My dad traveled quite a bit when I was younger. But even as a father who was away from home a lot, he was very intentional about handwriting letters and mailing them to me on his business trips. While you would normally find them stashed away in my closet as I was growing up, I would occasionally pull them out to remember what it was that moved me to hang on to them for so long.

Most of them said things like: “I love you,” “You’re special, “God loves you,” and “God has a great plan for your life.”

For years, those handwritten letters were so much more than just a way to stay connected. They were my dad’s way of modeling the love of Jesus with me — even while he was away.

Being a full-time youth worker, working with parents is always a part of the gig. Parent communication, involvement, and interest are a must if we want to see our student ministries grow and succeed. But parents often times see it differently. For many families, the church becomes an institution that is fully responsible for the development of their child’s faith. Relying on the knowledge and experience of a youth pastor is often the path that parents take when promoting spiritual growth in their child’s life. I’ve known some incredible, Godly youth pastors with tremendous hearts for students. But no matter how strong their ministry is or how great of a leader they are, they should never become the only example of what it means to know and follow Jesus in any student’s life.

Studies continue to show that no matter how much we blame the media, movies, music, and “those kids,” parents are still the biggest influencers when it comes to their children. As for the local church, any great youth ministry will have a strong presence in a student’s life. But those ministries — no matter how amazing they are — will only reinforce and supplement what is taught and modeled within the home. Any good youth ministry will partner WITH YOU as they help equip you as parents to instill truth in your kids lives.

Christian parents — you will always be the first example of what it means to follow Jesus. They will learn from your discipline, the way you handle stress, and how you forgive those who have wronged you. Are your kids going to learn scripture and be challenged on what it means to follow Jesus at youth group? Assuming that you’re involved in a biblically sound church — then yes. But we can’t expect our students to become men and women of prayer when they never see their parents on their own knees. Kids will struggle with turning to God’s word for knowledge and truth when their own parents aren’t setting the example of being consistent in reading scripture.

Did I rebel when I was younger against the ways my parents raised me? Absolutely. I tell people all the time that I’m sure I took a few years off of my parent’s lives as I journeyed through those awkward middle school years. But the older I get, the more I see that my receding hairline isn’t the only thing that my dad passed on to me. My parents modeled love, sacrifice and commitment, even through small things like handwritten letters.

Mom and dad, thank you.

• Colin Noonan is the director of youth ministries at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills. Share your parenting experience with him at

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