Wanted: Parents

 —  August 1, 2014 — 1 Comment

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Just today I had a conversation with a church leader who said, “The reality is most parents just don’t engage.” Unfortunately, I have this conversation multiple times a week with various leaders in the local body of Believers.

What’s always fun for me is to unpack how I feel as a parent. My kids are in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade and college. My husband and I answer questions daily that range from, “Why hasn’t my growth spurt come yet?” to “Do you think I’m fat?” to “Can you give me a breakdown on the book of Levitcus?” (Yes, I’m serious about that one.) to “Why can’t I use my technology for 24 hours straight?” Everywhere I turn there is a new obstacle to jump in raising two and ½ teens. We drink angst for breakfast in our home.

Some days I feel like I am hiding in the bathroom for a breath while they are outside pounding at the door. I just want a moment. Listen, it isn’t that I don’t want to engage. WE ARE OVERWHELMED.

Then your kids enter an age where they are trying to stretch out their proverbial wings of freedom and you think you are just supposed to let them go. Perhaps, you want to hold on too tightly. This makes us appear disinterested or overprotective. So your observation may be correct. Perhaps we are not engaging the way we should. Here are my thoughts to “other” parents out there like me:

 Engage:

Our kids want us. They are in a tug of war between wanting all of us and wanting to be independent. They don’t want us to push them away. They want to do the pushing and know we aren’t moving.

 Show Up:

So often we over-complicate the matter. Our child says, “Come to my game,” then tell us not to scream too loudly while we’re there. We interpret this as, “They don’t want us.” I promise they do. When we aren’t at the game it matters. Be present.They need it.

 Be the Parent:

As my kids get older this can be harder than I think. Sometimes we have the same interests or can carry conversations on the same level. Yet, they are still looking to us for direction and support. They are looking for accountability in the way we parents provide, as they move towards adulthood.

I know this seems oversimplified. I think it goes like this for both us parents and youth people alike: I PROMISE there is no one else your child wants more than you. Now you might be a single parent, divorced, a grandparent, friend or foster parent raising a child. They need you. They need us. More importantly, even when they don’t know how to show it. They want us.

What are you doing?

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Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 1.39.09 PMWorking with parents is one of the most critical (and often confusing) aspects of student ministry. The dynamics of this can be very complex, depending on one’s context. Some are in a context where parents are highly involved and can be overbearing with opinions. Others are in contexts where the vast majority of parents are absent entirely and the work it takes to get parents to engage at any level is exhausting. Then, there are many serving in a context where parental involvement is all over the spectrum and trying to balance this in ministry events/trips/small groups/etc is tiresome, to say the least. The good thing is there are all sorts of resources you can check out for help in these areas.

But there are very little if any for college ministry, specifically.  In fact, I think much of that is due to the fact that people don’t think ministering to parents is a core part to being in college age ministry.

Granted, there is some truth to this. They are over 18 years old and therefore don’t need parental permission slips for over night retreats. Many have moved away to go to school or have moved out of the house and therefore are outside of some of the natural daily “oversight” of parents.

But in college ministry there is a whole other world to working with parents. The biggest difference is the dynamics of relationship. At this stage both child and parent(s) are trying navigate their change in roles and how they are supposed to or want to relate to one another. This can be very complex during this life stage and can be disheartening for families. Parents are wondering what their child needs from them and how they can help. The child is musing on how much they actually want their parent(s) to be around and involved…and then in what areas, specifically.

Complex parental situations come up in things like:

  1. When the child “walks away” from the Church. Out of a desire to have the best for their children, sometimes parents can make unrealistic demands. They often will ask, “I was wondering if you could give my son a call because I’m worried about him.” Although I understand the heartfelt desire for someone to reach out to their child, this is simply weird. And, thus, you have a new complexity to working with parents.
  2. When the child is making a shift in convictions. When a parent sees their child holding to different convictions than they were raised with, parents will often rely on for answers. This might simply be in the means of advice for them, but it can also mean they are looking to you to solve the issue. And, sometimes, the child is embracing a different conviction from their parents because they have been listening to your teaching! And, thus, you now have a new complexity to working with parents.
  3. When dating goes a different direction. When a parent does not support a dating relationship their child is in it can become very complex for you in college ministry. The child seeks your advice because they don’t see eye-to-eye with their parents, which this is a tough balance to keep as a leader because you don’t want to unnecessarily create more division between the child and parent through your counsel. Secondly, sometimes the parents will contact you as a leader and ask you to “talk some sense” into the child. But often times you don’t think the parent is correct. And, thus, you now have a potentially complex ministry with parents.

There are all sorts of myths out there, but don’t buy into the one that says you don’t have to deal with parents if you’re in college ministry.

