Relating to Parents in Student and Children’s Ministry

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If you are a leader in student or children’s ministry, do you remember the first time it dawned on you that you needed to figure out how to relate well to parents of kids in your ministry? I do.

Vaguely.

A kid was acting up and I needed to go get his dad to help motivate the child toward better behavior. The child was a pastor’s kid. And the dad? Yea, you guessed it. He was one of the staff pastors.

That incident early in my leadership journey commenced a long road toward learning how to engage parents in conversation, learning how to connect with them with a fully orbed relational perspective. I recognized intuitively that if the only time I approach parents is in the context of their child’s alleged misdeeds, then I was sowing the seeds of destruction in my relationship with them, not to mention ignoring the majority of parents whose children got along just fine.

I didn’t want to be one of those children’s pastors. I wanted to do all that I could to love and pastor both the children and their parents in proactively positive ways. I would go to ball games and concerts. I visited families in their homes. On one occasion I acted as a surrogate father for an young girl whose single mom asked me to attend an awards ceremony honoring the girl (and other children) since the mother could not afford to miss work to attend. The girl beamed with pride as she came off the stage before the cheering crowd and ran into my arms for a hug.

I shared my life with families. Introvert that I am, I strived to overcome my preference for seclusion in order to be faithful in my responsibility to love in the way of Jesus and influence parents to do the same for each other and their children.

There is no secret elixir that will miraculously transform you into a guru of relating to parents. It’s hard work. It means swallowing your pride, ditching some of your ambitions, and choosing to let certain debates revert to the loss column, because you know what? It’s not about you, leaders. It’s about being faithful to the call God has placed on your life. It’s about modeling the way of Jesus.

Don’t worry. God has your back. He will deal with the gossipy parents and kids. He will also deal with senior leadership when they choose sides before gaining an understanding of the whole story. Just be faithful. Be kind. Be consistent in your love for all the kids, all the parents, and all of the church’s leadership.

Respect from parents is earned over the long-term through consistent, daily, credible fulfillment of your responsibilities to the church, the parents, the kids, and especially to the Lord God.

Got feedback for this post? Fire away. I want to hear from you.

encouraging parents

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Over two years have passed since I was a children’s pastor at a local church. Yet since I’ve returned to that same church as a regular parishioner, opportunities have presented themselves to serve occasionally with children and youth, to pray for and encourage friends, both long-time and new, and especially to re-engage parents in conversation, albeit as a friend, rather than as a pastor.

I love parents. They’ve embarked on a risky journey of blessing and occasional terror. They know the joys of first experiences in their children’s lives, and the fright of unexplained illness or frustrating rebellion. On its best days, it is a hard job. Then add to all the life stuff the awareness that it is their responsibility to disciple their own kids. Sometimes it helps to have a listening confidential ear to process it as they seek God’s direction and the best way forward.

In 2009 I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this very topic. If you are a premium member of Kidology you may download it for free here. I essence, I advocate as a starting point in engaging parents the practice of conversational parent coaching. For a synopsis of how I did this, you can view the currently inactive blog I used as one point-of-contact with parents here. It is loosely based on the work of Karl “Kidologist” Bastian, who produced and sells his Leadership Lab #4: Partnering With Parents. on the Kidology website.

I’ve learned that when it comes to their children, most parents want what is best for them. This is true whether the parents are Christian, Muslim, Athiest, Agnostic, and so on. While at first some may be hesitant to talk about their stuff with a pastor or trusted friend, the inevitable crises we all experience eventually can soften their hearts, causing them to be more open to a conversation.

And that is all it really is at its core: a conversation. One person listening and asking helpful questions; the other sincerely dealing with the real issues they and their family face. I’ve done this with single parents and with couples, always with the aim of encouraging and blessing them.

I invite you to become a member of Kidology and download this free resource, plus taking advantage of all the other great discounts and free content. You may even discuss the content with me on the forums here.

remembering Jesus at the communion table

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Glances around the table. Reclining in the custom of their day, the disciples were satisfied with their preparations. So much had happened since they first began following Jesus. Although most of them were still young, they had learned much, experienced much. Once again the Passover was upon them. Various conversations ebbed and flowed. They ate in that comfortable way which comes from three years of doing life together everyday. Some were relaxed; others, particularly Judas Iscariot, seemed furtive, restless.

