Let's face it, student ministry is a young person's game. In fact, if you are a young person and doing vocational youth ministry, you are in the sweet spot. You can relate well to students, you have band-with for their schedules, and you can see the best in them. In fact, you were hired for this exact purpose.
In your youth and exuberance to love kids and be on their team, don't forget to be intentional with winning over their parents. For if you would like to do your job for more than a year or so, you must win your parents love, trust, and respect. Here are 5 ways to pull that off.
1) Communicate clearly: In an era of helicopter parenting on steroids, it would serve the youth worker well to play ball. In every other area of a child's life, there is constant communication from teachers and coaches. Parents always want to know the who, what, when, where, and why of what their kids are involved in.
Every parent will approach their kids' involvement in the church with a range of trust. Some too much, and others not enough. Because we are not mind readers and have no way to understand all the baggage that shapes parents and their needs, it is best to simply adjust to the lowest common denominator. Imagine the most insane helicopter parent, now imagine it is your job to serve them and care for them, and in doing so, you will have the opportunity to care for their kid. The number one way to smooth the waters is clear communication.
Communicate weekly with email. Let parents know what you are teaching and why you are teaching it. Let them know of upcoming events and how the sign up process works. Invite them into conversation and let them know you are available to them. When things cost money, let them know why it costs that and options if they can't pay. This simple, yet often underused, trick is the fastest way to build trust and respect with your parents.
2) Do what you say you are going to do: Now that you have communicated clearly, simply follow through. When you say you are going to do something, teach on something, be back at a certain time, simply do it. Parents want to trust you but are nervous. Not at you, just in general. You should be someone that doesn't raise any issues. And the quickest way to pull that off, say what you are going to do, then do it. Be safe, respect parents and their parameters and issues, and be above board. And when you can't, or don't, fall on your sword.
3) Affirm the role of parents and of the church: We long to build street cred with our students. A fast, but short sighted way to do this is to let them know you are on their side. To traffic in secret conversation and make sure students know how cool you are and what losers their parents or the church is.
Again, this is probably a no brainer, but the church is your employer, and the awful reality is that you are part of the system, you work for the man. This is totally uncool and not sexy at all. In fact it puts you up there with principles on the cool factor. Now you can leverage your relational charm and win over kids, but you can not do it at the expense of those who have real authority over their kids life and yours.
Plus, in the long run, it is going to be the relationship that our students have with their parents and with the church that will long outlast our time as the youth worker in their lives. We can not be the only oracle in these kids lives. We simply have them for a time, to love, pour into, and to launch.
4) Tell them how great their kids are: This little trick is about as easy as it gets. Every Sunday at church, every night after youth group, at the end of every trip, chances are you will bump into parents. Instead of looking through them like they don't matter or flee because you don't know what to say, try instead, to walk up to them and initiate conversation.
And this conversation gets to be really simple. Tell them specifically how great their kid is. You just had them in Sunday School, or youth group, or a trip. Chances are they did at least one thing of note that you thought was cool. Now simply tell their parent.
Here is the reality: LOVE MY KID, AND I WILL LOVE YOU. ;Parents want to know that other people see their kids as the unique and amazing people that they see them as. When you affirm them, talk them up, it helps parents love and trust their kids as well as love and trust you. Don't ignore parents, simply tell them how great you think their kid is!
5) Remember they are the parents: One of the greatest gifts of doing student ministry is being invited into a kid's life. There is so much that goes on in the life of a student, and every now and then you get inited into their world, and they look to you for advice, wisdom, and even help. In these moments it is easy to forget that you are only a momentary fixture in their lives.
What I mean by this is that you are only going to be in their lives for a brief moment. At some point you will move on or they will move on, and come 3, 5, or 10 years down the road your time in their life will be over. Put their parents will be in their life forever.
Parents have a vested stake int he health and well being of their kids. During adolescence things get squirly and we get the amazing pleasure of standing in the gap. But even though parents miss it, they actually do love and care for their kids more than anyone on the planet. To divide them from their kids, or hinder their relationship in anyway is a travesty.
At best we are the facilitator of relationship, and we work hard to bring reconciliation between parents and kids. When parents understand that we know this, parents will trust us all the more, which allows us to have even better and deeper ministry with their kids. And the best part with remembering this important truth, is that we are setting everyone up for success.
We long to be important and we love walking with students. But the sooner parents know we are on their team, the sooner we can enjoy our unique role in the lives of our students. (Even if it is simply for this short season)
MAY YOU LOVE PARENTS WELL, AND IN DOING SO, YOU CAN LOVE THEIR KIDS WELL.