My good friend Katie Edwards wrote the most amazing email to her junior high team about the feelings she was having as a parent of an incoming freshman and heading out to our summer camp last week. It is an incredible email! I asked her if I could share them here on the blog and with my team – she graciously agreed to both. This is one of those rare glimpses that will help us all be better pastors and leaders in youth ministry!
I have been preparing for my daughter to go to high school camp today and it has caused me to really pause and think about the parents in our ministry. Let me explain. (Sorry this is a little long)
As a youth pastor, I could not be more excited for her to experience HSM camp. I KNOW in my heart it is going to be life changing for her. However, as a mom, I am feeling really nervous for my kid to go to HSM camp….like….”tear up about it every 15 minutes” nervous. I completely trust Josh and his team… and I know they will work hard to keep my kid safe and give her the time of her life. And I completely trust Abby and know that she is a kid who makes good choices and loves Jesus. I know I have nothing to worry about….and yet I find myself today with weird anxiety about her being away….far far away. It might sound crazy that I am so nervous – especially because I am going to HSM camp myself and she will literally only be away from me for a few days-but that is just how I feel.
I share this with you, because it got me thinking and empathizing with parents in our ministry and what they go through every time they put their students in our care. Here are my thoughts as a mom of a teenager:
I trust HSM, but I feel nervous about the unknowns of this new ministry we are a part of. Because I am an “insider” I know more than most. I know the HSM team, my daughter’s counselor is a dear friend, and I will be at camp for 24 hours. Think about parents who have just barely stepped into the Refinery/Wildside for the first time. They don’t know us, they don’t know any of our counselors, and they are deciding whether or not they trust us. And in the midst of those serious “unknowns” they are sending their kids with us on various events/camps.
When people tell me “she’ll be fine” that doesn’t help me. I’m not sure anything can take away my nervousness, however, kind gracious words from Jess made me feel like I was a normal parent with normal anxieties. She assured me and encouraged me as a mom…it was a good moment. When parents come to us nervous about entering junior high and nervous for their student – I want us to be that mix….of grace, kindness, confidence, and encouragement. I want us to be confident in our abilities and the steps that we have taken to be intentional AND I want us to be grace filled and encouraging. Empathizing with them, agreeing that it is normal to be nervous, grace-filled when they are frustrated or say crazy things, and going above and beyond to help them feel at home in our ministry.
Follow-up. When we meet parents who need a little extra love. Let’s be diligent about follow-up. If I have a conversation with a parent about their student I try really hard to always circle back around to that parent in a week or post the event that we had the conversation about. That is how we go above and beyond loving our people…not just reassuring them in the moment, but journeying with them from the beginning to the end.
When I am nervous, that nervousness manifests itself in all sorts of weird ways. I can be cranky, irrational, cry, or act frustrated. This is the grace part. As a parent, I am fragile when my kid moves out of the realm of my control. It started when she went to school and it has escalated to this point. But it is scary when I feel out of control. Grace – Graciousness. Our response and attitude should be gentle, joy–filled and “how can I help?”. There might not be anything you can do to actually change a situation, but it is amazing what a little love and encouragement can do in the midst of their fear.
As you encounter parents this summer….and well, quite frankly, forever if you are called to youth ministry….I would love for us to just remember that they are in a vulnerable state. And every parent navigates that vulnerable state differently. You don’t have to be a parent of teenager to minister to parents of teenagers. Jess is an expert in HSM, and her words were more affirming and believable than any other parent I talked to. You might not be a parent, but you KNOW junior highers. You are experts in junior highers. And you have an understanding about who they are and their culture that is meaningful. Don’t be cocky about it-but you have a ton to offer our parents of junior highers.
Be open, Be loving, Be confident in who we are and what we do, Remember that this is a whole new ball game for some of them, be encouraging, Don’t assume anything, warmth, smiles, eye contact, Jesus.