“How could this happen in my own house?”
“It feels like you’re pushing us out the door.”
“I trusted you with my kid on your retreat, and you brought them back all banged up.”
That’s quite a way to start off a positive article, isn’t it? But each of those lines has led me to some of the best family connections I’ve ever made in ministry.
I have had some wonderful family connections over a decade of working with students. The family that housed me during an internship is an important part of my life. I call the kids my “little brothers” and their parents “mom and dad.” Parents that have interviewed me for jobs continue to be on my support teams. I could go on and on about parents and families that still contact me to this day with updates on their lives and to recap old youth group stories.
Each connection I’ve made to a family is different. Leading students in youth ministry and in our church allows me to celebrate with parents as they grow. Going to games and performances lets a family know that you care about all of their students’ life, not just the spiritual parts. And when you walk through tragedy together, you’re bonded in a special way. But some of the best and deepest connections have come through difficult, trying and even conflictual times, and thankfully in my own line of sight.
Take, for example, that third phrase. When you return from a trip and a student is bandaged up, you know it’s going to be a long week of clean up. Sadly, I had let an unqualified volunteer chaperone help on one of our retreats, and it turned into a disaster. We had a bonfire devotional late one night. After it was over, this volunteer sprung out of the woods and tossed water balloons and shaving cream all over some students. One who tried to get away fell around the fire (not in it, thank God!) and had some nasty gashes all up their legs. I knew this family wasn’t going to be happy when we returned. The father and I had a three hour conversation, and I had an equally lengthy talk with this (now ex) volunteer. It was a situation that I thought would never end, and would cause this family to leave our church.
There’s a story that goes with each of those phrases. There were things that I wish I could say and do differently. But now in hindsight, I am so thankful that God used these moments for me to lean into these families. The family that I spoke of is probably my closest connection. The dad wound up as one of our best youth volunteers. He and I are still very close, even though we’ve both moved to different cities. And the injured student wound up interning for me a few years later.
If you’re having trouble making connections with families, that’s ok. Do your best to jump into the big moments. They let you walk hand in hand through some of the great times. But don’t be afraid of the tough moments, because they may lead you to some of the most beautiful relationships you have.
Charlie is the Director of Student Ministries and High School Minister at the Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, TN. He has been working with students since he was 19 and wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s married to the incomparable Hayley and they have two awesome boys.