I’ve been a youth pastor for more than two decades and if I have any regret, besides the amount of pizza I’ve consumed, it is that I did not pay more attention to the parents/caregivers of the youth in my groups.
Research, particularly the recent Canadian report, “Hemorrhaging faith: Why and when Canadian young adults are leaving, staying and returning to the church,” consistently points to parents as the key players in the formation of a young person’s faith. This finding is not a shocker, but it was sobering to me when I reflected upon the amount of energy I had given to supporting, visiting with and praying for the parents/caregivers of the youth I had served.
One of the most beautiful circles of support I have ever witnessed was a circle of parents who would meet together each Sunday morning. Their time together was simple. They read some words from a parenting book, shared their stories, offered support and encouragement, and held each other in prayer. My sense was that this Sunday morning circle provided the understanding, solidarity and hope that were not being offered them anywhere else, and that it was sorely needed.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened in the congregations I’ve served if I had offered retreats, regular group meetings, one-on-one coffee times or at least a Friday night bowling outing to the parents/caregivers! This wondering leads me to challenge us to consider making support for parents/caregivers a priority as we continue to renew our practice of youth ministry.
There are wonderful shifts happening in the ways our congregations are accompanying youth, and after reading a variety of recent research reports I’m thinking one good shift would be to pay more attention to the people our youth call Mom and Dad. If these parents/caregivers are not part of our congregation, our supportive efforts could potentially be a welcome gift.
On page 113 of the 138-page “Hemorrhaging faith” report, in the section where the implications of the research were being explored, I read this: “Parents need to be encouraged to model their own faith for their children and to articulate how God works in their lives and their children’s lives, and thus engage in their children’s spiritual journeys.”
Modelling and articulating faith is no small calling; it is a responsibility that lays heavy upon the hearts of parents. As we walk into new forms and expressions of youth ministry, may we find ourselves shaping our ministries in such a way that they are offering the deep encouragement and support parents/caregivers need as they walk the day-in, day-out journey of life with their children.
Kathy Giesbrecht is associate director of leadership ministries for Mennonite Church Manitoba.