Parent Relationships Matter
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I once heard a pastor friend say, “The worst thing about ministry can sometimes be people.” I don’t know about you, but I feel that sometimes. In a job/role/calling that is so relationship-focused, maintaining those relationships can often be the most challenging thing.
If you’re anything like me, talking and being around teenagers is nothing difficult. I have my awkward quirks just as much as the next guy. I say silly things around them that usually ends in laughter at the old guy trying to be “hip.” Try using the word “skrrrt” in casual conversation, and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about. But even with my quirks and old-guy awkwardness, building relationships with students has never been difficult. After all, that’s what we are called to do! To build relationships and trust with students so that they hear and know the message of Jesus. That’s the calling, so that’s where the most effort goes.
But one thing I was challenged with when I started my current church role was to be mindful of all the relationships I had, not just with students but with adults, too. I was challenged to be mindful of my relationships with parents, working to build that same trust with them as I already had with their students. And I was challenged to work on my relationships with other adults in the church who now look to me as a leader in their congregation. And that stuck with me. So much so that I try to monitor those relationships across the board at church. When I see a student's family on Sunday morning, I talk to the whole family, not just the student. I ask the mom and dad about work, family vacations, and what they are excited about concerning their students. It’s led to many great relationships, friendships, and working communication lines in our ministry.
But again, one of the hardest things about ministry is sometimes people. Or rather, one of the worst things is when the relationships with those people get hurt.
Here’s the scene: a new class of 6th-grade students was promoted into my student ministry this past fall. 6th-graders always seem to be hit or miss in our group and are rarely consistent. Families, especially younger students, struggle with transitioning from kids ministry to students, so we are always thinking of new ways to bring them in and keep them here. This year, I had the not-so-crazy idea to invite the parents of those new 6th graders into our student ministry as well. I invited them to come to student ministry events, student worship times, and to be a part of all that was happening so they could catch the vision in hopes of easing any tension. It went great at first! Almost all the new 6th-graders were consistently coming each week, and parents were too! After a few months of them attending, I sent an email (don’t ever start with email…always go face to face or phone) asking these new parents to let their kids fly out of the nest. They’ve assimilated great, it’s great having them there, and now you can trust they are taken care of. That was a mistake.
A few weeks went by, and a lot of those families disappeared. I couldn’t figure out why they were so active, then altogether gone until a Sunday morning when my pastor pulled me aside. That wasn’t a fun chat. My email went horribly wrong. And some of the parents were greatly offended that I would ask them to step back now. There were reasons to ask, thought out, and discussed with trusted advisors. I’ll spare you the bad details of the events that transpired afterward but suffice it to say it hurt.
There wasn’t hurt from my pastor, my job, or anyone else in leadership at our church. They understood what I did and the reasoning behind it. The hurt came from the broken relationships I now had with these families. The trust I had with these parents was no longer there. The students I was there to minister to were also no longer there. Say what you will about parent volunteers, my reasoning for email over phone calls, and the why behind the ask, all of it is a moot point. I broke a relationship I had worked hard to build. And to be fully transparent, it's still suffering.
I don’t write all of these things to merely recount a student ministry horror story. I don’t write to lament about parents who frustrate me. I want you to see the fundamental importance here. So excuse my caps lock but PARENT RELATIONSHIPS MATTER. You are not just a minister, pastor, or shepherd to teenagers. You are all those things to their entire family. What you do and say matters, not just for the students in your ministry but for their families as well.
Why is that important? When one relationship gets hurt, they all suffer. My relationship with those new 6th-graders suffered because I wasn’t purposeful in the way I communicated with their parents. And there was a new mountain to climb in rebuilding that relationship, one that I am still working to mend.
Here’s my encouragement and plea: be mindful and purposeful with your relationships. Focus on the depth and integrity of those relationships. Call a parent and check in on their family as often as you text their student. High-five moms and dads when you say hi to their teenagers on Sunday morning. Ask a parent to volunteer in your group. Pray for entire families. Love and care for all the people/families God has placed under your ministry calling.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What struggles have you experienced with the parents in your ministry? What helped you overcome them?
- Are there any precedents you set for new parents in your ministry so that you can care well for them? If not, what could you implement?
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