It Takes a Church: Encouragement for Youth Leaders Who Do Not Have Their Own Children
By Emleigh Appel
“We will,” we promised, as we had the privilege of witnessing a young disciple being baptized one Sunday morning. As a congregation, we answered as Christ’s body that we would nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include the child being baptized in our care.
So, why once I became a children’s ministry director, did “I can’t” enter my mind?
Though I had been working with children for much of my adult life, I developed a new insecurity when I took on the director of children’s ministries role. I convinced myself that because I was not a parent, I had no business helping children or their parents. My insecurity began to distract me from the opportunity to live out the vow I had made that I would nurture and include children in my care. It’s as if I had added a caveat that I could love and nurture children only if I had my own.
I was able to overcome this insecurity as I took the course, “It Takes a Church to Raise a Parent.” Our vulnerable conversations uplifted me to look beyond what I was feeling about myself. The author and co-leader of the course, Rachel Turner, offered me a perspective I had not thought of before. She empowered me not only to courageously believe I could embrace my role fully but also showed me how to support parents without feeling ashamed that I was not a parent myself. I was encouraged to tell parents that the information I was sharing with them was strictly information and not personal experience. Parents can offer experiences that are their truth, and I can offer information and shared stories. Both are valuable and are not meant to replace each other.
I want to encourage anyone experiencing this insecurity to hand it off to God because it isn’t a burden we are meant to carry. God has given us the great privilege and calling of including children in our care, regardless of whether we have children of our own or not. When we truly include children in our care, we value their families as the primary disciplers, and we want to support the parents. Just as we don’t question if our doctors can care for us unless they’ve overcome the illness we have, parents don’t usually question if we can care for their children unless we have our own children. Parents come to us seeking support, not necessarily our parenting experience. As Rachel Turner shares in her book, It Takes a Church to Raise a Parent, offering personal parenting opinions alone would be a disservice to families. Every child is different, and even sharing our own children’s experiences would not fit everyone. Instead, we can coach, connect, and cheer parents on.
To quote one of my biggest takeaways from Turner’s book,
When we choose to serve parents in this manner, we realize it isn’t about being the smartest or wisest people in the room. It is about us choosing to be the help desk, enabling parents to see the array of choices they have and to continue confidently on their journey of parenting. (It Takes a Church to Raise a Parent, 85).
Praise God for this amazing opportunity to love and serve families right where we are!
Emleigh Appel is the Director of Family Ministries at St James UMC in Greenville, North Carolina, part of the North Carolina Annual Conference. She's passionate about uplifting young disciples as the “now” of the church, not just the future.