By Lori Richey
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
If youth ministry dynamics in your setting are anything like mine, your youths’ moms are way more involved in the details of the group than their dads. Keepers of the family calendar, moms are usually the ones emailing me for retreat dates, bringing cookies for the bake sale, or venting on the couch when there’s a mother/daughter power struggle going on. It’s often easy to overlook the fathers in your ministry as key figures in not only the lives of their children (that you serve), but also that dads need to be ministered to themselves – through affirmation and encouragement, through recognition of the value they bring to the equation of raising disciples in an unsteady and sometimes scary world. I imagine it was much the same with Joseph.
There’s not a whole lot that we know about the earthly father of Jesus; that he’s a good man, a carpenter, and engaged to Mary is about the extent of it. Can you put yourself in his place as he finds out that Mary is pregnant? Matthew 1:19 tells us that he plans to end their relationship quietly, as any man of upright character would do, but then something unexpected happens. A messenger of the Lord appears and tells him not to be afraid, to stay the course, to be faithful to God, to his beloved Mary, and to his future family. And Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded, thus partnering with God in a new relationship between God and humanity in Christ Jesus. I can picture Joseph, quietly anxious and utterly confused, leaning hard on the advice of a messenger of hope in choosing the right course of action.
How often do we remember that we can be messengers of hope for the dads in our midst? Taking time to listen and to encourage quietly is to meet them where they are. Providing resources, whether it’s an invitation to a quality speaker, men’s group, or Bible study, or simply a link to an insightful article on adolescence shared on social media can strengthen the bonds between father and family that are multiplied over time. Commenting on a character strength that you observe in their child helps dads to name these qualities too – and it allows space for mutual praise for the developing young adult in an arena that’s safe and non-threatening, where sharing in other settings might be seen as boastful or arrogant.
Fast forward a few years and I’m guessing that Joseph, after finding Jesus in the temple safe and sound following vanishing for three days, was relieved, tired, and cranky. Wouldn’t it be great to stand alongside Joseph and hear, “My kid Jesus was just teaching in the Temple, and he’s only 12. I’m so proud!” As youth workers we can honor parents, and dads in particular, by naming and witnessing to the special gifts that God has lavished on each of the young people we serve. We can speak aloud about the wisdom and knowledge the dads in our midst have to share with their own children and those in our congregations. We can remind them that even when the waters of adolescence are stormy and murky, they can listen for the messenger of hope to guide them. Thanks be to God!
What methods of support does your ministry currently offer for fathers of teens?
Visualize one father you know who is struggling to effectively parent their son or daughter, and ask God to show you how to best be in partnership and relationship with them on the journey.