On outsourcing, part 1

My friend Tim Schmoyer just blogged about “Why Parents Outsource Their Teen’s Spiritual Formation.

Here’s what I think:

  • I’m convinced that for many parents, those in the church anyway, they want to teach their children.
  • These same parents, don’t know how to teach their children.
  • The reason that they don’t know how is because the church has not taken seriously it’s responsibility to equip them.
  • Because the church has neglected this role, parents need someone to teach spiritual formation for them.
  • So, the church, in an effort to meet this need, does an end-run around the parent and hires an expert.
  • This expert, then, enables both the parent, and the church, to perpetuate the problem.

In short…parents outsource their teen’s spiritual formation because we not only allow them to, but because we provide the system the justifies it.




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14 responses to “On outsourcing, part 1

  1. Bill Holley

    I guess it is time to fire the “expert” and force the parents’ hands. Just kidding.

    • xjm716

      The postmodern in me wants to ask what you mean by “force” the parents hand!

      A valid question here is “What might it look like to re-empower the parents to re-capture their role?”

      I’ll post on that tomorrow.

  2. As Youth Leaders, our Youth Ministries are what we make them out to be. I recognize this problem as well but believe that as a Youth Leader, I can create a ministry that perpetuates the problem or I can create a ministry designed to come alongside parents and equip them as we raise their teens together. My hope is that the Youth Ministry I lead adds values to what the parents are doing at home, not replaces it.

    • xjm716


      Nice pushback.

      What are some ways that you have constructed a youth ministry that does not perpetuate this as an issue? How have you equipped parents and families to recapture their roles? And, how does this view of yours, the ministry that you’ve created, “fit” into that of the rest of the church? How have you been able to avoid silo-ing your ministry?

      • This has always been my philosophy in Youth Ministry and I’m actually getting to build it from the ground up in my new position. I have been at my current church for a month and this was a significant conversation during the hiring process. Here are a few thoughts, but I’ll probably expound on them in a blog post in the next few days.

        1) spending time with parents and opening up the communication lines. i have done this by hosting monthly parent meetings in which i share the vision of the youth ministry and use them as a sounding board to make sure where we want to go lines up with what they want their kids to experience.

        2) i try to spend 1on1 time with parents as well and get their individual feedback, thoughts, struggles, etc.

        3) fold parents into volunteer training & equipping (even though many of our volunteers are parents) and equip them all at the same time.

        4) from a silo/alignment issue with the church, i’m all about alignment. in fact, i have been walking my new team through a strategic process in which we look at the church’s mission, vision and values and honestly evaluate how we are measuring up as a student ministry. where we go as a student ministry must align with where our church is going. fortunately, as i looked for a ym position, i was very sensitive in looking for a church that had a mission, vision, etc. that i would be aligned with so that there hopefully won’t be an issue at all. i am also walking through unsiloing some of what had been established in the ym prior to my arrival.

        Sorry for the long reply. As you can see, I’ve got my own blog post in there somewhere. Does that help?

  3. Children’s and Youth ministry are mini-me versions of the church – having their own “experts.” But I don’t see it as an “end-run” as much as providing someone to shepherd and equip. Whether you are in a small to mega church, it would be difficult for the senior pastor to equip all the ages in the congregation. Providing those age-specific “experts” shares the load and burden of equipping the saints.

    Ministering to youth has really developed into a family ministry. As you equip the students, there are also opportunities to support and equip the parents. If the church is failing to have an expectation of its congregation, then student pastors can do so with their parents. Equipping can be done in an informal setting through relationship, or it can take place in a structured class environment. The frequency just depends on the need and available leaders.

    As youth pastors, we must wake up each day with an intentional mindset of serving our Lord and Savior. We must be intentional in equipping our students. We must be intentional in equipping our parents. I know it’s not all fun and games at times. I know it’s not always very pretty. And I know that there will be those that are not happy with the challenge of becoming a stronger Christian. Let’s take a page from Paul’s playbook as he encouraged Timothy (2 Tim 4.1-7).

