If you ask my leaders, "What is one thing that Ryan talks about ad nauseum?" I guarantee that they will tell you two things: Contact Work and Parent Partnerships.
Youth ministry is not rocket science. Rather, it compares better to baking a cake from scratch. The cake itself only requires a few ingredients, but the slightest distortion of those ingredients will always result in a catastrophic pile of culinary disaster! Trust me, I know this for certain.
Youth ministry requires only a few key components, and truly, depending on the scale and mixture of those components, either beautiful dessert is made or get ready for hours of clean up.
No one would disagree that Parent Partnerships is one of those key components to the health and faithfulness of a youth ministry. Yet, to what extent ought a youth ministry leader pursue these partnerships? How close does one become to a parent, especially given that many youth ministry leaders are in their 20's and some without kids at all, such as myself? And how does a true partnership function? If you know the parent's first name, does that qualify as a partnership?
I tend to learn best by addressing the via negativa life — the "what not to do's" — and so I want to offer 3 mistakes to AVOID when beginning this process. In subsequent posts, I will offer remarks about how to work out those partnerships for a long term sustainable future.
Mistake #1. You are not the Parent, so don't act or function like one. You are a Pastor, a leader, a caring adult volunteer, or even simply a caring adult who loves teenagers. You are not the Parent. Do not subvert the authority of the parent (unless in the rare case of an abusive or harmful situation). Honor the parent, and recognize that for better or for worse, all of the parents in your community love their children more than you ever could. You must set aside your own ego and personal gratification of a student's reliance upon you for the sake of fostering the health and well-being of a family.
Leverage your God-given role in the life of your students in such a way that directs them toward a healthy relationship with their parents.
Mistake #2. Parents do not have disposable time, so use it wisely. Consider this in all that you do, especially with communication. Learn from your parents the most effective and strategic tool for communicating. When writing an email, place in the subject heading 3-4 key words that describes your letter. Use bullet points and bold face type. Ask direct questions that satisfy your needs. Effective communication is the first step toward building a bridge to partnership. When done wisely, it will convey to the parents your credibility and thoughtful consideration. And upon establishing this foundation, this capital is worth its weight in gold!
Leverage strategic communication and thoughtful consideration of the needs of the parent in order to build the relational capital necessary for you to complete your ministry goals.
Mistake #3. Not every Parent is a Christian, so don't make assumptions. Not every parent believes in Jesus, nor trusts the foundations of the church. Quite honestly, some may even be taking a huge risk on allowing their child to participate in your ministry. Thus, equal care must be taken in the faith formation of not only the student, but the parent, as well. Use basic terms that are understood by people both inside and outside of the church. Share your philosophy of ministry and core values in such a way that upholds the dignity of the parent, not your seminary education. Invite the parent to engage with you, and take into account their keen eye. You don't have all of the answers, and a fresh perspective, even if it seems contrary to your ministry, is always worth a second thought.
Leverage the initial trust that is given to you by a non-Christian parent with an even greater response of charity and goodwill, especially if that amounts to additional work, response to questions, and a higher expectation of communication.
Building parent partnerships requires a long-term outlook of ministry. Play the long ball. Most parents, especially in a post-Christendom context do not easily place their trust in a church. Take the time to earn it. Invest heavily in these relationships, and reciprocate in a way that cherishes them. In doing so, you will experience ministry dividends beyond your wildest imagination!
QUESTION: Tell us about one or two creative strategies that you have used to build a long-term sustainable bridge to parent partnerships.