As my good friend remarked the other day, there is an art to meeting with a parent.
I agree, and it is crucial. I know several youth pastors and youth workers who recognize the overwhelming benefit of parent partnerships but feel either intimidated or under qualified to actually do it. Allow me to dispel this: God has entrusted you with the privileged task of gathering, equipping, and sending students. Therefore, be confident in your call and leadership. Period.
You need to meet with parents. It must become a regular ethos of your ministry. Not doing so wipes away half of the people to whom God has called to you to minister.
I am not addressing the 'why' of Parent Partnerships in this post. You may read my post about this topic that I wrote last month and learn why you need to invest in parents.
The process of establishing a meeting and guiding parents through a conversation about their student does require forethought and intentionality. Parent Partnerships are either forged or destroyed during the initial moments of relational inception - sometimes to an irreparable extent. I have experience on both sides of the ball. Every good youth pastor does because at the end of the day, it is worth the risk to engage with parents. You must, however, think critically about how to achieve the win in order to avoid the loss. Allow me to offer a few thoughts about how to integrate this art into your game, thereby maximizing the potential and influence of your ministry.
First, you must recognize that you are stepping onto hallowed ground. When you confront a parent about a conversation with his or her student, you are instantly tapping into the deep roots of the human experience - often without YOU ever knowing it! Though I am not a parent, I am learning in abstract about the deep personal, emotional, and instinctive human origins involved in parenting. Even the thought of becoming a father ignites within me an ancestral stir in my soul before which I have never felt. Good parents guard their children with ferocity. Be cautious of this, and honor this ground.
Second, don't yank the slack. Parents often begin their relationship with people like us with more slack than we deserve because many want assistance and other caring adults to echo their very good and faithful Christian words to their student. On average in the US, many people in our position are 30 or younger. There is a glaring disparity here. We think parents naively give slack to leaders a few years older than their kids because they are desperate. Some are, but they do this, however, because you are entrusted by the church and God to lead their kids. Let the weight of this responsibility sink in. Who's naive now? Therefore, we must take great care and responsibility in guiding students in a way that leads them to Jesus and honors the parent.
Third, honor the parent. From what I have learned and experienced in my tenure working with students, parenting is indeed the most difficult task in the world. It is a deep and great challenge. It requires 24/7 guidance, availability, and demand. It begins without a manual. It is only learned through on-the-job experience. It is bewildering, confusing, and daunting. And it takes a lifetime. Perhaps more so than any other vocation, youth pastors and workers possess the privilege of gaining direct access with parents through the process of raising kids. It is one of the few vocations with which parents become vulnerable and allow others to peek behind the closed curtain. Truly, it is the thrust of incarnational ministry and the essence of living together in a community rooted in faith, but I digress. Regardless of the abundance or lack of parenting skills possessed by the parent, by honoring the parent, you both honor God and empower that parent to live into their God-given right and privilege of instilling within their child the essence of becoming a mature, healthy, and faithful human being. God requires you to honor them. Obey God, and let the parent take the wins.
Fourth, play the long ball. Earn the trust of the parent. You may see and observe dynamics over time that raise questions about the nature of a student's home life. Unless you observe abuse, take the long ball approach. I believe that youth pastors and workers hit home runs when we assume the role of a family specialist and engage the whole family in the discipleship process. But this assumes that God is not yet finished with the parent. Of course! Parents are broken. Parents are fallen. And parents are human beings in need of grace, redemption, and hope. Playing the long ball game of disicpleship, earning the trust of a parent, and learning the family dynamics of the student before you open your mouth of criticism will allow you to point to glimpses of the Gospel that have already taken root and highlight areas that need God's work. Play the long ball, and win on the side of the parent.
Be encouraged to dive into the deep waters of parent partnerships and family ministry. Youth ministry is great. God will no doubt do good work with kids through you in youth ministry. But God wants to change the world by redeeming families through you. Be God's.
QUESTION: What other steps would you take or have you taken to ensure that you maintain the integrity and wholeness of a family in your ministry?