About twenty years ago, back when I was in college, one of my youth ministry professors told us in class that “parents are our greatest allies”.
And as I began as a young youth director, I think I did my best to see parents in that light. But there were times when this was a harder thing to do. My pastor at the time had given me much latitude in making decisions but a few parents at times would smash that latitude and insert their ideas, snuffing out mine.
At the time, I pushed back on their reaching into my role and I thought that they were overreaching. As a response, I likely distanced myself from them or I shared with my pastor my dislike of their attempts. Looking back, I think that it was a lot less “overreach” and a lot more of them wanting to be involved parents.
After a long run at this great church, I accepted a call to serve at another church. Before I left, one of my elders asked if he could ever meet with me and help me to be more prepared for my next church. His request was an invaluable gift to me as he helped me to see how some of the methods that I had been operating with (like inconsistent communication and poor budgeting) were holding my efforts back. As I began my next call, I was intent on resetting how I operated.
About 10-11 years ago, there were two things that came along that helped to shape me that much more.
One was the release of the book “Sticky Faith”. As I read it, I saw significant research affirming that parents are the most significant spiritual voice in the lives of teenagers. This tells me that if I care for my students’ spiritual lives, I must work with and value the presence of their parents and that I can’t be at odds with them.
The second and most amazing thing that happened to me was that I became a dad. And just in the past year, I can say that I’m a dad of a junior-higher. I think my students parents years ago trusted me a little more with their kids simply because I was a dad. And as a dad of a junior-higher I must admit that, I feel a whole lot more sensitive to the concerns of parents.
As you think about all of this, here’s where I want to take this.
It’s that sometimes youth workers and parents don’t get along.
This might happen because:
- Both parents and youth workers are sinful people
- It could happen because either could be stubborn
- It could happen because of failed communications or a failure to read communications
- It could happen because a parent might want to advocate for just their student while a youth worker is focused on the bigger picture
I’m sure there are more reasons to why we don’t always get along.
There is a national online forum that has 15,000 youth workers in it and one night I asked the question, “what are things a youth worker can do to tick off a parent?” because I wanted to see what others named that were beyond the ideas that I had. Let me name some of the things that either were named there or are things that I believe are tension points and as able I’d like to offer some suggestions for each of them.
- Some youth workers have been accused of far to short notice of communications. As an aside, I use Mailchimp to send my bi-weekly emails out and by using a service like that you can see stats on readership and what I’ve learned is that 60% is the normal readership for my emails and it take 3 days to get to that point. This tells me that 40% of people don’t know what’s going on and I need to find another way to reach them.
- Students won’t always do the right or best things while they are in our care. Because of that, we will have opportunities to offer a word of correction. As we navigate working with parents, there seems to be some wisdom in knowing when to hand off a discipline issue to a parent or when to partner with them in these matters.
- When we plan expensive events, we create tension points with families. And as I offer this, I realize that events will likely have some costs behind them. Considering that, I’d encourage you to stagger spendy events, to offer fundraising opportunities, to minimize parental costs by using budgeted funds (if you have them) and to collaborate with families as you plan events.
- Another tension point is when we offer no fundraising opportunities. As I plan for big events/mission trips/camps I assemble a “fundraising worksheet” that I ask to be turned in with the student’s registration forms. This gives me a glimpse of what a parent has on paper said that they are willing to pay and what they commit to do for fundraising. I then am committed to offering the fundraising opportunities that I named.
- Another tension point that happens is when we become a wedge between students and parents. This may happen as we pursue a relational ministry, or it may happen as we present something that a student “likes” but that their parent “dislikes”. I think here the best caution that I can offer is to be on guard of these moments.
- Another tension point is to have volunteers that seem to lack the maturity or discernment needed. Sadly, I’ve had to dismiss several volunteers over the years and while I grieve over having to do this, it was because they were a risk to our ministry. If you don’t train or screen your volunteers you will set yourselves up for some headaches.
- Another tension point is when we don’t enforce rules evenly. If one student is called out for a behavior and another isn’t, we can expect to hear about it.
- Another tension point is the communicating and enforcing of registration deadlines. I value discounted early paid registrations because by giving students a cost break, I wind up giving myself more time to plan out our transportation plan. When we are inconsistent with how we deal with parents after the deadline we will hear about it. As well, I truly believe that the more you do it that the more it will become a part of your culture and that in the future it will be less of an issue.
- Another tension point is when we come back late from an event. I have watched this in the life of a friend, and it became a huge reason for parents to not trust that youth worker. This should speak to us about the need to plan well, to communicate in advance and to offer any updates with parents as soon as we know that an event is not on time.
- Another tension point is when we fail to communicate on tough subjects being presented. I showed the movie “To Save a Life” without offering an advance notice to parents (and honestly, I stand by that decision still today as I’ve been showing it for 10 years) but one parent found exception to it and let me know of their displeasure with that. Whether it’s a controversial movie or a teaching time on something like “God’s design for sex” we are at our best when we keep parents in the loop and give them the option.
- Another tension point can be as we build student leadership teams. Student leadership teams vary from church to church, but we can do our due diligence in casting a wide net and at least inviting everyone to consider the opportunity rather than overlooking someone. I read about a youth worker who asked students who had demonstrated a desire to be a student leader while at the same time not asking other students. Those latter students felt omitted (perhaps rightfully so).
- Since youth workers greatest allies are parents, we should do our best to not undermine parents’ goals (IE – school, grades)
- Another tension point is when we constantly give students bad food.
- This might be a rarer moment, but another tension point is to baptize a student without their parents’ consent. There are lots of subpoints to this one like “who should perform the baptism?” but I hope that if this question arises that you’ll work with your pastor on it.
- Another tension point is the failure to return a parent’s phone call or email. As we get entrusted with students’ parents will at times reach out with questions. By responding to their questions, we can build bridges. If they call or email you on your day off, be encouraged to still respond to them when your back in the office and as able let them know it was your day off.
- Here’s the last tension point that I’ll name. It’s to do something with a student that in your judgement seems just fine but in the parent’s judgement is not. I think the key here is to carefully discern our actions
As I tried to boil all these issues down the following four topics stuck out to me as being the overarching issues
- The Pursuit of Fairness
- Minimizing the Wedges that we can create in between students and parents
- Develop a consistent and effective communication plan
- Be a person wanting to be a discerning person
My encouragement is to do your best and be as attentive as possible. If we do these things, will that mean that we will have issue free relationships with the parents of the teens that we serve?
Not at all but I do believe that these things can help us to mitigate the opportunities for these relationships to experience these stress points
Check out Romans 12:9-21 with me
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In these words, is a call to the believer to live a life of love, to work in harmony with one another and to not retaliate. Those ideas model what Jesus taught and lived. As we realize that — there may be tense times between us and parents. Go knowing that God’s grace is always greater than those tensions and that His grace can mend those tensions.
PS – DYM Has a great free resource that can help people plan and organize. If that is a part of what you need, check this free resource out at https://www.downloadyouthministry.com/shop/free/free-youth-ministry-time-management-doug-fields
Thanks for reading or watching this post. What did I miss? What would you add? I would love any feedback that you have.