Shaping the Family
I have been working with teen’s full time for twenty years now and I love watching young lives change and be transformed by the Spirit of God. However, it has been during the last three years of my life that my understanding of working with teens has changed drastically. I became a parent of teenagers. I’ve found out quickly that it is very different to have a teen with you all day everyday than it is to have them in highly socialized settings two to three hours a week. Parenting a teen can be a draining experience as you balance their need for an emerging autonomy and your charge to see them grow into a healthy adult.
As I think back to my early years of ministry I remember times being so frustrated with the parents of the students I served. These parents, in my eyes, were barely around and didn’t seem to care about the spiritual growth of their kids. As a result I tended to ignore their presence and did what I felt charged by God to do, instill spiritual values into their teens. As the years progressed my understanding of parents and families matured and I began to see the parents truly are primary to the faith development of students. I realized that my call was not just to the student, but also to the entire family, because you can never treat a child a part from their home. During this time I began changing my approach and started to find ways to partner with families so that together we could see students lives transformed.
Over the last few years Reggie Joiner has helped give this idea a vocabulary that has helped me communicate the process of partnering with parents more effectively. The key is that combined influences are more impacting that two separate influences. In this “ORANGE” model, the color YELLOW represents the church, the light to the world, and RED represents the home, the heart’s place of comfort. In every teen’s life both colors have influence, however, when those influences are combined you get an impact that is greater than the sum of the two individual parts.
I feel that the future of youth ministry needs to have an ORANGE component in its DNA. During the SHAPE conference I shared about this concept and gave five key elements that must be integrated into a youth ministry. These areas were:
- Help lower the bar of expectations – This one is a bit controversial to some, but I ask you to think through the biblical examples of the family and show me where the family doesn’t look messy. We underestimate the impact small steps on the faith journey have upon a young soul. Therefore we need to help families be released from the grip of guilt and embrace the small teachable moments when they arise.
- Help create a web of support – The future youth pastor needs to develop a key skill; to be able to connect other adults with the life of the teens they serve. Youth ministry needs to work to connect five adults into the life of every teen.
- Help develop new family faith practices – By allowing families to serve together, or giving them questions to ask during side-by-side moments (such as driving to a rehearsal), we can help equip parents to be soul shapers. This is a new concept for most of our parents so we need to help give them small steps they can take.
- Help care for spiritual orphans – There is no doubt that not all parents have an interest in their students’ faith journey. For those that don’t have that family support, maybe the church needs to pick up the charge of caring for orphans in the spiritual sense as well.
- Develop Congregational Care – Currently the best our churches have to offer to our students is a sense of ambient care. We need to change this into a reality of congregations taking ownership and pride in all the children and teens that are a part of their community.
In the future I’ll be writing more about each of these areas. They all have deep implications and will take a lot of purposeful work to help develop best practices. I invite your input, ideas and success stories for each of these areas. Together we may be able to see the change in families that will truly launch the next generation of kingdom champions.