I realized as you dropped your teenager off tonight just how little we’ve really interacted. We’ve smiled, waved, and given the occasional Christian side hug or holy nod of acknowledgement. Mostly our interaction, though, is very impersonal and sporadic – unless I have dropped the ball on something (which I confess does occasionally happen), in which case it becomes intensely personal. I have been thinking for quite some time now that perhaps it’s because I have not adequately shared with you who I am, what our ministry needs, or how much I desperately want to partner with you in ministry to your kids (as opposed to my initial inclination…which – again I’ll confess – is that you really just don’t care at all about the youth ministry unless there is a mistake, real or perceived.) Thus the impetus for this letter.
- Please Get To Know Me: I am not sure if you know things have been kind of tough these days? I am working on a shoestring here. The pastor is on my case because those street kids are finally coming (and he’s worried about it.) My wife is pregnant again – but we haven’t told anyone since she lost the baby last time. I am trying to finish up my last seminary class…and my secretary keeps sending out stuff without asking me to proof it first. I don’t have a single place to go where I am not seen as ‘the youth pastor’ – so I’m lonely, isolated, and always ‘on.’
- Partner With Me: I am not here to replace you, supersede you, undermine you, or even ‘influence’ you. I want to come alongside your family and help however I can. I’m not always sure the best way to do that – or if you’re even open to that. And I will be the first to admit that I am not a parent of a teenager. I have a six year old…and a calling from God to work with teenagers. So I try to know some great parenting and ministry strategies that might help in your family’s context – but freely admit that most times (like it always is with teenagers) some of this is theoretical until put into practice.
- Please Get to Know Your Child: Don’t misread what I am saying here. I know that you are the most important influence in your kid’s life. But kids change as they take on hormones, hair styles, and high school. They are dancing a new dance….and I see that when we spend time together. Sometimes, I also see you dancing a different dance. I want to help you guys dance together…to the same music…on the same dance floor. There are things your kids are saying to you – and things they are not. Are you hearing both? From my bird’s eye view – I hear a LOT!
- Over Communicate with Me: Now let’s be clear – I’m not just talking about when I’ve done something that has rubbed you the wrong way. You don’t seem to have a problem over-communicating then…with me and anyone else within earshot. But over-communicate with me when you see that I need some encouragement. Over-communicate with me when your family has needs that I miss. Over-communicate with me (peacefully) when you need more information on an event than I have provided. And over-communicate with ME – not the pastor, not the secretary, not the elders, and not my wife. If we can’t clear it up, then let’s both go over-communicate with someone who can help us figure it out.
- Don’t Give Up On Me: Before you decide that I will “never” be any better, please see me with the eyes of Christ. Remember, I need Him too (even though – and maybe especially – because I work in the church!) And though I am young (or inexperienced or not a parent or disorganized or untrained), I also love your teenager (and you!) Writing me off is the quickest way to insure that I will never gain experience, organization, or a leg up on how to do ministry well with parents.
- Treat Us Like A Family: My family is a package deal. When you attack me, corner my wife, or say something snide to my kids…we all take that home to roost with us. We all live alongside one another here – and where we work is also where we go to church. Most people get to leave their jobs when they come to worship. And very few have more than a couple of bosses –all communicating different expectations. I have 1,200…and they all feel like they can boss my wife and kids, as well. We’re also sacrificing a lot that people in other jobs don’t sacrifice – health insurance, family vacations beyond our own living room, date nights, and a normal schedule. We love it – and we choose it….but it would be nice if someone would a) recognize that occasionally, and b) respect it when we finally do have a few moments of family time just before I jet off with your kids, leaving mine at home.
- Parent Meetings: Recognize the gold-mine you have in this little gem. I know you get sick of hearing the same things over and over (trip details, vision/mission statements, leadership introductions and the like). But please see more. This is an opportunity for you to meet other parents who are going through the same life stage as you. It’s an opportunity to think through the logistics and ask questions so you don’t have to call me in a panic three hours before we leave on a 10-day excursion (please also note #6). It’s a chance for you to judge my heart and character…beyond what’s written on the trip agenda.
- Get Involved: You have so much more to offer your student than I ever will. God has given you this high calling – and I know sometimes it’s hard to live it out at home with your kids showing visible disdain for you and not listening to a thing you say. (Trust me – I feel the pain, as well!) Maybe you could consider being involved in the youth ministry because of what God has to offer through you instead of what YOU have to offer ME – I bet we could both be working toward the same ministry goals and aspirations. (And by the way, your kids might actually start to see you in a different light if you joined us as a youth leader instead of a youth parent.)
As I read all that I have written, I hope it doesn’t sound angry or arrogant. I understand how difficult it is to live with your teenager day in and day out and then hand them off to some guy who may or may not be as careful or intentional as you are about raising them. I’ve heard how they talk to you sometimes – and I want you to know I am doing my best to stand in the gap for you – leverage what little influence I have in the life of your teenager – to point their hearts toward you and toward Jesus.
(P.S. This year, as we have another baby, things will change for our family. I am hoping to glean some wisdom and experience from those of you that have been there/done that! I hope I can count on you to help me with my family – you can surely count on me to help you with yours (even if I don’t always have the camp logistics just right!) J
“The Youth Pastor”