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After what I like to call the “year long winter,” I think summer is FINALLY around the corner!  For us youth people it means trips, camps, and deeper relational building. Recently, I realized something about my own attitude about summer: “Parents want to give their kids something to do, so I better step up and offer more.”

As a parent of three kids who are “not quite old enough to work” I get it. We take maybe a week of family vacation. The other weeks upon weeks of summer are filled with my children continuously mouthing the words, “I’m bored,” over and again. By the time they hit Middle School they feel too old for day camp, (if you can even afford it in the first place) and there are only so many water activities or time at home you all can endure. Once a summer we can afford something awesome, and then it’s over. So as the youth person I want to provide something that takes it off the parent who is probably working anyway. Bored kids seem to find drama, so I want them to stop wandering aimlessly. Yet, I have been challenged this summer to see if there is anything I can do to empower parents to engage their children. It’s the perfect time. Schedules are more relaxed and we aren’t focused on school, pressure is off until band or sports camp.

Here are some ideas to put in the hands of parents:

Before & After Trip Materials:

There are loads of materials out there to put in parents hands for before and after missions trips. (Simply has been sending out freebies on this topic for weeks now.) However, what about before and after camp as well? As a parent your child comes home from camp and you ask, “What did you learn this week?” They don’t know how to filter the emotions and express themselves. They say, “It was awesome.” or “I gave my life to Jesus,” (again) or “The Theme was Growing in the Lord.” The well engaged parent says, “Tell me about it.” Then your introvert child says, “Do we have to talk about this?” Provide the parent with ways they can help their kids take what they have learned and use it as a catalyst for a deeper relationship with Christ. Try providing an idea list like “Finding Jesus on Vacation.” What are some ways their kids can take the fun time on vacation and see the Lord in the everyday? I am working on a list right now for my parents.

They Can Do THIS!

How can they engage their kids spiritually daily? Many parents are intimidated because they are not theologians. A friend of mine recently challenged me: “You are a youth pastor, you are constantly thinking about how to engage your kids for Christ, the rest of us regular parents don’t think that way.” I would take it a step further: It’s my personality. My husband is also a “youth person” and doesn’t think like that either. They also think they have to be spiritual giants to talk Christ with their kids. Just put materials in their hands that allow them to grow with their child. What about some of the textable devotions? Instead of sending them yourself, give the parent the list, and help them know how to use it. They can send the devo to their whole family and then have a five minute conversation about them at some point in the day.

Practical Ideas:

Parents need IDEAS. What are some things they can do with their kids to engage them in thinking about God on a regular basis? What about planning out a “Random Acts of Kindness” summer? Their kids come up with ways they can bless their neighbors throughout the summer: bake some cupcakes and drop them off, pull weeds in a garden, mow a lawn. Is there a way they can be “Kindness Spies?” Can they go the whole summer and never get caught in the things they plan? Spend an afternoon making encouragement cards and drop them off at a local nursing home. Send them cameras or phones to take pictures of God in creation. Help them with the everyday stuff that’s quick and easy. Yes, their kids will say, “It’s dumb.”  Yes, their kids will learn something on the other side. :)

Whatever you do with students for the summer, there are going to be far more bored hours at home than anywhere else. Let parents know this is the PERFECT time to get to know their kids, and together to seek God. Every parent can DO this! Put the power back in their hands.

What else can you offer this summer?

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If I ask you why you care students are in your youth ministry, you will probably say something about helping them growing in “their faith.”  I inquire, “Okay, who do you want them to be?” You say something about them being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet, if we are honest when we take a step back and look at how we RUN our ministries, it is not always with the end “result” in mind. We plan a calendar, take trips, run small groups, and do activities. Some of us will say our focus needs to be helping parents disciple their children, others say we need to build student leaders, outreach, share the Gospel, or simply pour into our youth. However, I would contend there are two questions that should drive everything we do in our ministries.

1.  When a student leaves us, what will they look like?

I, of course, am not talking about their voice and body changing into an adult. Let’s say a family enters your church and has a baby. This baby grows up in the church through all the ministries and then graduates, leaves home, and heads out into the “real world.” Who is that young adult? A fully devoted follower of Christ? What does that mean? Do they read their Bible everyday, tell others about Christ,  pray often, and enter the mission field?  What is it? How is everyone in your church working together to see this happen?  The time of the “siloh” between nursery, children, youth and adults needs to be over. What are we doing to work together to grow our children?  Let’s stop “starting over” every time our kids enter a new phase of life, and instead see each of us as part of their journey into their lives as a someone taking the world for Christ.

