"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Family Ministry

Working With Your Kids' Families

Jim Burns

I never thought I would publicly say this, but I actually miss one of the rowdiest and most hyper students I have ever worked with, Danny. Danny could not sit still; he interrupted almost every lesson I ever gave while he was in the group. His foot was tapping at all times; he talked loud, and he talked fast. He was a bundle of energy. His family did not attend our church, so I reluctantly became his personal chauffeur after meetings, It never failed that as the youth group was dispersing to head for home, Danny would come bouncing up to me and ask me for a ride home. He couldn't even sit still in my car. He fidgeted and talked during the entire ride to his house.

One evening after attending a seminar on family ministry, I decided that it was time to meet Danny's parents. As much as I don't like visiting families (since I'm basically shy), it seems that every time I do, good things come from it. When we rolled up to Danny's house that night, I asked Danny if I could meet his parents. He said sure and ran (Danny never walked) inside, leaving me at the door. Finally his mother came to the door and invited me in. She was a beautiful woman with true Southern hospitality. For some reason I couldn't put Danny's hyperactivity together with his mother's slow, calm spirit. His mother then called for her husband, Dan, to come out of the back room to meet the minister. Literally bouncing out of the back room came Dan, pumping my hand and talking even louder and faster than Danny. I couldn't help but smile and think "So that's why Danny acts the way he does."

Sometimes we in youth ministry forget that kids have parents and that they are part of a family system. Their actions, socialization process, and faith are all intertwined with their family. No one is an isolated island. Our family heredity and environment play the most significant factor in who we are and who we are becoming. Because of this truth, youth workers are involved in family ministry whether it is in their job description or not. Youth workers can no longer afford to compartmentalize their ministry to work only with kids. The family plays too much of an important role in the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical development of young people.

As discussed in previous chapters, the American family is caught in transition. The nuclear family is now a minority in the United States. Today when parents say to their kids, "when I was your age," their children snicker and say "another place, another time." Parents are no longer secure about their parenting ability. They are often paralyzed with fear, and because of this fear they quit parenting all together. Instead of digging in and preparing for this new world of adolescence, they give up and let the young people guide themselves. You don't need to look very far in your group to see exactly what I'm writing about.

Our Task: Support

No matter what the family situation is like, you can never take the place of the parent. Don't even try. Your task is to support and strengthen the existing family unit. A few years ago in preparation for a Youth Specialties seminar on "The Family and Youth Ministry," veteran youth worker Rich Van Pelt polled a number of successful youth ministries across the country He asked this question: "What are you doing as a youth worker to help families succeed?" The overwhelming response was "I believe it ought to be happening, but I just haven't gotten around to doing it! It's one of those items on my `to-do list' that I never seem to get around to doing."

In order to meet the goal of strengthening and supporting the family, you'll need to see your ministry to parents and families in light of these three objectives: l) Communicate clearly to parents; 2) challenge kids to make their family a priority; 3) provide resources and opportunities for family ministry.

Communicate Clearly to Parents

One of the main complaints that parents have about youth workers in the church is that the parents perceive the youth worker as doing a poor job of communicating with them. Youth workers can't assume that their students are passing on important information to their parents. I've been asked numerous times, "Why didn't you tell me the money was due yesterday?" I would reply, "I sent a letter to your daughter and reminded the entire group every time we were together for the last month." However, the parent would say, "Well, I'm sorry, I never heard about it."

It's important to keep the parents informed about your events. It is also important to let the parents know who you are and what your role is. As a parent myself, I don't blame them for being suspicious of who is spending time with their kids. I also don't blame them for wanting to know your role in their child's life. It's very important that you let them know that you are there to support them and not compete with them.

I suggest that in the first year of your ministry at a church you should attempt to meet with every family in the youth group. This way they know you, and they will undoubtedly feel more comfortable about the "mystery person" at church that their son or daughter talks about. Most youth workers are much younger than the parents of the kids in their group. However, this should not stop the youth worker from developing meaningful relationships with the parents.

Holding a parents' informational meeting at least twice a year is a necessity for good communication with the parents. A regular mailing to the parents covering upcoming events, topics to be covered in the forthcoming weeks, and any other important youth group happenings will alleviate many of the complaints about a lack of communication. If you have attempted to visit the family, have held parents' informational nights, and have sent regular mailings to the parents, but they still complain, then most likely they are the problem and not you.

Family Is a Priority

It's no secret that many students have strong confrontations with their parents as they develop their independence. Yet when it comes to resolving these conflicts, too many kids expect their parents to do most of the work. My ministry has made a shift toward challenging students to take more responsibility for helping to resolve difficult family situations. There is no reason why young people can't begin to view family conflict from both sides of the fence.

