Parents as Partners

Parents as Partners

I have been a part of the children’s ministry conversation for over 20 years. Several years ago, I was in a conversation with a few friends where we coined the term “Kidmin.” Initially, I saw the issues of parent involvement in the discipleship of their kids as an issue that was founded in children’s ministry leaders setting themselves as experts. Saying, in essence, “drop off your kids; we know what to do.” Like most things, we swung from one extreme to the other. We have gone from a kid pastor as discipleship expert to a kids pastor as cheerleader model. How we engage with parents needs to change.

We have all championed parents as primary in the discipleship process for the past several years. However, we need to move from that model. It’s not that it’s inaccurate, but it’s incomplete. It’s one thing to champion the message “Parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.” It’s a whole other thing to carry this out in a biblical, faithful way that leads to a lasting faith in kids. 

Much good has come from this message and focus! However, there have also been some unintended consequences. I think parents as primary in the discipleship of their children has produced a disengagement by church leaders in the discipleship process. It has also produced a lack of trust by those who lead in the church in the power and place of the church in the life of those we lead. 

Before he left, the charge from Christ was to make disciples; the vehicle he chose for that to take place was the church. This in no way is a diminishment of the family. Still, I believe it is an understanding that our families are not a substitute for the church. Our families are to be a reflection of the church and agents of the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her. We in the church are to love each other as dear brothers and sisters. Our families should be like a little church, and our churches are to be like a little family. 

The church has never been more necessary than it is today. Many things have changed during the covid pandemic; one of those things that have changed is there has been more conversation around ecclesiology, what the church is, and what her role is. Going forward, we need to change our language and structures in how we talk and how we lead. 

Ever since George Barna wrote his book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, this idea and message of “parents are the primary disciple-makers of their kids” has been the prevailing narrative in children’s ministry. So as I type this following sentence, I do so in full awareness of just how much I’m going against the grain…but here it goes. 

We need to move away from language and actions that say parents are primary and move to parents as partners. Now let’s unpack this a bit. 

What do Parents as Partners Look Like? 

  1. Parents as partners is not us supplying resources and parents doing the work. It is us as a church discipling the parents and us as a church discipling kids and parents. Then, parents take what they have seen and experienced and, in turn, disciplining kids at home. 
  2. Parents as partners know the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as primary and our work in home and church as equally necessary. 
  3. Parents as partners see the goal as helping kids live lives of obedience and imitation of Christ, not simply the outward manifestation of good or moral behavior. What does that look like? Eugene Peterson would call it “A long obedience in the same direction.” Bill Hull would say that “Discipleship occurs when someone answers the call to learn from Jesus and others how to live his or her life as though Jesus were living it. As a result, the disciple becomes the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus did.” 
  4. Parents as partners mean we have a shared goal and a shared vision of whom their kids are becoming. Parents as primary leaves parents to decide what is the summum bonum or greatest good for their child. It has led in many ways to the subtle and sometimes not so subtle idolatry of the family. 

What needs to change? 

We need to change our church culture. We must help parents see that the church is our family, that God is our father and that we living in community through intentional relationships will become the kinds of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

Our language needs to change. Christ is primary, and we are secondary. Church (the Bride of Christ…which families are a part of) is our primary family. Our families should be a living example of parents and kids walking long obedience in the same direction. The goal of our families is not happiness in this life but to point to a greater reality. Our families are a good gift that we are to enjoy and that form us into the image of Christ, but they are not the substance.  

The chief good and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. As a church, we must model this for our parents and kids so that we together may become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

How to Reopen Your Children’s Ministry after COVID

You have to start with the understanding that this situation is unlike any we have faced as a church and as a nation. Never in the history of the Church has there been 6-8 weeks where the church has not gathered. How do we go from online services to meeting in person again?

How you come back will depend on your state regulations, your church policies, and your leadership team. What I am suggesting here are steps our church is planning on implementing in the coming days.

We stopped church quickly but we have to have a plan to come back slowly.

Phase 1 – Families worshiping together.

This phase is a good way to ease families back to church. For most churches, you will need to find out how many kids will return and how many volunteers are planning on coming back. For us, this phase will be one to four weeks.

Phase 2 – Families sing together

This phase is how we can deal with more kids coming back and restarting kid’s ministry even with a smaller volunteer base.

How phase 2 will work in our church. We will dismiss kids after we sing songs. In a large room, we will show our Kids TV show. Videos we have made that follow the theme of the lesson. We will keep producing these as well at least through the end of the year for families who can not or will not come to church. This allows us to have kids learn together in an age-appropriate way with a smaller group of volunteers.

Phase 3 – Combine classes and set room limits.

