Youth ministers have many roles in the life of a teenager - teacher, friend, mentor, role model, event coordinator, source of wisdom - the list could go on and on. The role of primary discipler in the life of a student, however, should belong to the parents says Brett Levy, minister to youth at First Baptist Church Georgetown.
Having served in ministry for the past 23 years, Levy has seen and tried a myriad of approaches to discipleship, many times with great success. Five years ago, though, Levy realized that the traditional structure of his youth group may be skewed.
While typical youth ministry programming included training volunteers to lead discipleship efforts, Levy found research pointing to parents as the primary influencers in the lives of their teenagers. The biblical command in Deuteronomy 6 for parents to teach the commands to their children continued to resound.
Levy would watch students have amazing, life-changing experiences at youth camp or a weekend retreat and then within five minutes of stepping off the church van, a parent’s response could change everything.
Levy and his leadership team at FBC Georgetown realized that more focused attention needed to be given to resourcing and equipping parents to disciple their children.
“If we are going to disciple teenagers towards life transformation and to understand who Jesus is, we need to transform the adult who they spend the most time with - their mom and dad. We need to turn them into youth ministers,” Levy said.
Acknowledging that every church has a different culture and DNA, Levy recommends some practical tips for youth ministers interested in refocusing their ministry to empower parents to grow in their relationship with Jesus, and in turn help their children grow in their faith, as well.
Provide tools to start spiritual discussions
At FBC Georgetown, Levy identified success as the ability for mom and dad to have spiritual conversations within their home. The church restructured its week and put a primary focus on parents on Sunday mornings. Levy teaches a lesson to the parents and provides three discussion questions for them to bring up with their child during the week to engage in spiritual conversations. This is now the largest class in the church, with an average of 85 parents each week desiring to learn more about God and engage in the life of their children.
“When we said, ‘we want to help you become a better parent,’ they responded because that was a felt need,” Levy said. “We developed a ministry around that felt need.”
Teach a consistent message
When Levy teaches the lesson to students on Wednesday nights, they have already had the conversations at home with their parents about the topic - “which sets the parents up to the be the experts,” Levy stated.
That lesson is then discussed in small groups, with adult leaders going further into the biblical passage. This holistic approach to teaching has provided parents the opportunity to talk to their children about the same message - whether their teen is in 7th grade or a senior in high school. Discussion around the family dinner table or on the way to sports practice can be consistent because everyone in the family is learning the same thing.
Keep informed on what is happening
On youth trips, two students write a recap blog about what happened each day and Levy shares the link with parents, including five to six thoughtful questions regarding the material that was covered. This allows parents to know day-to-day what their children learned when they return home from the trip. The parents are equipped to ask their tired teenager about how they felt God move in their lives.
Intentionally incorporating parents into every study and activity in the youth group has proven to be a monumental shift in the success of FBC Georgetown’s youth ministry. The time, effort and focused energy have resulted in students and their parents are expressing a stronger desire to seek and follow God in their personal lives, which is the greatest reward.
Check out Youth Ministry Conclave October 10-12, 2016, in Arlington for empowering sessions, training and equipping workshops and networking with other youth ministers.