Like every youth pastor, I share a love for destroying things. Often, my decision-making is driven by whether or not something is funny. I still enjoy watching cartoons without my children present and I think bathroom humor always has it’s place.
However, youth pastors must deal with the fact that they are actually adults, as a large part of their ministry success depends greatly on their adulting well with other adults. Students love everything about the guy in the first paragraph, but parents may only see it as proof that you are immature. We have an uphill battle sometimes convincing parents that they can trust us with their students.
We have to convince parents that just because we work with teenagers, doesn’t mean that we are teenagers. We need parent buy-in for our ministry to be healthy. In fact, we need parent buy-in to have a junior high ministry at all! Parents have the money and the car, after all!
I believe there are at least 6 ways to build trust with the parents of your students.
Act Like An Adult Around Adults
You may communicate just fine with a gif of Donald Trump vomiting a rainbow, but adults outside of youth ministry probably don’t. When you drop into “youth-speak” with parents or invite them to meet you for laser tag just to “hang,” it is a quick way to ensure that they will begin to view you as one of the kids instead of an adult. Know your audience and don’t ask parents to “beer you” things just because it gets a laugh about a quarter of the time. Also, be careful which dads you call “dude.”
Give Information with Accuracy and Plenty of Notice
Nothing frustrates a parent more than showing up for an event with their student on a Saturday morning only to find out that the camping trip was cancelled last minute. Whatever your reasons for cancelling, make sure everyone knows with plenty of time so that they can course-correct. If you can’t give enough time, then go ahead with the event anyway. Parents live hectic, overscheduled lives and most of it revolves around getting their kids to and from the next thing. Don’t be the reason that they have to rearrange everything because you didn’t communicate. Let plans fall through too much and the next time you schedule an event, they will likely respond with “Yeah, right. We’ll see.”
This kind of piggy-backs from the last one, but follow-through is super important. Doing what you say you’re going to do doesn’t guarantee parents will like you, but it may help them trust you. Trust goes a long way, friends, so build up as much as you can! It says a lot about your character and integrity if you do what you say you will do. Saying “no” and “I don’t know” take practice, but they can save you from real embarrassment and difficulty in gaining parent trust.
Keep Them Updated About Their Student
Parents trust a youth pastor that knows their kid well enough to have spiritual insights on them. When the youth pastor actually informs the parents about the spiritual journey that their kids are on, though, it’s like fireworks in your honor.
You and I both know that students do not communicate feelings with parents that they may share with youth workers and they share just shy of zero information with them unless they have to. Giving parents updates (without breaking student trust) can make parents feel like you’re trying to help them through the most difficult years of parenting they have experienced thus far. They will be extremely grateful for helping them out. Easiest win right there.
Remain Positive and Encouraging
Ministry is hard and we sometimes feel very alone. However, the people we serve do not need to bear our burdens, we are supposed to bear theirs. Staying positive about your church, your staff/elders, direction of the church, etc. in front of parents goes a long way in helping avoid dissention and church splits. Support your church publicly and save your constructive criticism for those who it concerns or those who can do something with your opinions. Don’t spread the negativity. Church-goers don’t really need your help with that. Am I right? High-five? Anyone?
Lead by Example by Taking Part in Church Life
Join a small group yourself if you are going to preach its importance. Play in the worship band (all youth pastors play guitar, right?), or help with sermon slides. Parents should see you interacting with other adults doing adult things and taking part in the adult ministry at your church.
Sure, you need to know how many crackers you can eat in a minute, but parents don’t. They need to see you modeling for their teenagers what the years after youth group are going to look like. They will thank you for that long before they thank you for that sweet dive you did off of that cliff in Guatemala.
The difficult part here is that youth responsibilities can interfere with this. If so, talk with your pastor about how to rearrange your schedule so that you can take part in the life of the church as a member too. This encourages others to do the same and reinforces the need to contribute to the body at large.
Youth ministry is too important and too hard to try and do alone. You need the support of your student parents to help you to have a healthy student ministry.
Did I leave anything out? Let us know in the comments!
Seth Muse is a blogger, podcaster, and ministry coach who brings seventeen years of youth ministry experience to the table. He was worked in both small and mega churches and is an expert in what not to do. He is married to Kara and they have two children, Kya and Rylan and live in Plano, TX.