Parents can be your biggest asset—or the biggest voices of dissent you must work with in ministry. Regardless of where on the spectrum they fall, all parents are a huge part of what you do in children’s ministry. Your ministry impacts them. You want open communication and real-time engagement with them. But despite all the work you do to that end, there will always be some parents who just won’t tell you their opinions, fears, or concerns. Maybe they’re scared to offend you, worried you’ll judge them or fearful of the ramifications of what they tell you.
We asked parents across the country to anonymously tell us the secrets they say they’ll never tell their children’s ministers. These hidden secrets may give you a jolt—but they may also be something you’ve suspected but couldn’t confirm.
Read on to uncover six secrets you need to know—and discover pointers on how you can approach and partner with these parents.
Secret 1: “I don’t buy into your ministry.”
Ouch. This is a tough one and something no children’s minister wants to hear. As counterintuitive as it seems, some parents just don’t buy into the value of children’s ministry. Maybe it’s that they don’t see that your ministry goes beyond decorations, slimy crafts, or loud music. Or maybe they disagree with the entire concept of children’s ministry or they don’t like your ministry approach.
“I wish our children’s ministry would bring back teaching the Word; to include the 10 Commandments, the Beattitudes, and so on. Train the children to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. Teach them how to pray. Talk about the Fruit of the Spirit and the promises of obedience and curses of disobedience. But mostly, I wish they’d to get back to the Bible.”
—Joe, father of two, Madison, Wisconsin
“I secretly think children’s ministry is a terrible thing because it gives parents a way out of their spiritual responsibility to point their kids to Jesus. But I let my daughter attend because it brings her so much joy.”
—Frank, father of one, Washington, D.C.
“You’re entertaining too much. It’s not a circus. We want substance. Meat.”
—Mary, mother of five, Boston, Massachusetts
If parent buy-in is an issue you feel you’re dealing with, at the root you may have a communication issue. It’s time to over-share with parents what their children are learning. Communicate through email, take-home pages, and face-to-face conversation. Advertise the spiritual wins that are coming out of your ministry. Shout from the rooftops the Scriptures kids are learning, the biblical “meat” they devour every week and the lifelong commitments they’re making. Show parents week in and week out that real, life-changing ministry is happening.
Secret 2: “I disagree with you.”
Many of us have heard this in some way before. One of the first lessons we learn in ministry is that we’ll never please everyone—so we grow thicker skin. Parents are often more willing to say when they disagree with you, but these parents’ comments show the issues may go deeper than curriculum depth.
“The children’s pastor’s children are out of control.”
—Clayte, mother of two, Boston, Massachusetts
“I don’t care for our children’s pastor in general, so I’d have my husband talk to him if something arose. I would give a general prayer request to all the pastors so he was aware, but I wouldn’t talk to him personally.”
—Tricia, pregnant mom, Boston, Massachusetts
“I really dislike that our adult volunteers are allowed to have their 7-, 8-, or 9-year-olds in the nursery ‘helping’ with the infants and 1-year-olds. I think that’s extremely unsafe and uncalled for. Kids this age aren’t suited to ‘help’ with young children who are dependent for so much from an adult.”
—Elizabeth, mother of one, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Special needs children are still children. If you don’t put the same effort into them as you do the rest, you lose them and their whole family. For some families, the church can be elemental to a parent’s sanity. It may be the only chance we have to hear the Word and get a break all in one service.”
—Monica, mother of five, Boston, Massachusetts
“I don’t agree with our children’s pastor’s methods. Because 3-year-olds won’t do a craft or sit for long periods of time doesn’t mean they need to be in a nursery and play with toys and have no curriculum or lessons. Our children’s pastor believes they won’t get anything from it, and I completely disagree.”
—Heather, mother of four, Des Moines, Iowa
This kind of criticism is usually the kind reserved for private venting sessions. It can hurt, but these comments are great reminders that we can all do a regular heart-check to ensure we’re giving the best to all families and modeling what we expect from them. Some parents may not know you well. They may not know your heart for ministry, for your family, or for their family. Spend time with them, get to know them, and let them see how much you care and are always looking for ways to improve.
And remember this: Parents aren’t your enemy because they disagree with you. They know your job is tough, but they also have a different perspective and specific needs. Some are advocating for their own families’ needs while others may have a passion for an area you don’t. Listen to parents, learn their perspective, and add it to the knowledge you already have. If it all matches up with where God is leading your ministry, run with it—and invite those parents to run with you.
Secret 3: “I’m Really Struggling”
It’s a sad reality that many parents aren’t in the picture-perfect situation we see on Sundays. Some are struggling in serious ways, but they don’t know how—or if—they can reach out to you. These are the secrets that stop you in your tracks—and renew your dedication to your ministry to families.
“I’d be scared to tell our children’s pastor any details about our struggles at home for fear of having my kids taken away. Even if the struggle had nothing to do with abuse, it seems that the government and child services are finding more and more ridiculous reasons to remove children from their homes. It’d be hard to trust anybody with information regarding a struggle in my ability to parent.”
