One morning, a few weeks ago, I sat in the dentist’s chair as he scraped, drilled, and picked…among other things. I knew what the end result was to be, but I had no clue how he was going to get there. I tried my best to just relax and trust him. In essence, I placed the fate of my teeth in his hands.
Which is what parents do with us in our youth ministries: They put the spiritual well-being of their children in our hands. Not completely and exclusively, of course, as we youth ministers are supposed to complement and supplement the faith formation that is hopefully taking place at home (and in some cases at school).
But while their kids are at our youth gathering, prayer group, or service outing…the buck stops with us. For better or for worse.
Here are four ways that we can better minister to and with parents:
1. Provide regular updates. Parents have every right to know what is going on with their children. For the most part, parents are grateful for what we are doing as youth ministers and therefore don’t necessarily need to know every detail of every gathering. But regular correspondence with the parents will go a long way toward earning their trust. It could be in the form of face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, newsletters, or a regular place in the church bulletin. The parents will be more apt to support us and our ministry if they are kept in the loop.
2. Earn the right to be heard. I’ve written at length before about the importance of earning the right to be heard when working with teens. That is, they won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. The same principle applies to parents. Admittedly, this will look different for parents than it does for teens—we simply aren’t afforded the same opportunities with parents with respect to time. But we can earn their trust through our work with their children. If they sense that we are competent, reliable, and most importantly, authentic and genuine, they will feel more comfortable with us and more likely to support us.
3. Ask them for help. Sometimes parents are willing and able to assist but they just don’t know how. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help from them especially given the time and energy you devote to their kids. For example, I’m aware of many churches that have parents (as opposed to the youth leaders) prepare the snacks for the youth ministry gatherings. Not only will parents feel more invested, the snacks will likely be of better quality. That’s how our parent ministry got started at my home church: I think the parents were sick of me feeding their kids Tang and potato chips. Sad but true.
Another example is getting parents to drive to outings. They might actually prefer to drive their own kids…and in many cases their vehicles are nicer than the youth leaders’… :p
4. Pray for them and with them. It seems obvious that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s sometimes challenging amidst the busyness of ministry, but I encourage you to carve out some time to pray for and with parents. As part of the religious education program I run at my home church, the parents meet in a side room to pray, talk, and eat while their children are in class. As a result, they feel a part of the parish community and are always willing to help.
We should never underestimate the huge responsibility that we have as youth leaders. Parents need to be able to communicate with us, rely on us, and trust us. When parents entrust their children into our hands, opportunities arise to serve together and further strengthen the community.
After all, many hands make light work!