Empowering Parents

For years I’ve strategized new ways to support, equip, and continue empowering parents of young people. I’ve created and led parenting seminars on entitlement and digital addiction, helped develop an online course called Parents as Allies, and co-authored a bestselling book on innovative ways to partner with parents (The Family-Friendly Church). I’ve been a passionate advocate for ministry that partners with parents in significant ways, because research and experience tell us they’re the #1 influencers of faith development in kids. In fact, Neil Howe (author of Generations and one of the most insightful, catalytic social-science researchers in the world) once told me: “Dealing with parents is the #1 problem in every youth-serving institution.” He was preaching to the choir…

All that aside, here’s my most important “credential,” relative to a ministry approach that empowers parents… I’m the parent of two emerging-adult girls myself—my daughters are 19 and 24.

I have the luxury of experiencing a ministry perspective on parents from both sides of the glass—as a leader involved in ministry, and as a parent who’s been on the “receiving end” of the church’s outreach to parents. A lot of the frustrations ministry leaders feel when they see the choices parents make, or have to deal with their lack of support or their criticisms, are not informed by a deeper sense of their reality. That’s why I resonate with the way my longtime friend Mark DeVries (founder of the consulting organization Ministry Architects) frames his ministry approach to parents. After his last teenager was out of the house, he took a breather to look back on his experience and consider the challenges he faced as he tried to shepherd his kids into an intimate relationship with Jesus, including…

  • I was tired. Most parents are exhausted. They’re logging more hours at work, bouncing between obligations, sometimes caring for aging parents, and sometimes juggling the exploding time-bombs called teenagers. It isn’t that they don’t want their kids involved in ministry; they just can’t keep all the balls in the air.
  • I wanted help. I longed for someone who could make my parenting job a little easier. I wanted my kids to spend time with godly adults, but I didn’t have the time or energy to force them to attend ministry programs. I wanted them to want to go.
  • I felt like a failure. We weren’t having meals together regularly enough. We weren’t having family devotions consistently. We were mad at our kids more than we wanted to be. Expecting perfection in parents is as shortsighted and misdirected as parents expecting perfection from us. If we hope to receive grace from parents, it starts with extending grace to them. 

I think Mark has nailed some of what defines a parent’s reality—we could go on and on about all of the pressures, expectations, and overwhelming challenges they face every day. It’s no wonder they so often under-shoot our expectations from a ministry perspective, because they often feel like “sheep without a shepherd.” And that’s exactly why Jesus is asking us to partner with them with a determination to love them well…

Jesus delights in upsetting our apple cart. Just when you think you understand the right approach to a challenge, He throws you for a loop. Here’s Him redefining love: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-44). When parents feel like enemies to us in ministry, that’s just when our Jesus-love needs to kick in. Here are three simple priorities that matter most to empower parents.

  1. Be a parent-listener. As our Vibrant Faith team prepares to launch a major new research project focusing on “Christian Parenting,” we’ve spent months immersed in a wide variety of listening exercises with parents, parenting experts, and ministry leaders who are innovating ways to equip parents. One theme has emerged, over and over: The church is not creating intentional ways to listen to parents—to understand their needs and challenges—nearly enough. The best kind of help we can offer, before we start feeding them resources or programs, is to listen first.
  2. Be a parent-equipper. Find ways to offer parents the information, support, and training they really need. Because they’re very often overwhelmed and unsure about what to do, you can give parents much-needed perspective on cultural influences, counseling basics, and parenting skills. It’s not all on you—you likely have many “experts” in your congregation who’d be willing to offer advice and equipping in these areas.
  3. Be a parent-encourager. What most parents need more than anything is someone who’s for them—who’s on their side, offering them courage to keep going when they’re spent. A lot of the things we do to equip them can morph into parent-support efforts, because you can help connect them with “fellow-traveler” parents and insightful professionals. The idea is to come alongside parents in a way that ensures they know you’re a source of support and encouragement. And there are plenty of ways to do that…

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new small-group curriculum Following JesusHis new book isThe Suicide Solution. He’s general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, includingThe Jesus-Centered Life and the devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus

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