Reaching out to students whose parents are not open to discipleship can admittedly be harder, but it is also rewarding when done in wisdom. The principles, tips, and scenarios presented below should be considered in line with the context of your particular situation, and not operating on a one-size-fits-all basis. We also encourage you to ask for wisdom from the Holy Spirit all throughout, as He is the best guide that we can rely on when it comes to discipleship.

Remember that discipleship is relationship

Many times we think that we have lost the opportunity to disciple students, because they aren’t allowed to go to the youth services, outreach events, and discipleship group meetings anymore. While this may lessen the student’s actual time at these events, this way of thinking is often limiting and misrepresentative of what discipleship is.

Discipleship is relationship. This means that discipleship is not completely dependent on the student’s attendance in campus events, trainings, or programs. The tools may now differ, but it does not have to hinder the student’s discipleship. Jesus used a number of ways to disciple others such as:

  • Intentionally building relationships with them. Jesus calls them (Matthew 4:18-22), eats with them (Matthew 14:17-18), and serves them (Matthew 10:45).
  • Looking out for moments to speak into their  lives. For instance, the disciples received correction (Matthew 8:23-27, Lk 6:46-48), instruction (Matthew 5-7), and encouragement (John 14:27) from Jesus.
  • Leading by example (John 13:12-16)
  • Training and giving them opportunities to lead (Luke 9:1-27, Matt. 28:16-20)

Yna* is one of our missionaries who reach out to students from another faith. Bringing some of their students to the weekly youth service is not always possible, since this may endanger their lives. This, however, did not deter Yna and other leaders from letting the students experience the joy of church community.

As soon as the students accepted the gospel, they got baptized and discipled. They continued meeting up in small groups, sang worship songs in their small groups, and had communion in their small groups.  They also continued one-on-one coaching, planned fun activities, and held corporate worship in another venue. In time, these students grew in discipleship.

Think about the students you are discipling now. If you can’t bring them to church, how else can you bring the church to them?

Help students to honor their parents, not disrespect them.

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” -Ephesians 6:2-3

You want to help students follow Jesus, but you also want them to honor their parents. They want to follow Jesus, but their parents won’t allow. So in their eyes, they only have two options: follow Jesus or follow their parents. This way of thinking, however, is far from the truth as it presents a false dichotomy of ideas.

To honor one’s parents is part of following Jesus. Honoring our parents is a command, and Jesus Himself followed it. Whether the student is above 18 years of age, or if they’re not under our parents’ roof  anymore, this command still stands.

Honor means to respect, value, and revere. To honor goes beyond what we say, but extends to what we do. As followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t obey ungodly commands no matter who it’s from, but we are always expected to honor those in authority such as our parents.

Owie Tolentino, the current campus director of Every Nation Campus Ortigas, says that this very tension is where a student’s witness at home and communication becomes crucial. Parents are understandably wary of beliefs or people they are not familiar with. So instead of getting into debates with their parents, we want to encourage students to communicate with them in a respectful and humble way. To assure their parents, through words and actions, that they are loved, respected, and valued even if they may not share the same beliefs. While doing this may be harder for students who do not have a good relationship with their parents, we can encourage these students to be just as meek and humble as Jesus was.

Let’s encourage them to be patient, and let’s pray that as they grow to love Jesus, they will also learn to honor their parents.

Build a good relationship with the parents, and not just the students.

Many parents would like to know who their children are spending time with. If there’s an opportunity to get to know a student’s parents, take the initiative to show them that you can be trusted.

Jason* was reached out to by his classmates when he was in 6th grade. His parents did not allow him to attend the youth service, but this didn’t discourage his classmates from reaching out to him.  In fact, one of his classmates started befriending his parents, and visited their home. His other Christian classmates eventually visit their home as well.

According to Jason, his parents grew to trust his friends. “My parents trusted them, even though they didn’t trust me,” Jason says, laughing.  When his parents saw that being a Christian didn’t have any negative effect on their son, they gave him the freedom to pursue his faith. Today, Jason is one of our campus missionaries.

Mark* is an incoming campus missionary who reaches out to high school students. Because of the age difference between him and his students, he understands how his actions can be misconstrued by the parents of the students he reaches out to. This is why he makes it a point to introduce himself to them, and tell them that that he is part of an organization that coaches students in leadership, integrity, faith, and excellence.

When given the opportunity, he preaches the gospel to them. Some parents allow their sons to continue meeting up with him. Some do not. When this happens, Mark respects the parents’ wishes but stays connected with the students. He believes that there will come a time when they will be able to make their own decision for Jesus Christ.

Looking at your situation, are there opportunities for you to build a relationship with that student’s parents?

Treat the situation as an opportunity, not as an impossibility.

Adversity is good for discipleship. It builds faith, encourages us to rely on God, and reminds us to count the cost.  When parents are not open to discipleship, we can take the opportunity to teach the students to to persevere in prayer and preach the gospel.

This tells us that Jesus Himself took years of witnessing to his family. The Bible tells us that His own town didn’t believe him when he visited them (John 7:5). But in the book of James (which is widely recognized as the book written by Jesus’ brother, James) and in Acts 1:14, we see how Jesus’ brothers grew to worship Him as Lord and Savior. This is a huge encouragement to us and our students who have unsupportive parents.

Let students count the cost, and allow God to work.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

In the verse above, Jesus doesn’t mean for us to literally “hate” our family members. Rather, He emphasizes that following Him will have a cost, and that includes putting Him above all relationships. All students, no matter how young, will eventually have to take a stand for their faith. And standing up for Jesus does not necessarily mean that they have to alienate themselves from their families.

Yukio* was a college student when he was reached out to in Japan. While his parents were of another faith, and didn’t approve of him becoming a Christian, they gave him the freedom to do what he wanted. Yukio assured his parents that he didn’t join a cult, and continued to be discipled. When he graduated, he worked for a while before deciding to go into full time ministry. His parents have allowed him to live his life even though they didn’t share his faith.

He is still praying and believing that they would get to know Jesus and keeps a good relationship with them, but their lack of faith doesn’t stop him from growing in his own relationship with God. He says that he lives to satisfy God.

As their leaders, let’s remind our students to rely on God’s grace, ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and to continue to honor their parents. At the end of the day, we can always trust that God will complete the good work He started in their lives.

Have you ever experienced discipling students whose parents were not open to Christianity? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts with us!

*names have been changed