2.  How does what we are doing “influence” who they are becoming?

The second question has to do with our programming and approach. There was a time where I would say the main question we needed to ask before embarking on anything was, “How does this build a relationship?” That is still vital, and it’s a great filter. Yet, still we have a tendency to make plans based on who is standing in front of us today,  not in the future. When we plan this way, we run everything we do through a sieve of purpose. It helps us know what not to take on, and what might need readjusting. So you take students on a missions trip yearly. Why? How is this part of the journey in the Lord? What do you need to do to get them ready or to follow up with them afterwards? Are you teaching them about service and why that matters when they are 8 or 9-years-old and again and again before the trip ever happens? This helps with equipping parents and growing the body of Christ as a whole.

These are not questions we can ask once, but often. I contend they should be asked anytime the church does anything. At least quarterly, sit down as a full staff and see how you are working together. It doesn’t really matter if a student jumps in when they are 5 or 15-years-old.  When we do ministry this way we are all about moving with Jesus all the time.

Are you asking these questions?

Leneita



We are only one week and a half or so from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.  It is probably one of my favorite times of the year.  This particular conference has truly become a place where I gather with friends to talk about ministry.  I learn so much, I laugh and I hang out with people who “get me.”  In addition I have the honor of teaching and serving on peer panels.  This is how I get to meet those with fresh ideas and hear about youth min. all over the world.  I thought it might be fun to share what I am teaching this year and why it’s close to my heart.

I mean you see the titles, you read the bios, but do you have any idea why us speakers care about what we do?  So this week I would like to break down my sessions for you.

 

Partnering With A New Generation Of Parents: (Saturday, 9 AM):

I have been in some form of family ministry for over two decades now.  (Yes, that means I’m old.)  When I started out it was in a rural area.  The running joke has always been that it took forever to gather all of my students not because I had so many, but because they lived so far away from each other.  This was the first time I was exposed to “Christian” households that hid affairs, problems and issues.  Most of my students did have two parents in the home, but that didn’t mean they were happy homes.  Fast forward as the Lord plops me in the inner city.  I remember in my first week a 10 year old girl asking me my age.   When I told her, “24,” her response was a gleeful, “That’s the same age as my Mom!” I honestly, had no idea how to respond, as the reality of two things hit me:  1. How young her Mom was when she had her.  2.  She had 2 siblings.

I continued to meet students in these areas who came from single parent households.  Dads were nonexistent in their lives.  It was not uncommon for there to be multiple children with the same Mom and different fathers.  Time marched on and I began to help out with suburban youth ministry.  I saw patterns of divorce there.  I met kids from rich homes whose parents were workaholics.  I talked with churches all over the country and I started hearing the same stories.  The traditional “family unit” was melting away.  Grandparents and family members  were raising grandchildren. Kids were growing up in foster care and group homes.  Children were navigating four parents as divorce and remarriage occurred.  The situations may have looked different at one time in rural, suburban and inner city areas,  however,  I have seen in recent years that the same scenarios are playing out everywhere.

Honestly, I pointed fingers at who I thought were “unworthy” to spiritually lead their children.  I put myself in the position of Savior and Hero when everyone else let them down.  That’s when the Lord convicted me of 3 things:

     No matter how much time I spent with any student at some point they would “go home.”

I could not ever be the Savior, there is only one.

God’s heart for the family is for it to be whole.  

The Lord pointed me to places in His Word about His thoughts of the family and the way He wants it to be.  I saw that as I decided that “some” parents “could” never “get there,”  I was actually becoming part of the problem and not the solution.

That’s why I have taken up the cause to see every parent, every family the way the Lord does: redeemed.  Will every family get there?  Of course not.  Is it what Jesus longs for?  Absolutely.  My responsibility is to keep asking Him to give me His eyes in the situation.

I feel responsible to learn how to partner with this new generation of families, and help them see what Christ does.  Will you join me as we learn how to do this together?

Do you have any specific questions on this topic you might like me to answer in my workshop?

Tune in tomorrow for: “Building Relationships In A Fake Relational World.”
Leneita / @leneitafix

shareThis past weekend we opened up summer camp registration. So we themed this past weekend “Summer Camp Stories Weekend.” We had students share their testimonies about how summer camp impacted their life. They shared on stage in front of their peers during our services. We had 5 students share, and that was the message for the weekend. I will say it is definitely one of our most powerful weekends. Our attendance even increases. It’s just something about a student sharing their life’s story that grabs the attention of their peers.

In order for you to share your testimony you have to go through a process. Now, I started a process a while back that I didn’t know would be so impactful, but it has definitely taken our stories weekend to a whole-notha-level!!! A key ingredient in the very detailed process that I do is meeting with the student parents. I have the student read their story to their parents before they share it on stage. So the student, their parents and I, meet together. Whether they share or not, depends on how this meeting goes. I share with their parents what testimonies are all about and why we do them, and the student reads it right there in front of us. I’ve done a ton of these, and I can tell you that God shows up every single time. I’ve seen him restore relationships over and over. I’ve seen him wake parents up from their parenting slumber. I’ve even seen parents who didn’t care anything about God begin coming to church. I’ve even seen parents recommit their lives to Christ after hearing how He’s been changing their child’s life.

