Being Prophetic with Parents

October 3rd, 2009

“I’m sorry David won’t be at church for the next 12 weeks; he has hockey games every Sunday.”

“Emma will only be in the church play if she can have the lead.”

“Stephanie’s very busy studying and won’t be allowed to spend (i.e. ‘waste’) time at youth group until she has at least a 3.5 grade point average.”

“I think you need to spend more energy focusing on ‘our’ kids and less time trying to reach out to kids in the community.”

We’ve all heard them, right? We’ve all heard parent comments that make our blood boil—lame excuses and cutting remarks that make us question why we’re in this business.

Sooner or later (and for most of us it’s sooner), negative encounters with parents enter our ministries. It’s true that most parents are helpful, supportive, and faithful to the ministry we share with students and their families. They devote time, energy, money, and prayer for the sake of reaching students for Jesus. Some parents, however, are abrasive, abusive, and need to be corrected. Some parents cross the line of simple disagreement or differing philosophies. Sometimes parents are plainly in the wrong.

Might God be calling you to speak words of truth to those who need it? Do our ministries require us to be faithful to God’s Word even when it’s uncomfortable? Is Jesus expecting us to act with courage and integrity? But how is a 23 year-old who wears a goatee and stashes water balloons in his desk going to correct someone older, richer, and who has the power to put our jobs on the line? Being prophetic isn’t easy. Be afraid…be very afraid.

Parents are our greatest asset but can also be our biggest challenge. When the opponents you encounter in the church are parents of youth, it’s imperative to be ready. Youth ministry isn’t achieved in a vacuum. If we’re not in ministry alongside parents, we’re not doing youth ministry. This means that we sometimes need to give pastoral counsel to parents as we would with students.

In Scripture, a prophet’s main role was to see things clearly and to call people back into obedience. Warning people to remember God’s statutes and calling people to act with justice and mercy was the daily affair of the prophet (be it Isaiah, Micah, Paul, or even Jesus). We act prophetically when we speak and act in ways that call people into action, into submission under God, and into right-living. Prophets are the ones who cry out, “We aren’t supposed to be doing this, so let’s stop!” (Isaiah 6:9-13, Micah 6:8, Galatians 1:6-9, John 2:13-22).

Every minister will occasionally be called to act prophetically—it’s part of the job description (or should be). Pastors confront as well as comfort. We challenge and we care. Youth workers cannot simply be love-magnets. Ministry leadership means amending false doctrine and calling into question ideas and actions which are contrary to Christ’s mission. Sometimes being a leader means saying difficult things to the people we want to support, and just because the people who need faith-intervention are parents of youth doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We’ve been called to be prophetic with parents. However, this call is only achieved with wisdom and sensitivity. We must be mature, professional, and above all, biblical. God’s mercy and grace need to fuel all of our efforts. This is the challenge to all youth workers.

If you choose to enter this potentially dangerous undertaking, consider the following five tips for ministering with parents who need prophetic intervention:

Begin with a Humble Heart

Nobody respects arrogance. Prayerfully consider your own motives before approaching parents. Biting one’s tongue for an hour or a day or a week is often time well spent. Aim for unification, not just being right. Pray for healing and that love may abound. Commit your mind to a win-win outcome. Above all, be an adult—there’s never a need to name call or seek revenge. Instead, remember the advice given to the young Timothy in his early ministry setting: “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Keep the Senior Pastor Informed

Senior pastors hate surprises. They especially hate surprises involving angry parents and late-night phone calls. It’s only fair to keep senior pastors or other supervisors informed about any conflicts we may be having with those in our churches. Often our bosses (many of whom have already been in our shoes) will have some insight into the situation. So ask for input and listen to your senior pastor’s recommendation before speaking with parents. Some supervisors may choose to be present if you do have to confront. They may want to investigate the situation before making a decision. Deferring to the boss isn’t selling out or being unfaithful to God; it’s simply being a good colleague in ministry (and is something you would want the people you work with to do for you).

Use Your Ministry Support Team.

Matthew 18:15-20 presents a wonderful principle about reproving others: don’t do it all alone. In this text, Jesus says that if we’re wronged by a person who won’t listen to us, we should return with two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16). There’s amazing power in fellowship. Solo ministry leadership is senseless; we need a team to sustain us. Whether it’s the youth committee or the family task force or whatever, use a support network in making decisions about ministry ethics. This, of course, doesn’t mean we gossip or share pastoral details with others. Rather, we use the support of our team when presenting guidelines. Saying, “the Youth Ministry Support Team has decided…” has a lot more credence than saying, “I think we should…” If you have to make decisions that effect others, make sure those decisions are backed by more than just you.

Listen. Listen Some More. Then Listen Once Again before You Speak.

Don’t enter conflict just quoting scripture or prescribing rules for conduct. Anyone who’s had this done to them knows it usually doesn’t work—it only builds a spirit of defiance. Telling parents how they should parent (especially if you’re not a parent yourself) will just backfire. How much more tolerable will our words be if we are “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Allowing others to vent their own anger often makes them more receptive to hearing critique. Before speaking words of correction, try to listen just a little bit longer. It can be helpful to restate what your opponents have said before responding—this makes them feel heard and makes your care for the situation more apparent.

Challenge Assumptions.

Finally, instead of only “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), also ask people to think things through on their own. Convincing people is more difficult than letting them decide for themselves. Encourage parents to examine why they believe what they believe. Ask them to consider how their own actions might be hurting their kids (or themselves). Take into account how life experiences can shape theological assumptions and be ready to interject sound, Biblical principles. With this, reflect for yourself and be open to how God’s Spirit might be speaking to even you. Challenge your own assumptions and be open to the amazing movement of God’s forgiveness.

Brennan Manning says, “Our sins are carriers of grace when they lead to repentance and authentic contrition.” Let us keep in mind that to guide people towards repentance is to be a catalyst for God’s presence and grace. What a responsibility and what a gift! The grace of God is big—so don’t attempt to fit it into a tidy little box. Instead, let’s be willing to follow Jesus’ lead and listen to God’s voice as we minister to parents and their kids.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.