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.
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
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
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.
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
• 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