As my good friend remarked the other day, there is an art to meeting with a parent.
I agree, and it is a crucial, learned skill. I know several youth pastors and youth workers who recognize the wonderful benefit of parent partnerships but feel either intimidated or under qualified to actually to do the work of building them and investing into conversations.
Allow me to dispel this: God has entrusted you with the privileged task of gathering, equipping, and sending students, which requires your intentional, faithful involvement with parents. You need to meet with parents. It must become a regular rhythm of your ministry. Not doing so wipes away half of the people to whom God has called to you to minister.
The process of establishing a meeting and guiding parents through a conversation about their student, however, does require forethought and intentionality on your part. Within the initial moments of your conversation with a parent, you can either set a tone of trust and partnership or authority and power. Obviously, it should be the goal of every youth pastor to enact the former.
In order to experience a relationship of trust with a parent, you must 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 the art of meeting with a parent into your game, thereby maximizing the potential and influence of your ministry.
First, you must recognize that you are stepping onto hallowed ground. Not literally, of course, but you need to feel the weight of your impending conversation. When you confront a parent about a conversation with his or her student, recognize that you are instantly tapping into the deep roots of the human experience. Parenting is a deeply personal, emotional, and instinctive experience. Since becoming a father, I can speak to unique emotions and thoughts that have ignited within my heart and mind before which I have never felt. Good parents love and guard their children with ferocity. Good parents also know that it takes a village and healthy partners that have their best interest in mind are hard to come by. 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. Parents want healthy partners. 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 who serve in student ministry are aged 30 or younger. There is a glaring age disparity here between youth workers and parent-aged adults of teenagers. Therefore, we must take great care and responsibility in nurturing this relationship, as well as guiding students into a growing personal relationship with us and Jesus Christ.
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 mandates an entire lifetime. Perhaps more so than any other vocation, youth pastors and youth workers possess the great privilege of gaining direct access into the lives of parents. It is one of the few vocations with which parents become vulnerable and allow others to peek behind the closed curtain. Regardless of either the abundance or lack of parenting skills held by the parent, by honoring the parent, you both honor God and empower that parent. Encourage the parent to live into her or his God-given right and privilege of instilling within their child the right of becoming a mature, healthy, and faithful human being. God requires you to honor parents. Obey God, and let the parent take the wins.
Fourth, play the long ball. Earn the trust of the parent over time. You may see and observe dynamics in the immediate that raise questions about the nature of a student's home life. Unless you observe abuse, take the long ball approach. Parents are broken, fallen human beings in need of grace, redemption, and hope - just like you! Playing the long ball game of discipleship, earning the trust of a parent, and observing the family dynamics over time before you open your mouth of criticism will earn you the right to point areas at the appropriate time that need healing and attention. When you play the long ball, you set the whole family up for a win.
Be encouraged to dive into the deep waters of parent partnerships and family ministry. Youth ministry is great. God will no doubt work in the lives of the students associated with your ministry. But I believe that youth pastors and youth workers hit home runs when we take on the role of a family advocate and engage the whole crew in the discipleship process. God desires to change the world by redeeming whole families.
Be on the side of the parent.
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?