I have made a number of mistakes in student ministry, but working with parents is one thing that I have done pretty well (I think). I rarely have any of those meetings with parents where you just try to keep your head down while criticisms zing past you. Here are a few things that I have done in order to maintain good relationships with the parents of our students.
1. From the beginning I let our parents know that things would be done professionally. I try to communicate with them in a professional way, keep my commitments, and always have a plan. When we take a trip with the students, I map out where we will eat lunch and where we might stop for bathroom breaks. My goal is for parents to know that we always have a plan and that we are responsible. I want parents to trust that I will do what is best for their student, and I will do it as professionally as possible.
2. I am clear on why we do things. Because we have a strategy and values that shape what we do, we have a specific direction that the program is built around and we communicate that. Sometimes a parent will suggest a program or event that really doesn’t fit with our values or our culture. When this happens, it gives me an opportunity to talk about why we do what we do and how what works in the big picture. By keeping the main things in front of us (discipleship and spiritual growth), I am able to not only cast vision, but also reassure the parents that we are working towards something.
3. I encourage them to be a part of the student ministry, and I acknowledge that they actually are the most important part of their students’ discipleship. When I invite students to events or programs, I try to be sure that parents know that they are invited to come as well. They don’t even have to come as chaperones or helpers, they can just come and experience what their student is experiencing. I have had a number of parents who attended events with us who confessed that they were wary about what we did only to later realize, after attending the event, that things were far different from what they had imagined. Some of my best volunteers have come from this, by the way.
4. I welcome comments and criticism. This is not natural for me. I don’t like to be corrected or critiqued. But, for the good of the program and the students, I know that I need to hear other people’s opinions so that we take the best route possible. I make it a point to be available and open to any comments a parent would like to make about the program. Not only does this keep discussions from growing in the background between different sets of parents, it also allows me to understand the heart of the request. Most of the time there is a real reason behind the complaint or comment. If people are upset about the lack of a college class, it is because they are worried about their college student. If people don’t think a program is working, it could be because their kid had a bad experience that I need to know about and then try to correct the environment.
Working with parents is a huge part of being a student minister. Things go infinitely smoother when you and the parents of your students can work together to participate in the discipleship of their students. If things have not always gone well, consider apologizing for your part in any of it, and then you might consider some of the things above. Good luck.