It’s hands down one of my favorite things to do because I get to see, without fail, God move. I get to see first hand how much God cares about my students and their families. I’ve seen God restore relationships, I’ve seen parents come to Christ through the power of their child’s story. This is really just a glimpse into the process, but I’ve been having so many conversations with students about the ripple effect this past weekend that I had to share, and encourage you to utilize and share the life change in your ministry. People are attracted to life change. Students are attracted to life change. So share it!

hope it helps

ac



#ILIVEWITHAYOUTHGROUP

 —  January 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

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This post should be about something deep and useful, bullet-pointed for you to apply to ministry. However, daily I navigate my life with a youth group, leading it from the inside out.  You see, I have one child in college, then one each in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Three girls. One boy.

Everyone seems to have advice for you when you have babies. Then you start scrambling for opinions when they are toddlers.  Elementary school brings a rhythm to life. Then one day you wake up and realize time is so short, before your kids will move out of your house. The repercussions of this truth seems to wash over you and a little bit of panic of, “Oh no I have to get it all together NOW,” happens.

photoHere is what no parenting book truly talks about :

Four Kids. Four Distinct Personalities. 
 

 

Ever met those families where everyone seems to have a similar personality? Take my sister and brother-in-law for example.  They are subdued and super laid back.  They have two subdued and laid back teens.  Not in our house.  The college student is the artist.  My 14-year-old is the perfectionist, who may or may not have had a breakdown recently because she “only” has a 4.09 and should have a 4.12. I’ll just leave that there. (She knows I said this and is mortified.) My almost 13-year-old (the boy) is my compassionate, sensitive, people-pleasing, ultra-competitive athlete. My youngest is our “powerful” child ( aka: strong-willed). She has no filter. Seriously, if it enters her head, it comes out of her mouth.

This means parenting uniquely 4 distinct ways, and that can get overwhelming and exhausting.

They have different love languages, learning styles, and points of view on the world.  They each want all of our individualized attention.  Just because we’ve been through this “once” means nothing- nothing at all.  Also, as we are in the midst of this season with three at once right now,  when is there time to learn anything? Think of that in terms of programming.  Maybe the parent that “dumps” their child doesn’t know what to do, and they are awkward and approach it “wrong” and are feeling like they are getting it “wrong” anyway.

There’s No Real “Book” For That

There are books for parents on individual topics like “social media” or “the changing body” or “dating” or “understanding your teen’s mind,” however, there is no book that tells you how to handle everything at once.  Where’s the book that talks about how you’re child is upset because they are not allowed to watch certain movies their friends are,  while another child comes along and tells you that they want to talk about how their friend just “got their period,”  while third child is breaking down because they need help with their homework? Then it comes out that your son is upset, because he isn’t as tall as his other classmates and why won’t his growth spurt happen again, you try to sit down and have a deep talk on identity in Christ with Him and open your Bible,  when you learn that your oldest is posting on Facebook how miserable she is, and you have moved on to a debate with child #3 about how “unfair” it is that she can’t use her technology after 8:00 p.m. You are trying to help them be molded into fully-devoted followers of Christ while they navigate a world that is constantly screaming that this idea is for “grown ups.”

You see there are days when I wish I could just “go to youth group.”  It is a lot easier. There with the other students I get to take time to plan my message and anticipate the questions that will come.  However, at home they come fast and furious, all day, at any hour, and it feels like there is no amount of “preparation” that actually prepares us for what’s going on. Instead, we stand around looking like idiots who have no idea what we’re doing most of the time.

So yes, I tweet out when my kids say stuff that slay me. Sometimes it’s profoundly wise and other times profoundly hilarious. (They even know I do it.)  All my husband and I have is a Bible, prayer and our Savior to make this parenting thing work.  Thankfully, they aren’t “ours” anyway. We just have to believe that we can’t mess them up too much, because God is bigger than us. Follow our journey in our hashtag on twitter: #ilivewithayouthgroup

Tell me, what are you learning?  If you have wisdom on all of this, we’ll take it!

Leneita

@leneitafix

A new generation of families.  

Someone said to me yesterday, “The unconventional family is becoming the new norm.”  Divorced, blended, unchurched, de-churched, and “baby mama,” are all a reality.  Grandparents, foster parents, relatives and friends are all raising “someone else’s” children, right here in America.  I talked to a young woman just the other day who said, “It shocked me when I became a volunteer in a wealthy church how handy my counseling degree would be with those kids. They are abused, neglected and isolated.”

The question is this?  How will we choose to view them?  I had the opportunity last month to speak to the audience at the D6 Family Conference and share my thoughts. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for loving students,

Leneita

@leneitafix