When I started doing kids’ ministry, I was young. Some young people are intimidated by parents, and I didn’t want to talk to them at all.
So I mostly avoided parents and didn’t tell them much of anything. When I did talk to them, I told them where to sign up for things and when I needed their help with stuff.
About 10 years into kids’ ministry—when I was a new parent—I came to realize that parents do not get enough feedback about their kids. So, I started telling parents things about their kids that were positive and encouraging. Parents need to hear things like You are doing better than you think and Your kids asked great questions in small group.
About 20 years into kids’ ministry, after countless conversations over the phone, in coaching groups, and at conferences, I came to realize something more. Yes, parents need information, and they need encouraging feedback. But more than that, parents need discipleship and direction.
There is a lot of information on how to inform parents and encourage them, so here I will focus on how to lead them.
Twenty years in, here are the things I say to parents regularly:
1. Your kid was bad today. (Discipline)
Younger me would never have said this. Old me realizes that parents need an ally in helping their kids see the gospel.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (ESV)
This is not a promise as much as it is a challenge. The word train is referring to the continual application of the gospel on a daily basis. When this happens, as a child grows, her heart will have a taste for what it isn’t naturally inclined to desire.
We have to remember that our call is not to babysit and allow parents to get some “me” time in a service. Our job is to partner with parents in the formation of their child’s loves and desires.
If you fail to let parents know when their kids were not good, you fail to be a gospel ally in the life of their child. When we say their kids were good even when they were not, we fail to give parents an opportunity to disciple their child.
We fail that child because we want to be approved of—and avoid sticky conversations rather than be a tool to help parents grow their kids in godliness.
2. This is what we learned today. (Discipleship)
Early on I always asked, “Did you have fun?” This is a good question, but not the point of why we gather. We should be teaching our kids and showing them what Christian community is like.
Telling parents what we learned or what we will learn next week is a call to enlist them to disciple rather than build on culture’s unspoken expectation to be entertained in every moment in every location we find ourselves.
Discipleship is not always fun. We should strive to make what we do fun and engaging, but we should strive first and foremost to make the gospel clear.
3. This is where we saw Christ today. (Doctrine)
This is so important because parents and kids alike need to be reoriented to ask better questions.
When we read the Bible, the classic American small group question is What does that mean to you?
The question we need to ask is Where do we see Christ? What does this passage or story reveal to us about who Jesus is?
Training kids and parents to look for Jesus on every page of the Bible will help them be better readers and better appliers of Scripture to their everyday lives.
4. This is how you can preach to your kids this week. (Devotion)
We as the church must arm parents to see the value of family worship. This is more than just reading a verse or two; it is making our homes a small church where Christ is embodied in our interactions as a family.
Family worship typically involves reading several verses or a chapter of the Bible (depending on the age of your kids), singing a hymn, and praying together. Giving parents language, resources, and even a model to preach the gospel to themselves and to their kids will fundamentally change your church one family at a time.
As I have gotten older and have grown with my church family, I have come to realize that parents want information and need affirmation but truly desire transformation.
Don’t just give your parents facts. Ask yourself if you are helping to reform their desires and transform their loves.
“We are both incubators and defenders of our children’s hearts and minds, stewards of their imaginations, responsible for their instruction.”—James K.A. Smith (You Are What You Love: the Spiritual Power of Habit)
Parents will give their time and effort to what they love and where they see value. Our job is not to encourage spiritual minimalism because parents are busy, but to push them to become disciples so they will in turn produce not just offspring but disciples of Jesus.
Leader, what you say to parents over and over is forming them and training them and ultimately catechizing them into what the church thinks is most important.
So ask questions, but ask eternal questions.