Marv Penner’s 3 Words to Describe Your Role with Parents

Recently, Youth Specialties posted a fantastic blog by Marv Penner. The post nails it when it comes to how to do youth ministry right. It means working with parents instead of working for them! What a change of perspective and it boils down to 3 all-important words:

Marv puts it this way:

So –  what if we added the words encourage, empower and equip to our vocabulary of relating to the parents of teenagers we care for? The desired outcome would be a climate of “co-nurturing” and the process would involve a generation of youth workers who would come alongside (not displace) the voice of a parent in the life of their teenager.  What if our greatest joy would come from seeing parents meaningfully involved in the lives of their kids at many levels – and we had a significant part in facilitating that process?

What Does This Look Like?

Marv also says that: “In most cases this will not involve blowing up your youth ministry and swinging the programming pendulum way over to the other side.”

I think it is about inclusion and communication.

  • Do you know the parents and interact with them regularly?
  • Do you communicate with them about what you are trying to achieve?
  • Do you let them know how they can be involved their son or daughters’ learning?


Here are some ideas to bring Marv’s three words to life!

Encourage: Connect with parents before or after youth meetings, Sundays as the enter church, or when they drop students off for an event. Say something positive about their son or daughter. Even better let them know something positive their son or daughter said about them! Thank them for bringing them to youth regularly.

If they come to you with a problem them look for ways to give them hope and reinforce all the good things that they are doing for their teen.

Empower: I’m learning that when students believe that they can do something (efficacy) it is half way there! The same thing works with parents. When we affirm their efficacy and believe that they will do what is best in their home, we empower them!

It is the laws of expectations at work. If you believe in a parent you help bring out the best in them. Having positive expectations of parents’ willingness to disciple their kids also strengthens them. Every chance you get lets parents know that you see your role as helping them disciple their son or daughter.

Equip: Most youth workers resist equipping parents because they feel that since they haven’t passed this stage of life parents won’t be willing to listen to them. In this case I always tell them that I am available to help with that J –

Seriously, there are so many great resources, seminars, conferences, podcasts, blogs, books, videos and other excellent materials that we can put into the hands of parents. Many youth ministries post these resources on a parents page on a website, email out a newsletter, or some groups have a printed monthly calendar with a good article for parents on the back.

This Should Empower You Too

I loved what Marv said in his Youth Specialties post

What I learned (through more than a few blunders) was that first and foremost it’s about creating a culture of mutual trust and respect with parents.  That means our job as youth workers is to trust and respect parents in their role and (this might be tougher) to be trustworthy and respectable in all we do. When parents get the sense that we’re on their team it doesn’t take long for them to get on ours.

By the way – and just between us… there’s nothing I’ve found in all these years of working with teenagers that has earned me more grace, forgiveness, freedom and support in ministry than having a church full of parents who see me as an ally instead of an intimidating surrogate.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email