 1) you are part of the church leadership and 2) you are the one with this model and perspective of discipleship. Even though the parent is the chief discipler, it is the church’s job (as a whole) to disciple the parent and help them know how to lead their kids.
To do this, the church must first help equip the parent to lead. Depending on the size and structure of the church, this might start on the adult discipleship level. The parents in your church should be hearing from the pulpit and the classroom that they are the chief disciplers of their kids. Then they should be taught how to step into this role. They need to know that you are the secondary discipling partner in this process, and your job is to lead their kids in community. They must be informed, instructed and encouraged to step into this role. This should start in the newlywed classes and be consistent all the way up, leading parents and working together with preschool, children, youth, college, and young singles classes to form a level of consistency in content, approach and follow up. If this is a joint effort, it should look like one.
The second vital step is to communicate well and often with the parents of your students. In any partnership, whether it be a marriage, sports team, business or ministry, one of the most important components is communication. You might consider a monthly or twice-a-month email to tell them what you are teaching and how they are to follow up. To take that one step further, you could inform the parents on what you are teaching the youth and then have someone write a family-centered devotional to send to the parents as follow up. You should have regular meetings with parents and constant training on how they should relate to specific ages or deal with particular topics. Have an empty nest couple come and speak about communicating with a teenager, or bring in a tech expert to talk to parents about how to deal with their teenagers and social media. Communication is important to pass along ideas, content, plans, direction and needs of your ministry.
The third step, and the one that brings this all together under the banner of transition discipleship, is to work so that all teammates are on the same page regarding content and teaching. This is critical because if you are teaching seniors about, for instance, the importance of personal study of scripture in college, the students who have been taught that discipline at home and have been led through the scriptures by mom and dad will be tracking with you unlike those who haven’t. As you know, you can not possibly lead each kid in your ministry through a decade of faith principles before they get to high school and connect the dots of ownership, but the parents can, if they understand the responsibility and opportunity to do so.
This parenting partnership is key for many reasons: 1) The child will only have you for a few years as a teenager, but he or she will likely have their parents much longer. 2) The teenagers will need to be at a certain level of maturity before they get to your ministry, which is not primarily the job of the children’s pastor, but that of the parent. 3) Kids will be far more willing to be committed to your ministry (and the church as a whole) if they have been brought up in faith and the church, as opposed to seeing the Christian life as a Sunday commitment attended occasionally. 4) You will be able to do your job and calling if the parents do theirs (and vice versa), and part of that job, as we will see in the next edition of this series, is to create a healthy exit strategy for the students you have been called to serve.