I have spent this past month learning one of the most important lessons of my youth ministry career: what we do is not just about youth.
I am a person who feels called to work with and advocate for our teenagers at every turn, and to that end, I can be rather single-minded. Coordinating ministries to over a hundred 11 – 18-year-olds is enough, I don’t also need to do anyone else’s job.
But as much as I, and the church, and really any organization, likes to work in departments with discrete mission statements and portfolios of responsibility, I think we all know that the real mess of life doesn’t work that way. A crisis in the life of a teenager isn’t just about the teenager, but their parents, their little sibling, their school, their friend group and us, their church. However much it doesn’t fit on our org charts, we are all deeply intertwined with each other. It is when the web is most deeply connected that a child can best be served by their community.
This has come into particular focus this semester because of a larger project on youth volunteer engagement that Matt, Lane and I have been working on with Lance, Lisa Helm, Mike Marshall, and Zhenya. As we talked and planned and brainstormed about how to build a greater culture of youth volunteer engagement, the places we got to were pretty unexpected: we talked about how ill-equipped parents feel to be spiritual leaders (or sometimes even parents) for their kids, about the loneliness of working dads, about faith and hope, and what we wanted, not just for our teenagers, but for adults.
Our teenagers are awesome, and I love them, and you can check out literally any other blog I’ve written to hear me talk about them, but for just a second I want to talk about the people who raise them. This semester I have become acutely aware of the powerful, vulnerable, inspiring way that our youth parents have shown up not just for their kids but each other. One of our moms, Jennifer, started a support group in her own home for parents of teenagers navigating mental health struggles. Another mom, also named Jennifer, is building a community of parents with LGBTIA+ family members and loved ones so that they can be a resource to each other.
We have youth parents who will show up before programming or stay after to just talk to Matt and I, like Melissa or Chip or Kara or Jason, youth parents who have welcomed me into their homes, like Mark and Nina, youth parents who invited me to their family holiday party, like Jeff and Jennifer, youth parents who reach out to other teenagers on their own and write them notes of encouragement, like Linda, youth parents who not only sit with the crying middle schooler but offer to go with me to talk to their parents, like Murphy, and even a youth parent who lent me their car for a week when mine was totaled (hey Elaine).
Youth Ministries is about so much more than youth, it rises and falls with the parents and volunteers who love these teenagers the other 6 days of the week. And I have delighted in watching it rise with them. Learning to better love and care for parents (as well as be loved and cared for by parents) has been one of the greatest joys of this, year 3 of working here.
So this blog is to you, the parents who have gone above and beyond to make this place such an unbelievable blessing. To the so many of you who love your teenagers so well, and love these other teenagers well too. You are so treasured by Matt, Lane, Brenda, Jackie and I, and by those kids too, and if you ever need a reminder, just give me a call, or drop by any Sunday — you know where to find me.
Director of Youth Ministries