—Antonio, father of three; Boston, Massachusetts
“Financial issues. We can’t always go to church because we have to conserve gas so I can go to work during the week. My kids want to be involved in their midweek programs or events, but we just don’t have the extra money.”
—Ella, mother of three; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“We’re having marriage problems and fighting in front of our child.”
—Christiana, mother of one; Springfield, Missouri
“[We’re dealing with] serious topics like drugs, unwanted pregnancy, alcohol, birth control, indecent exposure, eating disorders, suicidal remarks, and low self-esteem. I’d be too embarrassed to share situations like that.”
—Jeff, father of one; Washington, D.C.
There are parents in your ministry who are drowning. They’re drowning from the pressure of the world around them, from the circumstances within their homes, and the situations their children are dealing with. These parents need to know you’re in their court and that you will help them find support. Openly share resources with parents. Form small groups where parents can be honest with each other. And when you personally hear of a family struggling, go out of your way to help them, reserving judgment and lavishing love.
Secret 4: “I’m Afraid I’m Failing”
Parenting is hard work, and one thing parents commonly admit is their constant fear of failure. We all feel the need to succeed, especially when it comes to raising kids. But there are so many internal and external challenges parents face that “parenting success” can seem like a cruel fairy tale.
“I’m afraid to share my personal shortcomings or faults as a parent. Admitting my mistakes and the effects they may have on my kids is too difficult.”
—Becky, mother of two; Lancaster, Pennsylvania
“I yell at my kids. Sometimes I resent my kids.”
—Nancy, mother of two; Boston, Massachusetts
“In the hustle and bustle, I fail to make sure the kids are saying bedtime prayers and reading their Bibles. I’m failing on raising them up in the way they should go. But I pray over them constantly and try to lead by example.”
—KeLee, mother of two; Columbus, Ohio
“My kids aren’t the same children at church as they are at home. I’m afraid they’re living on borrowed faith rather than their own.”
—Megan, mother of two; Boston, Massachusetts
Many parents said they’re scared to tell their children’s minister that they’re failing at family devotions, praying with their kids, and sharing Jesus with them. Parents feel inadequate in this area because they don’t have a license to preach or a master’s degree in theology or education. Others fear they’re failing as parents overall, which terrifies and frustrates them.
Bottom line, parents need your support and encouragement—regularly. Communicate that God calls parents to be the spiritual guardians of their children and he will equip them to do so—and that you’re there to help. Find ways to make parents successful at sharing family devotions, prayers, and personal faith stories. Also, provide other resources about general parenting issues, including opportunities for kids that let parents have a break.
Secret 5: “I’m not telling you everything”
You may’ve suspected this already: You’re not getting the full picture on some children. There’s a good chance you don’t know what you need to about some of the kids and families in your ministry. A handful of parents admitted they aren’t forthcoming with information that would be helpful to you— including medical issues. Some parents are genuinely embarrassed, while others just don’t know what to say.
“I don’t tell them about my experience with working with kids. I want a break from kids. While I may have experience, my heart is not in that department right now. Churches are turning off parents by probing those who have said no. They don’t need an explanation, yet parents feel they have explain themselves.”
—Sally, mother of two; Dover, Delaware
“If my child has behavioral issues or something that may label him from the start, I won’t say anything.”
—Heidi, expectant mom; Boston, Massachusetts
“My husband is atheist, and he dismisses my faith and the beliefs I’m instilling in my children. That’s why they’re constantly questioning their teacher. They’re not being rude. I just don’t want you to judge me for my marital choice.”
—Una, mother of three; Los Alamos, New Mexico
“I had my son out of wedlock before I married his dad. And he has a different last name than me because my current husband hasn’t adopted him yet. I try to avoid telling my son’s last name.”
—Tonya, mother of three; Cleveland, Ohio
“My child makes me wonder if he is more attracted to the same gender based on certain behaviors.”
—Joel, father of four; Baltimore, Maryland
“I haven’t talked about odor problems or personal medical things like head lice and an unidentified rash—that would cause the kids to become social outcasts.”
—Mike, father of two; Denver, Colorado
There are parents in your ministry who don’t know what’s beneficial for you to know. Others may be at a loss as to how to approach you with sensitive information. Create non-threatening inroads of communication with parents. If you have suspicions that something is going on or you’ve heard information through the grapevine, ask the parents directly and with compassion. (If you discover something that triggers red flags, follow your church’s policy for mandated reporting.) When you make the first, gentle move to open communication, it can be the first step in building a bridge between a hurting family and you.
The Sixth Secret
There is one final secret that parents often keep to themselves. You may not hear this from parents, but they say they’re deeply thankful for you. Of all the parents we talked to, a substantial chunk said they could talk to their children’s minister about anything. And many agreed that while they’ve never said it out loud, their children’s minister is wonderful.
You are making a difference.
Danielle Christy is a blogger, speaker, and writer who lives and breathes ministry in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
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