In my experience I've come across a common assumption among many parents of teenagers in the church. The assumption is that it's the Youth Pastor's job to teach teenagers about the Bible, to model Christian discipleship, and to be the spiritual influence on their kids. It's a fair assumption, I must say, since each of those components should be present in the life and ministry of the youth worker. But the problem with it is that Youth Pastors are extremely ineffective at reaching these objectives. Youth Pastors can teach kids a lot about the Bible but they're not the best or only source for such teaching. Youth Pastors can model Christian discipleship but their modeling will likely be void if they're the only model, and they can be a spiritual influence but they cannot do it alone. The most profound teaching, the most effective modeling, and the most powerful spiritual influence in the lives of teenagers is not the Youth Pastor but the parents. The best youth ministry is the kind that happens at home.
The best way for parents to utilize the influence of a Youth Pastor in the lives of their kids is to model commitment to Christ in daily family life rather than simply handing their kids off for Youth Pastors to carry the burden of influence. The Youth Pastor's influence works best when students are already given a foundation: a model for life and discipleship as well as biblical instruction at home. When a kid has been taught about following Jesus, when their parents have already challenged them to wrestle with and devote themselves to Scripture, and when kids know these things from their parents, then a Youth Pastor can come in as a challenging teacher, a deep spiritual support, and a loving mentor. Those kids, the ones with foundation, are just as in need of a Youth Pastor as anyone. Kids with that kind of foundation still experience depression, confusion, a sense of abandonment, and all sorts of other things for which they need support from someone other than their parents. That's where Youth Pastors come in.
It's not that Youth Pastors can't expect to influence kids whose parents are not a good influence. It's just that parents should understand that those are exceptions to the rule. In just about every case, kids will turn out like their parents. What matters to their parents will probably matter to them... that's at least a good rule to follow. Therefore if parents don't care enough to sit down and read their Bible (not necessarily even with their kids but just on their own), then neither will their kids, no matter how dynamic a teacher their Youth Pastor may be. If parents don't take seriously their own relationship with God, even in the context of other relationships, then neither will their kids, even if the Youth Pastor is a perfect model for Christian discipleship. If parents don't speak spiritual discipline and reinforcement of their kid's value into the lives of their kids, then teens' lives will not reflect the image of God no matter how many times a Youth Pastor tells them that they were created in it.
It all starts at home.
So here's a tip for youth workers... minister to parents or find a church whose family ministries will give life to your ministry. Ask three questions: 1. who, if anyone, is ministering to the lives of parents? 2. Will their vision for ministry give life and momentum to your vision for ministry? And 3. Is it part of the church's culture to foster Biblical teaching, modeling of discipleship, and spiritual influence in the lives of families?
These questions may help provide significant insight into how and why your ministry functions the way it does. It may even help you discern if you're in the right context at all. Family ministry is the heart of Youth Ministry. Indeed it is the heart of the mission of the Church. Families are the agents of global change... more-so than churches... it's time we invested in them.