This phase will account for a greater amount of kids coming and more volunteers coming but limiting the number of kids in a room to keep social distancing standards for kids. I know that politicians are asking three-year-olds to wear masks but I am pretty sure most politicians don’t have three-year-old because that isn’t going to happen. Three-year-olds are beautiful little tornados.

Questions you might have.

How do I enforce social distancing with kids?
I don’t know that you can. For us, we are going to try and do it through limiting class sizes but I don’t know if you can and I’m not sure the long term ramifications of drilling social distancing into kids is good for them or society in the long term. You can see in your own kids that they are struggling with isolation and you can read about it online.

When a person is socially isolated, as it is a basic human need, the body will perceive the situation as a threat. During the time of the active stress response, the brain will release multiple stress hormones to protect the body from danger. The release of these hormones is needed for the person to react towards the current stress factor, and resist the possible harm. However, the body cannot release these stress hormones and protect the body from stressful situations for unlimited time. Having an active stress response over an extended period has been proven to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, infectious illness, cognitive deterioration, and mortality. These are physiological consequences of being prone to stress over time, and they are typically experienced in adulthood.

NoIsolation.com

What can we do to help kids that come to church?
Love them. Clean surfaces before they come and after they leave. Give them normality in a world of stress-filled chaos. Kids need to know that there is life after COVID, Zoom isn’t forever. Kids need a place that is safe but they also need hope and they need the church to do what the church has done for 1800 years, run to the hurting. We want to make sure we do everything to take this seriously but as we reopen we must ask ourselves what is the price that kids are paying? A generation of kids growing up with more anxiety than ever. How can the church serve kids? We can point them to Jesus. We can remind them what scripture teaches and what the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states.

Q: What is our only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

We can teach them to cast their cares on Him because he cares for them. This isn’t an oversimplification of a complex issue. It’s the heart of the Christian faith. In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat was facing certain death. The Bible says he was afraid.

“Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah, they came to seek the Lord….O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 12

The greatest gift we can give our kids in the middle of a crisis like nothing we have seen in over 100 years is the gift of prayerful dependence on God. We must whatever we do teach our kids that it’s ok to be afraid. We must show our kids where we turn when we are afraid. Finally when all else fails when we reach the end of our good ideas and what we can do, and admit we don’t know what to do and confess to God that our eyes are on Him.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

3 Strategies Family Ministry Leaders Should Adopt During the COVID Crisis.

When the COVID crisis first hit, it felt surreal and like an awful dream. We realized that in a moment, everything can change. The question for us is, how will we respond, and what are we willing to change?


In my previous post, I share things we need to avoid as family ministry leaders during the COVID crisis. This post is aimed to evaluate the things we should adopt in our kids and youth ministries.

When this hit, I had several conversations with our team. I told them we need to be equipping parents, providing content, and making our interactions as personal as possible. 

Start by empowering and equipping parents.

During this crisis, we have an opportunity to evaluate what really matters. We have the time and are forced by law and nature to rethink how the church is done. The past two decades of the church have looked different than the church has looked historically. Events have been the driving force of the church. I have heard many church leaders refer to Sunday as the “Superbowl.” I understand what they mean, but I’m not sure attendance to events is the most significant driver of discipleship in adults and certainly not for kids.

In this season, every parent is effectively homeschooling their own kids. They have a lot on their plates and are out of their comfort zone. I have heard lots of people say, “We should not give parents more things to do. I understand what they are saying; I just disagree with the approach. Parents don’t need a pass on the spiritual formation of their kids; they need a plan.

For our church, we believe that family worship is the best way for parents to disciple their kids. Our plan is this: Read one chapter of the Bible and explain it to the best of your ability, Sign one Hymn, and Pray. This should only take ten minutes. Below is a link to download a family worship guide that we create for our parents.

I had a conversation with my friend Jenny Funderburk Smith a fellow blogger and kids pastor. I wanted to see how other church tackles these three crucial components to reaching kids in general but are so vital during mass quarantine. I asked her what do you empower parents to lead their kids at home in a time when families are literally stuck at home.

She responded by saying that she asked the question, “What would I do differently if I could go back before the COVID crisis began?” She said that she realized that we had not done a good job of preparing our parents to lead worship from home. We talk about it a lot, but we haven’t been doing it.

She challenges her parents, saying, “It is not an accident that you have all this time, sports, school, and church are all gone. It’s not an accident that God has given us this time lets really use it to build a habit of family worship.”

I couldn’t agree more. All our excesses have been forcibly removed, we must invest the time we have to grow deeper with our kids create new habits and rhythms we are going to need going forward. Our family does this with in conjunction with our Pastor’s Bible reading plan and the help of Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Bible Guide. Jenny uses her pastor’s sermons as the basis for the content for their church’s family worship. How you do family worship isn’t as important as actually doing it.

