Guest Post by Ronald Long


“She will need to use the bathroom every 30 minutes on the mission trip”

“Make sure he takes his medicine every four hours”

“Are you sure they won’t ever be by themselves?”


Being in middle school ministry means putting up with a whole lot of lawnmower parents. You know the type. The parents who want to make sure that their kids never face any challenges or have to figure out anything on their own. They fill out the application for their kids, they do of all of the student’s communications, and they explain to you about all of their kids very specific and time-consuming needs.


Now hear my heart: I love parents. I love working with parents and having them as volunteers and having them come with me as leaders on trips. I’m not against parents. But I am all about shepherding them.


When we run into a parent who’s making a request that we find unreasonable or is trying to tell us why their student requires special treatment, we attempt to figure out how we can make the situation work for both parties.


Often we ask ourselves these questions.


Is there a legitimate reason for the request being made?

Is there a way we can help teach the parents how to let their student take the lead?

Is this something we should say no to?


Is there a legitimate reason for the request being made?


Sometimes a student’s medicine needs refrigeration. Or they need to carry snacks because they have type two diabetes. Those are pretty big deals. Sometimes parents have legitimate concerns we need to address. Those are things we’re willing to accommodate where we are able.


And sometimes the student needs to figure out what they can and cannot eat without the parent calling the retreat center three months in advance and asking what the menu is going to be (not lying, actually happened).


There are things that you’ll have to take on a case-by-case basis. But these are vastly outnumbered by the things parents and students need to learn how to navigate, which leads us here:


Is there a way we can help teach the parents how to let their student take the lead?


Our policy when it comes to medicine is that the student keeps it on their person and is responsible for taking it and not losing it. We might be a small enough ministry to where we can get away with something like that, but we want students to be in charge of remembering to take their pills and I don’t want my leaders to have to keep a spreadsheet on who needs medicine when. Does that mean Little Johnny might get super hyper after he forgets to take his Adderall? You bet. But does that mean he’s going to try to figure out what’s going on then learned that he ought to take it? It sure does.


That’s one policy we put into place in order to let parents know that their students are going to HAVE to step up and be responsible for themselves.


We also really try to push students towards taking responsibility for things throughout the week. We use Planning Center to schedule student leadership responsibilities. When a sixth grader comes to me and says they want to start helping out and be put on the schedule, the first thing I tell them is that they need to sign up using their own personal email. Not one Mom and Dad have one that belongs to them.


This helps students begin to take responsibility for themselves on a weekly basis. We give very short and specific job descriptions out for each job. That includes WHEN they need to show up.


I have students who show up early just in case someone forgets their job for the week. Am I going to give away that stage job to the student who showed up early when the one who was signed up didn’t show until five minutes before the program starts? I sure am. Because I want to teach them about being responsible.


Hopefully, these small lessons mean when it comes time for a retreat or mission trip, they’re a little bit more responsible than for bigger things.


Is this something we need to say no to?


There are things we say we can’t ensure or accommodate. Your student might be outside the immediate view of a leader during a trip. We may not be super close to a bathroom (or unable to stop for a break because of traffic).


This might mean Susan doesn’t come on the trip with us. That’s okay. The parents need to know that in order for their student to participate, they need to have a reasonable level of responsibility. If a student can’t step up, that might mean they can’t handle a five-day mission trip. YET. Sometimes this helps parents see the need for their student to step up.


Other times it means angry phone calls to the senior pastor.


In student ministry, we get to help shepherd parents as well as their students. Sometimes it means walking alongside them and helping them see how they were holding their student back by taking all the responsibility away from them.


What comes in middle school students, I’m willing to let them learn to be a little bit more responsible, even if the student makes a mistake from time to time.


It’s that cool grace thing we talk about so much.


How do you help walk alongside lawnmower parents?


Ronald Long is a DYM author and the Middle School Pastor at Wayside Chapel in San Antonio, Texas. His wife Bekah is amazing and his three daughters are just like her. He runs a podcast called “Talking Squirrels – The Middle School Ministry Podcast” where he talks about hanging with and ministering to middle school students.