“We’re partnering with families.”
This phrase gets thrown around a lot these days: at conferences, in strategy meetings, and church mission statements. It seems to sound important—like the right thing to say. I get it...we've named it a core value of our ministry at Hope Church.
But What does That Even Mean?
Over my years in Family Ministry, it's clear leaders attach vastly different meanings to that phrase. And as a pastor, I find myself at odds with the ideas of partnership and the practice (and I’m one of the parents in our ministry!). In truth, it’s often more convenient, more efficient, and creates less conflict when we dream, plan, and lead ministries without much consideration for parents’ voices and participation. And then..."partnering" becomes just a platitude.
This is a tragedy.
The Search Institute, a consistently trusted voice in the world of research on children, adolescents, and families over the past several decades, released an eye opening 80-page report. This report, titled Don’t Forget the Families,* laments that a majority of leaders and organizations (schools, community programs, and churches) have mostly given up on engaging parents and households. The most frequently shared reasons: It’s too hard. Families are too disengaged. The problems and failures of families can’t be overcome.
When we do engage parents, it’s often around pragmatics: we ask them to volunteer, bring food, or serve on a committee. All of this ignores “the one thing about which parents care deeply and that can powerfully benefit their children’s development: relationships in the home.” By ignoring and sidelining families, we do teenagers themselves a great disservice.
How Can we Partner?
By urging anyone who works with young people to reconsider the importance of partnering with families. Too often we see the kid as isolated from their family system, and we focus on what we can do to engage and impact the individual teenager. The reality is that families still wield incredible influence over young people all through adolescence—in nearly every realm of their lives.
Virtually every outcome we hope for with teenagers—from academic achievement to spiritual engagement—is impacted by family relationships. So if we want to strategize how we can most impact the kids we care so much about, perhaps we should revisit our strategy toward parents. The start of a new ministry season presents the perfect opportunity.