A few weeks ago one of the guys in my group was complaining about his parents' irritability I innocently asked if his parents were under much stress at home or work (or financially). He replied, "Have you talked with them? My dad has moved out; my mom lost her job, and we might lose our house." I asked, "Don't you think that could be causing their irritability?" We then went on to talk about how he could help be a solution to their turmoil rather than another problem.

There are five important things which high schoolers need to understand about their parents in order to take more responsibility in working through conflicts. These ideas are for "normal" families; they do not apply to families with intense or complex problems.

Parents have problems too. We should ask the kids in our groups to walk in their parents' shoes and look at some of the pressures and struggles which their parents are facing. Kids can be very self-absorbed. They need to be reminded that there are other people in their family besides themselves.

Our high school Sunday school class once invited a panel of parents to participate in a series on "Getting Along With Your Parents." We chose a divorced mother, two sets of married parents, and my wife for the panel. We asked them to share with the group some of the problems and struggles they faced as parents. What a response! The parents shared deep feelings about loneliness, insecurity at work, financial pressures, relational struggles, and problems communicating with their kids. It was an eye-opening experience for our kids to hear that parents have many of the same problems that they have.

Communication is a key. Most parents do want to communicate with their children. They simply do not know how to, and their children are not much help. A typical conversation between a parent and a high schooler would go something like this: "How was school today?" "Okay" "What did you learn?" "Nothing." We must challenge our youth to initiate communication and conversation. We can give them the tools to help them discuss their feelings rather than merely the curt facts.

Steve Dickie, the junior high pastor at my previous church, developed an excellent resource for helping our junior highers and their parents communicate about what the kids were learning in the youth group. Each week after the meeting he would put out "Parents' Information Sheets" for each parent to pick up and use as a tool for family discussion during the week.

Spend time together. With our hurried lifestyles today, some parents and teenagers cross paths at only a few meals each week. Why not encourage our young people to take the initiative to ask Mom to do something she likes to do, or to ask Dad to go to a ball game? Often the best communication takes place in a neutral environment like a lunch date or shopping at the mall.

Some of the best times with my dad during my adolescent years were when we would work in the yard together or when I would go with him to his office and "help." This usually gave us some quality time alone and a meal together with his full attention.

Let's challenge our high schoolers to initiate a "date each month" with each parent. We can brainstorm creative dates with parents at a group meeting. Here are a few ideas from our youth group:

? Play tennis

? Go to a play

? Eat out for three dollars

? Volunteer at a local hospital together

? Read a book together

? Take a class together at a community college (photography, crafts, computers)

God gave us our parents. "You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:13-16).

God had an intricate part in bringing parents and children together. However, kids in truly difficult family situations may think that this verse is a cruel joke. Yet most will understand the fact that no parent is perfect. Even in difficult situations, God can be a part of their relationships. A very mature junior in high school recently said to me, "I've finally accepted the fact that even though my father is an alcoholic, he loves me-and God has used me to help other kids who have alcoholic parents."

Honor and obey. Exodus 20:12, Colossians 3:20, and Ephesians 6:1 tell us that honor and obedience are well-pleasing to God. Students need to be reminded that God's desire is for them to honor and obey their parents. I am not talking about blind obedience; I am simply saying that high schoolers should be challenged with this scriptural mandate.

Gently reminding our youth that they can be instruments of God (and can at times lead the way in building a more positive environment at home) is an important ingredient of high school ministry. Parents have problems too, and some of the most influential healers in a parent's life can be his or her own children.

Your Number One Job

Since most youth workers are not looking for more things to do in a day, making time for family ministry becomes a matter of how high a priority it is within your ministry. One of my biggest struggles in ministry is not having enough time to do all that sbould be done. When it comes to family ministry, you'll need to realize that you will never be able to do all you want to do. However, this should not keep you from providing excellent resources and opportunities for family ministry.

Listed below are ten ideas to assist you in the ministry and care of parents and families.

1. Parents' information meeting. Hold a meeting at least twice a year to communicate the direction of the youth ministry with the parents. Keep the meeting informative, enjoyable, positive, and relational.

2. Parents' advisory board. Have a small get-together in the casual setting of a home to brainstorm ideas with parents. This can also become a support group for the youth ministry.

3. Parents' update. Provide a regular mailer (my goal was six times a year) to the parents communicating upcoming events, topics to be covered, and additional resources for parenting skills.

4. Visit in the bome. You can learn a lot about a family from being in their home and observing how they relate to each other. If you've been in their home, they will feel more comfortable about coming to you with their problems.