4 Actions Family Ministry Leaders Should Avoid During the COVID Crisis.

This is my twenty-second year of doing kids and youth ministry and it is like none other I have experienced so far. It seems that we are all, no matter how long you have been doing ministry, trying to find our footing. It seems each day brings new realities to adjust to. The church has done much better than I could have imagined. It’s so exciting to see pastors and leaders innovate and create in ways they never thought they could have as a result of the COVID crisis.

We are only a couple of weeks into this and here are some of the things I believe we need to avoid as ministry leaders in the midst of a crisis like no other we have faced. It is so great to see the church rise to meet the unique challenges we are facing now. Yet I think we meet those challenges with both wisdom and prayer.

Here are a few suggestions I have about things we are avoiding in our kids and youth ministries during the COVID crisis.

1. Don’t talk about fear each week

This can be a huge challenge because it is low hanging fruit. For teens but especially kids, they need to be reminded of who God is. This is the greatest tool to fight any fears they may have.

I remember when my kids were little when they fell down and skinned their knees we would pick them up brush them off and tell them they were going to be fine. Their reaction was much different than when we made a big deal out of their bobo. Kids are connected and consume media first and second hand like no other generation before them. Rather than address it in our videos skits and stories we need to empower parents and caregivers so they will be able to help their kids better than us trying to comfort kids through a screen. Teach parents simple things to say. Give parents resources to say those things. Find or produce resources for parents to talk about fear with their kids but lets as the church keep disciplining kids as you normally do.

2. Don’t show curriculum videos unless you have no option

I’m not anti-curriculum. There are so many great options. I wrote an ebook to help you decide which curriculum is right for your church. But in this unique time we are in, kids need to see familiar faces. They need to see the church being the church to them.

Given the pervasiveness of editing software and the amount of free time, you or some youth or college kid has now. You should be able to produce something that is decent. It just has to be good because it is you. Kids want to see you not some stranger. Don’t sacrifice comfort for your kids of seeing you and your team because you feel it won’t be excellent. The American church has bought into the CEO lie that everything we do has to be Disney or it is not worth doing. Kids would trade excellent for human, personal, and normal any day. Kids don’t remember the amazing vacation you took them on what they do remember is the fort you built them out of cardboard. Excellence is a good goal but a bad god.

3. Don’t just disseminate content

The easier thing to do right now is to go on Facebook Live to make videos on YouTube. Those platforms have their usefulness to be sure. But don’t fall into the trap that you are pastoring someone because you are making videos about God. Pastors find a way to show up personally. In the times we are now living through may require some creativity it may require old school methods like making phone calls, sending texts or cards it may even some creative new school ways through zoom or by playing video games with kids.

I met with our volunteers and asked them to still volunteer. We ask them to call or send notes to their kids on the weeks they serve. I can’t reach all of our kids myself but we can as a family, if we all do our part we can together.

4. Don’t go back to the way things were

This crisis will change our world, is changing the church and must change us. If we think we can go back to business, as usual, we are wrong. We need to be more digital and more personal than ever. How are you going to do that? We need to start to create virtual ways to bring kids into our actual doors. We need to think of ways to leave our studios and walk through their actual doors.

If we don’t change how we work, who we trust, how we pray. We will have waisted this crisis. We can’t waste this crisis.

The bad news is we won’t be back for several weeks. The good news is we have several weeks to figure out what our new normal of reaching kids and teens is going to look like. Let’s work together to build the church. Let’s push each other to be more like Christ.

Introducing The Audiocast

Welcome everyone I want to introduce you to my new podcast called “The AudioCast” I am excited to be launching this new format. I have dabbled in podcasts a bit here and there. But in the past several years podcasts have only grown in reach and popularity. It seems that podcasts are the new blog. I hesitated to get into the podcast space because there were so many podcasts already.

I have to admit I’m not a huge podcast listener. I am more of an audiobook listener, but my wife and I were talking about me potentially doing a podcast, and together we touched on something that I found interesting. I always want to try and do things that have never been done before sometimes, that’s a good thing, and other times it doesn’t work out so well. This is one of those things. It may be good it may not. But I definitely think it will be different.

My wife thought that since I love audiobooks so much. What if I turned my blog into an audiobook in the form of a podcast. That idea intrigued me. I liked it because it seems unique. I liked it because I still prefer blogging, but know that so many people don’t read blogs but do listen to podcasts.

So what would this look like?

Each podcast episode would be anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the length of the post. I would then add some additional comments that I had when I was working on my blog post and may mix in a few surprises from time to time.

So there you go—the birth of The AudioCast (half audiobook half podcast). I hope you find it helpful.