Then Jesus interrupted their dinner conversation, stunning all of them into brief silence. “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

Each of them, one by one, asked, “Surely, you don’t mean me?” Judas was last to ask this question.

With certainty, Jesus replied, “You have said so.”

Awkwardly they continued to eat, the conversation now subdued. Jesus looked at them, tenderness in his eyes. He raised a loaf of bread. They looked at him expectantly, quieting their conversations. He gave thanks, broke the bread, and then passed it to them, saying, “Take and eat; This is my body.”

Quietly, they did so, pondering his words. What did he mean, this is my body? But he wasn’t finished speaking. Breaking into their thoughts, he reached for the cup of wine, gave thanks again, and then passed it to them, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

More glances around the table. They each partook. Someone started singing a hymn. Not sure who, and not sure which one, but soon most joined in with full voice.

I wonder if their voices rang in Judas’s ears as he departed the scene, the song co-mingled with the penetrating memory of Jesus’ declaration that he would betray his master of three years.

The last supper of Jesus and his disciples reminds us of a few important things:

He wants us to remember his body, his blood each time we gather in community, and to do so bringing our brokenness to him and each other so that we may be forgiven and healed (Mt. 26:28).

He wants us to remember that there will come a day when all who choose to follow him will share with him and each other personally in his father’s kingdom (Mt. 26:29).

He wants YOU to remember he loves you. So much that he died for your sins in your place (Jn 3:16-18).

Quotes above taken from Matthew 26 (NIV).

Engaging Parents in Your Church in Conversation

Partnering with parents–wait…it’s not what you think. I’m not going to rattle off statistics, cliches and trite admonitions that we need to do better. Instead, I’m going to invite you to consider engaging parents in your church in conversation.

Kidology has graciously agreed to host my doctoral dissertation on its website. You may go directly to the download page here.

I won’t lie: it’s a dissertation, not a popular level book on church life. That said, I do define obscure terms in a brief glossary of terms within the dissertation. Also, the formatting of the work follows conventional scholarly protocols within my academic discipline. In other words, it may seem academic at some points, and downright dry at others.

Nevertheless, I happen to know there are gems contained therein. The literature review alone is worth the download. But of greater significance is where the study led me in terms of practical application: parent coaching.

Although I am no longer a Children’s Pastor or church leader of any kind, I continue to use the principles learned as I engage my neighborhood in mission. Don’t be put off by the title Praxis of Nurture in Small Churches. Praxis refers to truth discovered in action, as well as applied truth. It speaks to the necessary synthesis of theory and practical application and how they inform and impact each other in mutual process.

The reference to small churches was chosen against the advice of my primary reader. He thought I was unnecessarily limiting the impact of the work. He was probably right in some respects especially insofar as parent coaching truly can be beneficial to any size or type of church context. But I do not regret my decision because of the reasons stated in the body of the document which can be summed up as: small churches cannot always hire to their weaknesses so we need to think through how we might help families intentionally disciple their children without the aid of professionally trained specialists.

If you are a church leader who impacts parents and families, I hope you give the dissertation a read. It’s relevant for youth and children’s ministry leaders and for senior leadership, too. If you do read all or part of it, log on to the discussion forum to give me your feedback or ask questions. Thanks!

I’m not JUST a volunteer

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I’m not JUST a volunteer. No. Far from it. I’ve chosen my opportunities in life and ministry. I am a volunteer by choice and in mindset. I choose to serve. And I’m not alone.

In the many years I served in volunteer leadership at two different churches, I was privileged to have other high caliber colleagues come alongside me. By choice. They weren’t coerced, guilted, manipulated, or otherwise condescendingly queued into the ministry volunteer pipeline. Perhaps that explains the service longevity of so many of them, even after my departure from both leadership positions. It was never about my charming personality. It was always about their singular commitment to serve God to the very best of their ability.

