by Ryan Reed
Recently, I led two high school ministry events that kept students out past midnight. I broke the cardinal rule of student ministry.
Both events started late in the evening—both concerts, both explicitly Christian.
Afterward, one of my high school group leaders approached me and asked, “How did you get away with this?” To which I responded, “I didn’t just get away with it. For four years, I have been working tirelessly to earn the respect and trust of parents. That is why I can do events like this.” And the dividends of doing so pay off huge.
But not just for fun events. Earned respect and trust allow the student ministry of our church to extend 10 times further than it could if I ran a solo operation without the inclusion of parents. How so, you might wonder? Once parents see you as being for their family, not against it, then parents WANT to share with other parents about a program that meets the felt needs of their student, while honoring the values of their family.
Indeed, as contrary as this may sound to ministry leaders, parents are your most valuable asset.
I value parents within my student ministry so deeply. The bond of our partnership extends several years. Over these years, I have noticed three primary keys that I did to earn their trust. Of course, I can list hundreds of little things that amount to a thriving partnership, but even these little things could not overshadow these three key ideas:
1. Listen Well – Actively listening well requires an affinity for the other rooted in humility and love. Truly, one who listens well pursues the kind of characteristics that Paul outlines for the church in Ephesians 4 and Philippians 2. Actively listening to a parent describe issues in their family, fears, desires, and so on means more than you could possibly imagine for a parent. So many other organizations simply want something from a parent. You can bring something different and transformational to the family. As you do so, I hope you come to discover that listening communicates more than you could ever know.
2. Communicate Often – Some take different approaches to communication. Some say that over-communicating achieves desired outcomes, while others say that communicating as little as you can without losing the message is the key. I opt for strong, repetitive, intentional communication. Parents will be the first ones to admit they need reminders. There is a lot of “communication noise” for parents, stemming from a variety of places. According to Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage, you are the Chief Reminding Officer for your student ministry, so you should remind as often as possible. For parents, however, there is a balance. Too much noise drowns out your message. Not enough, and it gets lost in the crowd. Each week, I send one email to every single one of my parents, along with one print version of the necessities in order to get the basics covered. Then, I hit the parents with direct missiles on big ideas that I need them to know, such as major events, camps, retreats, and discipleship tools—as often as it takes, but without seeming pedantic. Sometimes, I aim a lot of missiles. Sometimes, not as many. It depends on the situation, so you must wisely discern your best approach. My best advice is to seek the counsel of a few core parents to represent the whole. I did, and it worked tremendously for the method I currently use.
3. Seek Forgiveness When Necessary – Inevitably, you will fail your parents and students. You are a broken human being. Sooner than later, you will say or do something that offends another parent—perhaps even deservingly. Regardless of the situation, however, you must always choose the relationship over the principle. Always choose relationships over principles! This may be your greatest opportunity to earn trust! This will bear a greater witness to Jesus Christ than most anything that you will teach. Moreover, acknowledging your mistakes and failures demonstrates self-awareness, humility, and a preference for the other—foundational traits for every Pastor . . . for every Christian!
Strive for trust! Stop at nothing to earn trust! Do what you need to do—short of illegal or immoral—to earn trust!
QUESTION: What steps have you taken to earn the trust of your parents?
Ryan is the Pastor to Students and Families at Hillside Church in Corte Madera, CA, and has been serving in his current position since August 2011. Ryan married the love of his life, Stacy, and they welcomed their daughter, Hannah, last January 2014. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter or Facebook.