Wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone we met liked us and vice versa? If every person we encountered at a gas station, restaurant, or grocery store was super pumped to see us, life would be pretty great, wouldn’t it? What if every single person we worked with was like our BFF? What if the guy that cut you off in traffic made sure he waved in apology, smiled, and wished you a nice day? If we liked everyone around us and they liked us, our lives and our ministry would be amazing. But the truth is, of course, slightly different.
Unfortunately, we won’t always like everyone we do life and ministry with. And they won’t always like us. This is just human nature. We know this, and we strive to overcome it. But it can be particularly tricky when that person who doesn’t like you is a parent of one of your students. Ouch.
Here’s the truth: when you do ministry long enough, you will find there will be students’ parents who, for no reason or a variety of reasons, don’t like you. It’s a very real phenomenon that, if not handled properly, can derail your ministry to their student. If it gets bad enough, it could derail your ministry to ALL your students.
So how do we deal with this? How do we manage personality conflict in a way that allows us to continue to minister effectively? (Here are a few thoughts . . . And yes, I must say that I write this from experience. I can gladly say that it hasn’t happened often, but in the almost 20 years of doing ministry, it HAS happened.)
Point 1: Try to identify WHY certain parents don’t like you.
There are two reasons why parents don’t like you. One, you’ve done something to hurt their feelings or make them upset in some way. Or, two, there is simply enough of a personality difference between you two that they don’t like you. (And maybe you don’t care for them, but that’s another blog post. LOL.) If you think you have done something to hurt or frustrate a parent, you don’t have a choice: you have to apologize and seek forgiveness. As far as your faith goes, Scripture doesn’t leave you much room here. Jesus is pretty clear: if you have wronged someone, even unintentionally, you have to seek forgiveness. And for the sake of your ministry, you need to work to try and undo the wrong. Own your mistake. Do the work to clear the air (even if it might not change the outcome).
Point 2: As far as it is up to you, make every effort to get along.
Whether you have made a mistake that led to the animosity, or it is just a natural personality conflict, you can’t move forward holding grudges or letting the conflict fester. You have to keep going, being aware of the issue, making sure that you don’t exacerbate it any further, but not tiptoeing around it. Be kind to the parent. Greet them as you would anyone else. Make an effort to double down on communication. Kill them with kindness, as the saying goes. Making a mistake is human. Compounding on that mistake by being petty or holding a grudge is not OK for a Christ-follower, especially one in ministry.
Point 3: Acknowledge that MAY never get along with them.
Here’s the deal: if the source of your issue with a parent is simply the product of two very different personalities, it’s OK to admit that you may NEVER get along. I can think of a few parents throughout my time in youth ministry who didn’t like me. It wasn’t anything I had done, per se, it was just who I am. One family, in particular, was EXTREMELY straight-laced. If you know me, I am pretty laid back. I take ministry seriously, but I don’t take myself TOO seriously. I just rubbed them the wrong way. They were not overtly rude or mean to me, but everything about their posture and communication toward me was apparent: they weren’t fans. And it was like that for the entire time I ministered to their child.
Sometimes we have to face the fact that we will never get along with certain parents.
You've probably studied teenagers' needs, their
culture, and even their ever-changing lingo in
preparation to be the most dynamic youth worker
your church has ever seen. But when was
the last time you studied their parents?
Point 4: Don’t let issues with the parents impact your relationship with a student.
Here’s the deal: we have to separate their child from them as much as possible. I know that this may be hard, as, unfortunately, many parents are open about their dislike for others when they should practice restraint and keep those feelings under wraps. But as best as you can, you have to minister to their students as effectively as you would any student. See their student as an individual. Honor their parents as much as possible. Reframe the way you approach their student. Take the mental approach, “I am going to minister to this student as if I am ministering to their family through them.” It’s a shame when personality issues impact our ministry. But it’s tragic when personality issues between parents and us keep us from discipling students.
Point 5: Try not to give them any more ammo.
If you know that there are aspects of your personality that rub a parent the wrong way, do whatever it takes to minister to them in ways that minimize the issue. If you are not great with details, mind your “p’s and q’s” around these parents. Go above and beyond to make sure you don’t drop the ball when it comes to them. If you’re a little goofy, rein it in a bit when interacting with them. If you’re too young for their tastes, age ten years before having a conversation with them. (Sorry . . . Couldn’t help but take a shot. See? Maybe that’s why folks don’t like me!) As best as you can, work to engage with them in a way that seeks to make peace.
Point 6: If it gets unhealthy, bring someone else in.
There is a point in every one of these situations where it tips over from just your run-of-the-mill personality conflict to a damaged relationship. There are no hard and fast rules for knowing when the line has been crossed, but you know it when you see it. If a conflict appears to be moving from inconvenient to problematic, get WAY out in front of it and bring someone else in. Ideally, this is your senior pastor or your supervisor on staff. The best way to process this is to schedule a meeting where you honestly and transparently lay out the timeline of the issue. Own anything you need to own. Don’t sugarcoat anything, but don’t exaggerate either. Allow your supervisor to influence the next steps. If they want to call a meeting, so be it. If they merely want to monitor, that’s great. The point is that you have brought the issue into the light, and if it gets worse, at least there is accountability.
No one wants conflict with students’ parents. And while it may be unavoidable at times, there is much we can do to persevere through it. At the end of the day, you should be motivated by wanting to stay above reproach, and as far as it is up to you, putting the discipling of students above interpersonal conflict.
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