Parents! Without parents, our youth ministry would be dead, mainly because we need parents to make babies who then grow up into gangly pubescent boys and selfie-taking girls. More than that, though, we need a solid working relationship with parents because, without them, our efforts at shaping our students’ lives are severely limited. Of course, you might say, some of our students don’t have parents who are around much or who care one way or another about what happens to their child. This is true, but in most cases, there’s an adult out there, a grandmother, aunt or uncle, who’s been keeping those kids alive. We’ll include them as parents, even though they aren’t the biological parents.
Communication is Key
Communication is one of those things that everyone says is important, but shockingly few people are good at. Think about it; if your students’ parents don’t know what’s going on, they can’t encourage their kid to participate. It is essential to communicate to your students’ parents everything that’s happening in your ministry. Don’t just tell them about the details of camp or the times for a lock-in, but keep them up-to-date on what you’re teaching their child. Each week, I send out a weekly email newsletter to both students and parents. Its contents include what we’ll be studying together that week, a list of scripture readings for each day of the week, and the details for upcoming events. The email then gets archived on our church’s web page.
One final word on communication: find out what the best way to communicate with each parental group is. Some respond to email, others to texts, still others to direct messages through social media. Find what works and use it.
They’re Allies, Not Enemies
Some youth workers see parents as the enemy. While it may be true that some parents might actively work against what you’re trying to accomplish, that’s probably because they’ve been burnt by the last youth pastor who didn’t value them or communicate well with them. Most parents want you to succeed. Most parents want to help you with ministering to their students, but they won’t do that unless they feel they are in the loop on things. Help them help you by communicating well with them and…
Become Their Friends
Some of the best relationships I have with people at our church are parents of students. Genuinely invest in your friendship with parents, go out to lunch with them, invite them over for dinner, and play golf (or whatever you like) with them. Do the kind of things you would normally do to build a friendship. As your friendships with parents grow, you’ll be in a stronger position to help them contribute to their child’s discipleship.
This point is crucial for families with multiple children. If you’re blessed to be in a place long enough, you could possibly minister to one family’s kids for 10 to 12 years. That’s a long time to nurture a good relationship! It’s an even longer time to deal with the fallout of a bad relationship.
Your relationship with parents is just as important as your relationship with their students.
Always Ask a Student if It’s OK to Have a Parent Attend an Event
At the same time, however, even if you love a student’s parents and think they would be fabulous youth workers, always get their kid’s approval to attend an event or to help with the youth ministry in general. Some students won’t mind. They’ve got a good relationship with their parental unit and love having them around. Others, not so much. Our students are all trying to figure out who they are in relation to the rest of the world. Some, more than others, need a solid Christian place where they can explore who they are becoming without their parents around.
Admit When You Need Help
There will be lots of times when a parent comes to you for advice. If you’re anything like me, you have a few tools in your toolbox to help with general situations, but you’re soon in over your head when it comes to things like depression, cutting, and parent/student conflict. It’s ok to not be able to fix every situation. It’s not ok to fail to point parents to the proper helpful resources. Spend time researching quality professionals in your community to which you can refer parents in times of crisis. Then, walk with them as much as you can, keeping tabs on the situation, offering what you do have expertise in – the lavish and grace-filled love of Jesus Christ through the tangible arms of the church.
The parents of our students, both the biological ones and the ones that play the role of parents in our students’ lives, are gold of youth ministry. If we’re willing to communicate and cultivate these very important relationships, together, parents and youth workers, we can become powerful allies in our students’ growth in Christlikeness.