I think one of the scariest and most unpredictable parts of youth ministry, at least in my experience, is figuring out how to interact with parents of teenagers. I mean, parents of teenagers are like undercover superheroes holding multiple universes together AT THE SAME TIME…yet without any recognition or even awareness. They have to get them to school, practices to pick them up from, attitudes to monitor, coaches to wrestle with, teachers to understand, uniforms to wash, instruments to tune, homework to enforce, family time to squeeze in, and oh yeah, youth ministry to make sure their kids are at every week. They are basically CEOs, good cops, bad cops, secretaries, coaches, conductors, chauffeurs and spiritual shepherds all at once.
And so when it comes to talking to the youth pastor, it’s not that they are trying to come across as intimidating or hard to win over, it’s just that the youth pastor isn’t the only voice in their lives asking for a commitment of more time.
With this in mind, communication and a spirit of openness become very important when connecting with parents. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to you, or commit to anything you’re doing, or help out in any way; it’s just that they want to make sure they are going to be understood and not taken advantage of in the process. They want what is best for their family and for themselves. And guess what? So do you! You both want what is best for your students (their kids) and their families. So being open and communicating are extremely important.
This was something that took me a while to realize in youth ministry. For a long time, I never really knew how to connect with parents, but I knew our ministry needed parents involved and supporting what we are doing. And I knew we needed to be supporting our parents and showing that we are trying to hear and understand them, too.
That One Big Parent Thing
So I just tried something. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to organize it. I didn’t even know what to call it. It was kind of like a parent meeting. It was kind of like a youth ministry service for parents. I had never seen something like this done before, but I wanted to make sure our parents knew we were on their side and wanted to partner with them and support them. So I organized this parent thing – we called it That One Big Parent Thing…I know, real creative – and to make sure as many parents could make it as possible, I scheduled it three times in the span of two weeks. In it, we played a fun game that we play with our students. We had some youth leaders volunteer to make a meal and host the event. We had our youth leaders show up and interact with the parents. We talked about the calendar of events…for the entire year (I highly recommend planning out your entire year, if you don’t already). We asked them about things they are dealing with and how we can support them. And then we listened.
And we did all of this in about an hour or an hour and a half.
The feedback I received from That One Big Parent Thing was overwhelmingly positive. Our parents were so impressed and grateful for our partnership.
And because I dared to experiment, I learned a few valuable lessons:
Simply making yourself available to listen and understand is absolutely key. They need to see you being open to hearing them and valuing their perspective on time, scheduling, values and their students’ needs. Be brave enough to ask. Be bold enough to understand.
2. Reach Out.
If you want to establish a partnership, you need to take the first step to reach out. Remember, this is what you are here to do. You are working for the best possible future for each of your students, and this will require you partnering with their parents at some level. I would even posit that the degree to which you are able to establish a healthy partnership with parents has a direct influence on the degree to which you will have a long-term impact in your students’ lives.
3. Be Human.
You don’t have to be perfect. Parents are expecting you to be Jesus. They just want you to be genuine and to do your best to pour into their kids’ spiritual lives. And when something is beyond your influence, you need to make sure you are asking for help. A youth pastor who is too proud to ask for help is an ineffective youth pastor. You are not called to be superman. Be human.A youth pastor who is too proud to ask for help is an ineffective youth pastor. Click To Tweet
Don’t try to please everyone. This is so hard for me because I am a people-pleaser to the core. But this is absolutely useless in ministry. As much as you try to please everyone, you can’t. And in fact, you shouldn’t. God has placed you where you are to lead students closer to him and into a world-changing future. And sometimes, this means making decisions that not everyone agrees with. But guess what, you’re the youth pastor, not them. So lead.
Show them you care deeply about them and their kids. One of the things I heard at That One Big Parent Thing was how much certain parents appreciated me being present in their kids’ lives. They were referring to the times I was at games, or concerts, or some of the bigger moments in their lives. And to be honest, as much as it meant to the kids, I found that it might have meant even more to the parents. It meant a lot to them, too, because they knew they weren’t the only ones who genuinely cared about their kids. And often, I find myself connecting with parents more than I do with their kids when I go to games or concerts. Now I’m not saying that you need to be at every concert or game, but I am saying that the degree to which you actually care about your students and their parents will be reflected in your presence in their lives.
What about you? What are some other things you have learned in doing ministry to and with parents? Let us know in the comments section!
Frequently drinking specialty coffee or eating Doroto’s Locos tacos, Brant Cole is often mistaken for just another student. With his wife Christine, he has been in youth ministry since 2010. Gifted in relational connections and transformational preaching, Brant finds it to be one of the highest privileges to do ministry with and to students. To him, student ministry is extremely important because students are not just the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. Brant has his M.A. in Pastoral Studies and Congregational Leadership from Moody Theological Seminary, and currently serves as Youth Pastor at Walloon Lake Community Church in Walloon Lake, Michigan. You can connect with Brant on Facebook and learn more about his church’s youth ministry on Facebook and Instagram.