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The New Deal

Karl Bastian

I often ask children's ministers, "Do you partner with parents?" Almost always their answer is, "I try." And when I ask, "How do you partner with parents?" I hear a list of family-friendly events or resources they send home. It seems even the phrase "partnering with parents" conjures feelings of doubt, discouragement, and even frustration for children's ministers, because as much as we know how vital this partnership is, we're not quite sure how to do it. Often I hear the lament, "I've tried, but nothing seems to work."

Partnering with parents--it's a children's ministry catchphrase; it's a tagline; it's a promise. And I'm going to risk offending you by saying that it's something few children's ministers truly do. I'd like to pre-sent you with a challenge that may reinvent the way you think and feel about partnering with parents.

Negotiating Terms

Many children's ministries equip, assist, encourage, or "come alongside" parents. These are all good, valuable, kingdom-enhancing things. But when we say we want to partner with parents, we're talking about a whole new level of cooperation with a whole new level of understanding. We have to answer the question, "What does it really mean to partner?"

Let's start by thinking about it this way. In any effective partnership, there are at least two parties that have agreed to work together toward a common goal or purpose. Each has negotiated defined roles, responsibilities, and rewards. Once both parties are satisfied with what they've negotiated, they make a binding agreement, usually with consequences for breaking the partnership and penalties if a partner doesn't fulfill his or her negotiated responsibilities.

Now imagine a partnership with a twist. Imagine what would happen if each partner got to individually determine all the terms--roles, responsibilities, rewards, consequences--separately and without collaboration from the other partner. It wouldn't work, would it? Each party would have a different idea about its role, responsibilities, and rewards. The partners would be motivated by different factors, possibly even at odds. They would have different expectations of each other. And there's a good chance they'd mutually feel that the other side wasn't holding up its end of the bargain.

This is exactly what can happen with families. We as children's ministers have our ideas about what the parents' job is, what our role is, and what we each should be doing to introduce kids to a growing relationship with Jesus. And yet parents have their ideas about what they think our job is, what their role is, what we each should be doing to introduce kids to a growing relationship with Jesus. And guess what? Our terms don't match.

It's no wonder children's ministers feel frustrated with parents-and parents feel more guilt than support coming from the church. Children's ministry and parents are partners for sure, but we're partners who've never negotiated the roles, responsibilities, and rewards of raising kids to follow Jesus. Chances are we haven't even had a conversation about it.


Initiating Talks

If you truly want to partner with parents as they raise kids to know, love, and follow God, honest dialogue is crucial. You've got to nail down with parents what the terms of the partnership will be. Anything less is not a partnership. We can't partner with parents without including them in the discussion as to what the partnership will include.

Working with the parents in your ministry, you must determine the following:

• The parent's role

• The ministry's role

• The limitations of each

• The challenges you both face

• What your strategy will be to work together

What would it look like if a ministry engaged in a real, negotiated partnership with parents? It's possible. I've seen it happen. I've seen attendance at our events specifically for parents and kids who've partnered with our ministry exceed even our popular general family events. Why? Because parents who buy in to the partnership see the value, agree to be there, and keep their end of the deal. Parents keep their commitments, not out of guilt, but because they feel called to a higher level of commitment, a commitment that's equally matched by a church that's also called to a higher level of commitment.

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