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Parents are the worst part of student ministry ... or are they? —

By Joe Smith

Are parents the worst part of student ministry?

For several years I thought so. But then I gained a unique perspective … I became a parent! And when I did I discovered some surprising truths from a different point-of-view. I learned that I had previously judged MYSELF and MY youth ministry by MY intentions – wanting teens to know and love Christ on a deeper level – and judged parents by their actions – if their teens didn’t come that meant they didn’t care.

But the truth was they did value our youth programming, and they did care for their teens’ spiritual walk.


With this new perspective, the new answer to the question of whether or not parents are the worst part of student ministry is: Sometimes … but sometimes it’s us!

With this new perspective I have gone on to develop four observations for youth ministers to consider before pointing the finger at parents for their youth ministry frustrations:


1. Some parents will never get it. There are always a few parents in the crowd who will question, complain and fight you on every move you make – but they are the EXCEPTION. Don’t allow them to overwhelm you with their “suggestions” on how to run your ministry. Look for truth nuggets, give them opportunities to be heard and move on.

You have to move with the movers and move on from those unwilling or unable.


2. It’s not their fault they don’t see the value; it’s mine. If a parent doesn’t understand that our ministry exists to partner with them in discipling their students, that’s my fault. It means I haven’t explained our mission in a way they can understand. I can advertise it however I want, but until I sit down with them and really cast that vision I have no right to complain. As leaders it’s our role to do that very thing: lead.


3. It’s not about me. My first student ministry was built around my personality. I can’t be the whirlwind I was 20 years ago – nor should I be, and neither should you. If you rely on just yourself you will never grow the ministry or its influence past you. Recruit some of your key families to help spread your vision. You might even find a parent who’s better at communicating. Don’t be afraid to empower that communicator and give them more leadership opportunities to pour into other parents.


4. Parents are not the enemy! No matter what it feels like, the truth is we’re all trying our best to raise our kids. Sometimes parents will push sports, work or school over the spiritual development of their children. This can happen unintentionally, so try not to get upset with them – partner with them. It’s a win for us when parents see they are the main influencers of their child’s spiritual life.


Joe_Smith.JPGJoe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He’s also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville, Florida. To contact Joe, send emails to