20 Jun, 2015 Chapter 8
MAINTAINING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS
Maintaining good relationships with parents is an important aspect of youth ministry. While it is an easily neglected area, it is wise not to do so for two key reasons: (1) Good communication with parents will avoid a lot of problems. (2) In a Christian home, the parents are responsible before God for the discipleship of their youth!
The second of these reasons is an important perspective to gain. Understanding that the onus of discipling youth coming from Christian homes is NOT the responsibility of Youth Pastors is one of the most releasing Biblical truths we can ever discover. It follows that we should do well to remind parents regularly of this, that they might do diligence in it.
In a Christian home, the parents are responsible before God for the discipleship of their youth.
The Youth Pastor is thus, biblically, only responsible for the discipleship of youth who do not come from Christian homes. For the youth and young adults who come from Christian homes, the youth or young adults ministries are merely tools in the hands of their parents. Whether a youth actually comes is the decision of the parents, and it is a decision we must respect (for God respects it, even if He disagrees with it), but also for which they will be held accountable by God. The easiest passage to see this principle in (and share it from) is Deuteronomy 6.
I would go further to say that communication with parents is a responsibility, because we are in the servant position. For example, if we are approaching a youth to consider a leadership position, we should include their parents in the consultation process also. As another example, it is only fair to inform parents of any changes, such as when changing the annual youth camp dates, before actually making doing so. To not do so can affect their efforts at arranging family holidays (and their family holidays are at least as important for their families’ health as our youth camps are for our youth ministries).
The benefits of communicating regularly with parents
1. Communication with parents is a ‘top of the cliff’ solution to many problems that might otherwise be blown out of proportion. Instead of waiting until an issue with their has reached become a real crisis before they talk with you, they will do so earlier (because communication lines are established). Diligence in it will help you avoid conflict and criticism from them.
2. Open communication lines with parents will also help you to help youth when they have problems, as you can work as a team with the parents. Many times I have called parents when seeking to help a youth with a situation, and the ‘partnership approach’ has proved beneficial.
3. A trusting relationship will also result in parents allowing their youth to attend the ministry, and, in many cases, even actively encouraging them to attend.
4. In addition, you will be positioned to receive valuable feedback, as well as encouragement.
5. But, not least of all, I believe it honours God.
What could we do to aid good communication with the parents of our youth?
1. Hold parents’ nights one or two times per year (as outlined under the ‘P6 Integration’ chapter). This creates a forum for problems to be healthily discussed (before they become real problems). For example, we have benefitted from clarifying that the youth meeting ends by 6:30pm. If a youth claims to still be out ‘with the youth ministry’ at 1am, it is then known that this is not actually the case because we finish at 6:30pm (and I am therefore not actually to blame).
2. Send an occasional ‘parents’ update’ e-mail to all parents (I sought to do this four times per year).
3. Put your ministry’s calendar of events for the coming six months on your website, so parents can always see what is coming up (including knowing the dates of your youth camp so they can try to plan family holidays around this, etc).
Note that this means that you would need to collect the names and contact details of all your youths’ parents. I do this annually at the time of the ‘P6 Integration’.
How might the parents respond to these efforts?
Most parents will not reciprocate the communication attempts, and thus you are doing more than they are. This is a good thing. Likewise the attendance of our parents at the parents’ nights has been generally quite poor.
God can use you as a positive influence in the parents' lives, discipling and encouraging their marriages and relationships with their teens, even though they may be young.
However, even if most parents do not attend the parents’ nights, I firmly believe they are still good to have, because we are (a) fulfilling our responsibilities before God, and (b) putting ourselves in a place where we cannot be accused of not having at least tried to communicate, and establish good communication lines with parents when needed.
However, you may find that some parents will really appreciate the small effort you make to stay in touch. I have discovered that these parents can become a great resource for us, being willing to give more to the ministry too, such as helping out at events or leaders retreat, etc. They also can be source of valuable feedback.
The feedback of parents is different to that of our youth or leaders, because their perspective is different. We need this feedback, and do well to receive it with humility, looking for what we can learn from the parents, even though we may sometimes not like what they are saying. The feedback, may also be of surprising encouragement, so it is always good to listen. I have personally both enjoyed and greatly benefited from feedback and encouragement given by parents!
The challenge of intimidation
The particular challenge in this area is that many leaders or Pastors who are younger in age may find relating to parents a little intimidating, especially when they are overly emotional about, or opinionated on, how some aspect of youth ministry should be run. Ideally, if this is a problem, a ‘Youth Elder’ or Senior Pastor could be asked to be available to ‘sit in’ at some meetings, so as to help the younger Pastor deal with any challenging situations or parents. I recall some parents in previous ministry experiences whom I felt ‘ate me alive’ when I was in my early twenties. They terrified me because of their explosive tempers which I just didn’t yet know how to deal with. But with age and experience I grew. I can recall similar experiences that happened in later years where, in situations when parents lost their tempers, I was able to stay calm and at peace throughout.
