SMS: An Open Letter to Parents

Dear Student Ministry Parents,

Hi! Let me introduce myself, my name is Brian Aaby, I have been involved with Youth Ministry for about 20 years, 16 as a Youth Pastor and now I serve as the President of Student Ministry related organization (Youthmark). I want to write this letter to you, parents of students involved in Youth Ministries across the country, just to give you a quick heads-up.

A few weeks ago I walked in to a very familiar setting, the coffee shop that some of my best friends meet in each week. This group of friends represents 5-8 different churches each week (depending on who is able to attend). I love this youth ministry network, but on this particular day, I grieved for this group!  They had the look.

It was early June, too early for the look, but I saw it nonetheless.

Parents, you know the look, because you often have the look.  Metaphorically (or perhaps for real), your feet are sore from all the running around at your job. Your legs are cramping from lifting your own load and carrying the burdens of your family and friends. Your back is tight from the stress the economy has placed on your budget. Your brain feels fried from the bombardment of questions that need to be answered by anyone and everyone. Your hands are calloused due to the constant cleaning, straightening and fixing of everything in your house. And unfortunately, it’s not just your hands that feel calloused, but your heart too. Sometimes you feel unloved, under appreciated and certainly unnoticed.

Yeah, you know that look. Tired. Weary. Questioning.

Yet, like you, most of these youth pastors in my networks (and around the nation), will keep going, because it is their passion, their calling and their love: Your children! They do it not for the money (’cause rarely is there much), they do it not because they couldn’t make it in other careers (unfortunately, we have too many good Youth Pastors leaving because they no longer can afford to be in youth ministry) and they do it not because they NEED the affirmation (because, as mentioned above, it’s just not always there).  They do it because they love to see LIFE!

Youth Pastors (and I’ll expand it to Youth Leaders, many of whom are you–parents), live in the lifestyle of Youth Ministry because they love to see lives changed. They long to see Jesus change hearts. They live to see your students reach out to others with the gospel of Jesus. They pray, plan and produce, so that your children can learn, love and lead!

Parents, youth pastors need to do much more to include you, inform you and appreciate you, NO DOUBT. But as a former youth pastor, I so appreciated when parents went out of their way to draw me in. Youth ministry was such a balancing act, I wanted to pour into students, develop a volunteer team, look good in the eyes of the elders and THEN try to keep parents happy. It was an endless cycle and one that I had NO CLUE about when I was in my lower to mid 20’s (the age of most youth pastors).

That look in June is dangerous, because the summer season hadn’t even begun. Mission trips, camps (i.e. “time away from family”) VBS, fall planning, filling the pulpit for the vacationing senior pastor, weekly studies & programs and all the impromptu events haven’t even happened yet. It’s a look I expect to see in mid-August, not in June. But it is something YOU CAN HELP! You can help GIVE LIFE so that in turn, youth leaders can do the same. Here are a few quick suggestions:

  • Prayer partnership. How cool would it be to have a couple/family take a month to love on and pray for the Youth Pastor (or other pastors for that matter)? 12 couples committed to taking a month… wow! A weekly phone call, a text check-in and an occasional note just reminding them that you’re praying for him/her.
  • Be the last parent to leave. After the mission trip, retreat or camp, as the parking lot empties, the Youth Pastor always remains to pick up the leftover sleeping bag, suitcases and the lone-sock. Yep, there is always a single sock that somehow makes it way out into the parking lot.  What if you volunteered to stick around and clean out the van and let him/her get home to his/her family?
  • Date Night. We longed for this (still do). A night in which a trusted family volunteered to come to our house and watch our kids (even for an hour or two) so that we (as a couple) could reunite. The 10 days of the mission trip being away from my wife/kids was very hard, but then to try to re-engage in the midst of chaos at home made it feel like the 10 days extended to 30 (she needed a break, I wanted a break, etc.). Your willingness just to give these youth ministry couples even two hours will lead to a healthier marriage and ministry.
  • The Simple “Thank You.”  This is by far the least costly, but often the most-rewarding. A specific thank you from a  parent (and student) is often the Gatorade of the youth ministry marathon. It tastes great and refuels.
There are so many more that I can think of and plan to implement even now as a recipient of a great Children’s Ministry at our church. I want to be aware of the look in every ministry.
Parents, thank you for allowing youth leaders to have influence in the lives of your students. We count it an honor to impact lives  (and be impacted by you and your family as well) and the more healthy we are as youth ministers the better impact we can have. We know it goes both ways and we truly do desire to improve the relationship with parents!
My hope is that this open letter will lead to even one step toward unity in the body (1 Cor. 12). I long to see our youth pastor network feeling refreshed because of the refuge they have not just in each other, but in the parents in their ministries. My prayer is that even one parent will read this and respond with an action. I long to see that look even less! Love well. Others will know us by our love!
Grace,
Brian
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