Want to find people like this in your church? Open your eyes, your heart, your mind, even your home. Get to know people.

1. Start with gatekeepers and networkers. They will provide introductions. I always maintained close connections with these relational influencers throughout my leadership tenures.

2. Invite people to join you for a meal and/or just conversation. Give them a glimpse into your life. Accept their invitations to enter theirs. Nurture lifelong friendships.

3. Give away responsibility and authority. Risky, I know. Obviously, maintain oversight. But do you really need or want to make every decision, especially when you have emerging and existing strong leaders on your team? Trust them. Hold them accountable, but empower them to thrive.

4. Rid yourself of preconceptions about people. Many people are far more willing to sacrifice time, resources, and energy for a greater ministry cause than we we often assume. Cast a big ole freakishly audacious vision and invite others to help you refine it, own it, and implement it.

5. Those people sitting in the adult service every week? Sure they love their weekly worship experience. Now think about how you might inspire and resource them to fulfill their God-given dreams. Hint: if they are anything like me, the fulfillment of their dreams might not occur on the church campus or as something directly and primarily benefitting church people; indeed, they may be the very people poised to help your church impact those who will never voluntarily choose to attend your campus experiences.

I love my pastor and worshipping with my friends in our adult venue. Precious people. But I am not content to be a pew sitter. Nor am I JUST a volunteer, grudgingly agreeing to perform ecclesial community service so I can get the church leaders off my back on a monthly basis. I want to serve significantly with profound impact in my faith community, my neighborhood, and my city.

I know I’m not alone. There are others like me in my church and yours. Your job, leaders? Identify, equip, empower, and unleash them.

O = A + I x (WE). What is the value of O?

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Yesterday I posted a leadership equation, inviting readers to guess at its meaning. The equation is:
O = A + I x (WE). Obscure, I know. The only original hint I gave is that it related to life and leadership. I began tweeting about it, offering a couple of hints. First I disclosed that the value of I is Initiative. Early this morning I gave away almost the entire equation, except for O. I tweeted the following: “O = Attitude + Initiative x (Work Ethic). What is the value of O?”

What indeed? In the context of life in general and leadership in particular, attitude and initiative combine as a powerful collaborative elixir. Their synthesis produces a singularly potent work ethic, which in turn multiplies the impact of the operands, attitude and initiative, to produce…drum roll…wait for it….it’s almost here….

Opportunity.

Thus, Opportunity = Attitude + Initiative x (Work Ethic).

Think about it. Many people have a sense of entitlement. They expect opportunities to be handed to them on a silver platter.

Got a degree? Wow! Here’s a job! Earned that certificate of subject matter mastery? Oh please, please, let us hire you! Have years of experience in a line of work? When we stop falling over ourselves to get to you, please do sign the dotted line and tell us your salary and benefit requirements.

It simply doesn’t work that way. Opportunities are created through a combination of attitude and initiative, multiplied by a strong work ethic. Every time. The quickest path to killing opportunity is to portray a sense of entitlement.

This is true in business, in the church, and pretty much in any endeavor you might wish to pursue. It is especially true in leadership. Your attitude, your initiative, and your work ethic are contagious. For good or for bad. They combine, as in the equation, either to generate opportunity for yourself, your team, and your organization, or to kill it. As leader, you set the tone. Question is, what will be the character and result of that tone?

The answer to this question will determine the kind and caliber of opportunities you lead your team to encounter moving forward.

Leadership Equation

Moments ago, at 12:30 pm PST, I posted the following statement on Twitter: “O = A + I x (WE) First person to guess the meaning of this equation gets a huge twitter and blog shout out from me. You have 24 hours. Go.”

So, at 12:30 pm tomorrow, I will reveal the winner if there is one. Otherwise, I will post about the meaning of the equation and how it impacts the lives of people, particularly leaders. Oh. Wait. I just inadvertently disclosed an exclusive hint. More hints to come via twitter later this evening if needed. Meanwhile, what do you think the equation means? You may comment here or reply to me at http://www.twitter.com/glenwoods. Have fun!

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