The opportunity to develop humility
Humility is likely the key attitude a Youth Pastor needs in this relationship. Humility to receive feedback from parents who do know more than you, because they are much older – but also humility to receive feedback that may sometimes be unfair, or, when you do in fact know more about a particular issue than them because you’ve dealt with it a number of times before, having served a decade or two. With character growth, these things are really not an issue. Some parents will habitually ‘talk down’ to Youth Pastors, and some ‘adult’ Pastors will do the same too. Often this is fair enough, because they really are senior in years or experience in the matters discussed. However, sometimes it is not really fair, but the question I would ask is, “Are you serving man or God?” Before you complain consider that this is no different t what school teachers deal with, where they respond to successive generations of parents making the same complaints each year. Humility, graciousness and gentleness are Christ-like!
How to successfully minister to parents when you are still much younger
As younger Pastors, who likely aren’t parents of teenagers yet, we must accept that we have a limited ability to be ‘mentors’ or ‘teachers’ to the parents. This, however, does not mean that we cannot help and encourage them in their role as parents. Such encouragement is very important for parents and families, and there are few voices giving those important encouraging words!
Their relationship with your youths' parents is certainly not your most important focus, but if you neglect it you might run into a lot of problems you could otherwise have avoided.
A way I have found to ‘add value’ has been to supply the parents with good articles on parenting and marriage. I would give them copies of three articles at every parents’ night, and also two or three articles via e-mails, sent with a ‘parents update’ telling of upcoming events, and so forth. In more recent years, I stopped sending these e-mails (largely as a consequence of computer problems through which I lost my carefully compiled e-mail groupings of all our parents), and discovered in the process that regularly updating our youth ministry website could accomplish much of the same goals.
At parents’ nights, I have often shared a thought with the parents, but I have kept these more biblical in nature, discussing principles, rather than ‘sharing my great wisdom’ on parenting. Anyone can teach Scriptural truths. But then, for application points relating to the parenting of teens, I may share a couple of thoughts from one of the articles I have given them, and then facilitate them breaking into small groups to discuss these with each other. Thus they actually ‘teach’ and encourage each another, I am the facilitator rather than the teacher, and it can be effective.
In the folder titled ’09 – Parents Resources’ on the Kick-start Resource CD I have included a selection of articles. Most of these are written by Jim Burns, being taken from www.homeword.com. You could easily save and use these yourself, or find more articles I have not used at that website, or at others. All you need then is to write two or three questions for parents to discuss after reading one article at a parents night.
As a simple, and useful example, you could read Deuteronomy 6:4-9 together, and then have them discuss the following questions:
1. How can you / have you discipled faith into your children?
2. Share some of the boundaries you have set for your youth, and why.
3. Pray briefly for one another.
Creating a system for what you share with the parents
If you can find a way to remember which articles you have sent, you will not need a great number of articles. Every year you will have P6 (twelve year old) youth’s parents. And every four to five years you will have an entirely new set of parents. You can start using the same articles over again.
Articles for P6 (twelve year old youth) parents:
For the parents of the P6 youth (coming up from the Sunday school) I would usually give them the same selection of articles each year so as to help teach and communicate lessons in some key areas. The articles I would annually give this age group’s parents were (as in the folder in the Kick-start Resource CD):
Article – P6 – The high call of parenting
Article – P6 – Parents’ Guide to Adolescent Development
Article – P6 – Communication – the key to better relationships
Article – P6 – How to live happily through the teenage years
I would stress two key points to P6 youths’ parents annually, in addition to sharing briefly on Deuteronomy 6, I would encourage…
1. That communication with their teen really is the key thing to focus on
– Their child is changing. Communicating only as an ‘authority figure’ is not going to continue to work like it did when they were a child. Get over it and adapt.
– Working hard to keep communication lines open is the ‘top of the cliff’ solution for both avoiding and being able to deal more readily with teenage problems.
– Once communication lines are broken down they are very hard to repair.
2. That the health of their marriage (if married) is very significant to the health of their family as a whole, and the emotional security of their children.
– Hence the reason why many articles on marriage are included in the wider selection of articles that I used.
Hopefully these tips and resources are helpful.
Be reminded that you do have a responsibility, and that you will benefit from giving it due diligence. It is certainly not your most important focus, but if you neglect it you may run into a lot of problems you could otherwise have avoided.
At the same time God can use you as a positive influence in the parents’ lives, discipling and encouraging their marriages and relationships with their teens, even though you are young.
May this be the case!
Something to reflect upon
1. How do you feel when relating to parents – intimidated, confident, inadequate?
2. What ideas from this chapter might work for you in your Church context?