Student Ministry isn’t a Dry Cleaning Service

I recently engaged in a conversation with a church leader who likened student ministry to a dry cleaning service. His point was that too many parents expect to drop off their students and pick them up all nice, neat, and “spiritually pressed.” Having been in student ministry in my earlier years, and having served as a student pastor, I nodded in agreement.

This is certainly not the case with many parents who do understand the long-term nature of the maturation and sanctification process taking place in their teenagers. But let’s be honest – some parents do have a “dry cleaning” mentality about student ministry. They do expect to drop off their student and have the church clean them up so they can pick up the “pressed” version. In my experience, it takes time to see spiritual maturation, and we need to help parents manage their expectations of the church’s student ministry. Here are a few ways to help the parents in your church set reasonable expectations. Help them understand that…

  1. Teenagers won’t get “fixed” overnight. It’s really great to drop off a pair of pants and a few shirts in the morning, then pick them up the next day all pressed and ready to be worn. This overnight “fix” doesn’t happen spiritually, though. Remind parents that their teenagers are in a life-long process in which they become more like Christ, and that it may take years for a teenager to show progress as they grow and develop as a disciple. This is normal, and nothing for parents to worry about. You and I were teenagers once, and we survived and ultimately thrived. Their kids will, too.
  2. Teenagers are going to make mistakes. How many times have you taken clothes to the dry cleaners, only to take them back again in a week or two? That’s the nature of wearing clothing! You wear the clothes, you clean the clothes. It’s a repeatable cycle. It works the same way with teenagers. They make mistakes, they learn and adapt, they fail again, they learn and adapt, experience forgiveness, and then move forward. Then just when you think they’ve turned the corner and are “spiritually pressed” and neat, they fail again and need the church, their pastor, and their parents. If you have clothes, you’re going to return to the dry cleaners at some point. If you have teenagers, you’re going to see them make commitments for Christ, only to lapse and make mistakes. It’s ok. Help parents dialog with their teens so that both learn from the mistakes being made. Aim for progress, not perfection.
  3. The teenage years can draw parents and teens closer together. Teenagers need us the most when they fail. They need to know we love them, accept them, and are “for” them. Teenagers who experience grace will often grow into adults who extend grace. The teenage years can be wonderful years when parents grow closer to their teenager, not farther apart. Encourage parents to be reasonable about how much progress they expect to see in their child. Challenge parents to keep the lines of communication open, especially about spiritual matters.
  4. Parents have primary responsibility for “pressing” their teenagers. It is my understanding that Scripture requires parents to be the primary disciple-makers and spiritual influence on their children. Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that parents are to talk to their children about God daily. Spiritual conversations should flow naturally into every area and moment of life. If parents expect the church to do the job of disciple-making, remind them that the teenagers in their home are their responsibility. The church stands behind parents in a support role to supplement the teaching and training going on in the home. If parents want their middle or high school students to be more “pressed,” it may be time to do some ironing at home.


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One comment

  1. Interesting read. I think the analogy works all too well. Let’s stay faithful in equipping parents so that they don’t see the church as a dry cleaning service.

    In other news, saw Stephen’s e-mail to you. That stuff is so draining to me. I am NOT going to weigh in on this one if possible. But, let me know if you need anything.


    Tod Tanner, Ed.D. Pastor Fair Haven Baptist Church

    (931) 680-9803 2726 Highway 231 N Shelbyville TN 37160


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