    • xjm716


      Thanks for posting here, I appreciate it. I wonder, how many youth ministers are equipped themselves to minister to parents, to even know that they have that as a role?

  4. LF

    SO when my daughter showed up for youth group in our church I was unprepared for what would happen there. The lead pastors kept telling me how “passionate” the the youth guys were were. What I have discovered is two youth guys who carry a COMPLETELY different philosophy of ministry than I have. I expected her to play games more than I would if I were running it. I expected maybe the modeling and programming to be different. I did not expect our philosophies to be so different. .

    We love the direction of our church and just thought that it would flow into the youth programming. Well, it isn’t bad, just different. The youth pastors are evangelists. They model their programming to a large group every week inspiring them to come to Christ. For the last 20 years I have modeled and taught others how to be relationally focused in youth min with a disciple making bent.

    It bothered me because my children have been getting lost and bored. They love Christ- These are kids trying to follow him with their whole lives. They are already spending time with him daily even at young ages. They need to be inspired to take next steps in their faith and I really thought I would have some people that would be in this with my husband and I.

    Then I read about the outsourcing- I think of the other kids in that group where parents think they are not skilled and so they drop their kids off and we are losing them. I think parents don’t always know what to do. I think most of the time I am grandly messing my kids up. We are trying so hard to teach them to follow Christ- still I wonder 🙂 So we do- we think the YP will be the expert in taking control of the spiritual life of our kids.

    After 3 weeks of raging on about my philosophical differences- I realized- I don’t HAVE to put my child there. I actually have been given the right to have control over this. I don’t think most parents even realize that. I think they think that they have to leave it up to the experts…

    Not this parent…

  5. xjm716


    I’m currently reading “Communication and Conflict Management in Churches and Christian Organizations” by Kenneth Gangel and Samuel Canine. In chapter 22, they write, “Conflict becomes destructive when incompatible, irreconcilable role definitions exist” (258). This is probably an escalation in terms for where you are at, but think about it…the youth ministers view their role as “x” (x=evangelists) and you view their role as “y” (y=discipleship). The excellent thing here is that you recognize this difference as simply that, a difference.

    Not knowing the situation fully, it looks like the age-old dichotomy of “evangelism OR discipleship” has taken root: I have struggled through this as well, and it has led us to have three very distinct programs, anyone wi welcome to attend all three, and there are elements of evangelism and discipleship present in all three, but they are different.

    Part of this is teaching our students, their parents and our church leaders that not everyone will come to everything. Sometimes, our more mature students need to bear with the immaturity of others (I read that somewhere in Scripture) for the sale of those students. And sometimes, our mature students don’t know squat and think that they are better than everyone else.

    At the end, this is really about role expectation. You “think” that a youth ministry should do “y”, but those in charge are aiming at “x”. I wonder, what does the church expect? It’s leadership? Their job descriptions? A ministry only focused externally will eventually burn out as those that are coming to Christ are not assimiliated and matured into the Body At Large.

    Oh, and I just had this thought…a ministry sure looks great when non-Christians come to the Lord, lots of numbers, high energy, and conversion stories abound. It’s a ministry that people point to as “effective and successful.” But a bunch of kids, sitting around, reading their Bibles? Not very exciting. Or noticeable.

  6. Pingback: Outsourcing, Part 3 | The Cost and Joy

  7. Let’s not forget that a youth ministry is only as good as it’s adult counter-part. If the goal of the Pastor is for families to disciple their own kids then they will program or not program accordingly and give the “expert” a track to run on versus having the expert have to come up with his own track. Pastor and youth worker have to work together to create a strategy that works. Plenty of youth pastors are waiting for their Pastors to lead instead of manage. Until that time, a youth worker is left on an island, like Tom Hanks, to fend for themselves where their only friend is Wilson the Volleyball.

    • Paul- this is truth. This kind of behavior leads to silos, and silos will eventually lead to factions within a church. I’m going to paraphrase a recent post from a friend- “family discipleship has become a sub-culture of the church rather than it’s DNA.”

      This issue, and ALL of Christianity in fact, is a “who we are” and not a “what we do.”

      Thanks for the comment.

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