Q&A with Kara Powell

Q&A with Kara Powell


Kara Powell, PhD, is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women to Watch,” Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange, and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.


Q: Pastors identify a “lack of parent interest” and “lack of adult volunteers” as some of the top challenges to their ministry. Why do you feel it’s difficult to capture the focus of parents and adults in their congregations? What are some ways youth ministries can better cultivate and keep their interest? 01

It doesn’t surprise me that leaders are disappointed by the lack of parent and volunteer support. When I was serving as a youth pastor, those factors were also among my top three challenges.

Looking back, I struggled to capture the focus of parents and adults because they were not my focus. I gave them far too little attention and time. Our church believed the lie that they could outsource the spiritual development of our young people solely to me as the professional youth leader—perhaps because I never told them otherwise.

Now that I’m a parent, I realize I stay better engaged when our youth pastors communicate with me—in advance, and with accurate information. I love that our church has a weekly email to parents and offers annual parent-pastor conferences so we can talk face to face about each of our kids. I also beam when our leaders text, email or call me with a story about one of my kids, or just to let me know they are praying for us. As they dive into our family, it’s so much easier for our family to dive into our student ministry.

Q: Many parents say the goal of youth group is to provide a safe space for their child or to be a catalyst for healthy friendships. Why do you think these social concerns are so urgent for parents of teens today? 02

I think parents are often afraid that the hazards of our culture will trip up and derail their kids, so they hope the church will offer their kids some safety. On some levels this is not a bad hope at all; church should be a safe place for young people.

But safety can’t mean their kid stops growing. It can’t mean comfort, and it can’t mean their child never falls or fails. Not only is that unrealistic; it’s not healthy.

The safety I want our church to offer my kids is the freedom to explore. The freedom to ask hard questions about God and faith. And I long for our youth ministry and the adults pouring into our teenagers to help them choose the right path, to journey with them and to help dust them off when—note I said when and not if—they stumble.

Our research has shown that struggle and doubt aren’t toxic to faith. Silence and lack of trying are.

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