5. Mothers' tea. Have a regular meeting with the mothers to discuss the youth group. Talk about their kids and pray for the group. This can become a support group for the mothers.

6. Dads' breakfast. Provide a regular time for the fathers, using an agenda similar to that of the mothers' tea.

7. Family camps. The youth ministry can sponsor a camp which is geared to dealing with family relationships. Have the students serve their families during this time together.

8. Family resources. Many churches are now providing resource centers for parents. In the resource center you can provide a place for checking out good books, tapes, and videos to assist parents of teenagers.

9. Parent/teen meetings. Good family interaction and ministry can be enhanced through intergenerational programs which give the parents and their teenagers the opportunity to interact and discuss important topics.

10. Parents' seminars. Periodically throughout the year you can provide opportunities for parents to receive tools to help them become more effective parents. Topics can include substance abuse, sex, communication, and self-image.


Junior High Ministries


Seeing things from your parents' point of view.


As we continued our look at the theme of moms, dads, and other endangered species, we focused on what it means to see life from our parents' point of view. We accomplished this task by focusing on understanding our parents' needs, and then taking very real and practical steps toward meeting them.


1. We must understand that parents have physical, emotional, social, and mental needs that need to be met (just like we do).

2. We must take action on meeting those needs. (We discussed some practical steps.)

a. Ask your parents' forgiveness if you have been a cause of conflict.

b. Begin to cooperate with them.

c. Tell them you love them.

d. Avoid raising your voice with them . . . anytime.

e. Thank them for all the things they have done for you.

f. Prove to them, through obedience, that you are responsible.

Family Discussion Questions

1. List your basic needs. Share them with each other.

2. Parents, share with your junior highers the answer to these questions:

When do you feel lonely?

How do you feel about your job? How do you feel about yourself?

3. Junior highers, ask your parents how they would like you to understand them better.

4. Read Philippians 2:3. How could this apply to parents and their junior highers understanding each other?

5. Make out a list of practical things you can do to see life from each other's point of view.

Recommended Reading

Try these great resources on parenting junior highers. A detailed bibliography is available from the junior high office.

1. Parents and Teenagers, by Jay Kesler.

2. When a Junior Higher Invades Your Home, by Cliff Schimmels.

3. Ignite the Fire (Kindling a Passion for Christ in Your Kids), by Barry and Carol St. Clair.


This article was taken from The Youth Builder (Today?s Resource for Relational Youth Ministry), by Jim Burns. Used by permission. You can acquire this book either from "YouthBuilders" at http://www.youthbuilders.com/ or from Amazon.com through our site at http://reachout.gospelcom.net/bookstore.asp .


Jim Burns is the President of the YouthBuilders, formerly the National Institute of Youth Ministry. His passion is communicating to young people and adults practical truths to help them live out Christian lives. Highly respected for his expertise in the area of youth ministry, family and parenting issues, Jim is the author of many books and speaks to thousands of young people across the nation. Each month in the United States and abroad people either hear Jim speak or use his written or video materials. He is a frequent guest on television and radio dealing with parenting issues and youth culture. He and his wife, Cathy, and their children Christy, Rebecca and Heidi, live in Dana Point, California.

About YouthBuilders:

YouthBuilders is a non?profit organization that exists to empower young people and their families to make wise decisions and experience a vital Christian lifestyle. We accomplish this by: training and assisting youth workers, educating and equipping parents and motivating and guiding young people.

YouthBuilders trains youth workers, works directly with students and provides parent forums for churches and communities in the United States and abroad. YouthBuilders is a resource for youth organizations and churches around the world with many of their resources translated into other languages. YouthBuilders expects to reach one million kids with their materials and training this year. Visit them at http://www.youthbuilders.com.

BOOKS by Jim Burns:


Addicted to God (Regal Books)

Getting In Touch With God (Harvest House)

Radical Christianity (Regal Books)

Radical Love (Regal Books)

Spirit Wings (Servant Publications)

Surviving Adolescence (Regal Books)


The Youth Builder (Harvest House)

The YouthBuilders Group Bible Study Series (Gospel Light)

?The Word on Sex, Drugs and Rock n? Roll

?The Word on Prayer and the Devotional Life

?The Word on the Basics of Christianity

?The Word on Being A Leader, Serving Others and Sharing Your Faith

?The Word on Helping A Friend In Crisis

?The Word on the Life of Jesus

?The Word on Finding and Using Your Spiritual Gifts

?The Word on the Sermon on the Mount

?The Word on Spiritual Warfare

?The Word on the New Testament

?The Word on the Old Testament

?The Word on the Family

?The Word on Sexual Gender Identity Issues