How we talk about parents matters.
Several years ago, when I was both a Kids Pastor and a husband with small kids, I thought I had many things figured out. . . including the most effective ways to partner with the parents in my ministry. As a proud parent, married for over a decade, and leading a large children’s ministry, who else would know better, right?
During those years, I attended every Orange event and had the best resources available to me to engage the parents in my ministry, providing weekly take-home resources and offering the most dynamic family experiences, parenting classes, and milestone Sundays.
But becoming a single parent changed everything.
Suddenly, I began to pay less attention to what the Church was handing me. I temporarily lost my desire to attend gatherings with other families. And I became increasingly aware of the words that were used to describe families. . . particularly the families that looked like mine now.
While providing resources and experiences for families is surely an important part of partnering with parents, becoming a single parent taught me that the true value of this concept was in something else.
Partnering with parents has less to do with what the Church can provide every parent and more to do with how the Church can build trust with every parent.
In other words, before you . . .
acknowledge and celebrate milestones in the lives of their children. . .
create environments that afford them opportunities to connect without distraction. . .
provide a consistent team of volunteers who are intentional about building authentic relationships with every kid. . .
meet with parents regularly to give voice to what matters to them most. . .
. . .consider first how you think and talk about parents.
The words we use are a reflection of our beliefs and core values. They can tell someone a lot about the experiences and perspectives that have shaped us. They can also unintentionally reveal gaps in our search for understanding.
What does it mean to build real trust in your relationships with every parent in your church?
Trust can be defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. So what would it look like to believe in every parent in such a way that it transforms the way they see your church …and maybe even themselves?
As a single dad, here are three things I wish your church believed about every parent and how your language could be adjusted as a result.
Every Parent Wants To Be Reliable
Parents will trust you more when you believe in their reliability.
In a world where “busy” is often celebrated and families are juggling multiple commitments, it’s no wonder some parents struggle with showing up when you want them to. I know first-hand how often this leads to a church leader’s disappointment. But because we are the Church (and not their place of work, their child’s school, the PTA, etc.), you have a unique opportunity as ministry leaders to remind parents of who they are capable of being rather than of where they are falling short. I’m already battling with comparison and the “not enough” monster. You can build trust with me by choosing curiosity and grace instead of guilt and disappointment.
When parents show up late to the program you spent months planning or don’t show up at all to serve on their assigned Sunday, believe they are still capable of being reliable and do not give up on them. Believe that they wanted to show up even if it isn’t immediately clear.
Let go of:
- “You’re late again?”
- “Your inconsistency has made it difficult for us to plan.”
- “We miss you when you’re not here.”
- “We’re so glad you made it.”
- “Thanks for letting us know! Is there anything we can do to help?”
- “You have a place here no matter what.”
- “We know it took a lot for you to commit to this. Thank you.”
Every Parent Wants to Be Enough
Parents will trust you more when you see them the way God sees them.
This is not about elevating any one family structure, rather, it’s about affirming the beloved identity of all. Families who do not look like what the Church has often defined as the “traditional” family are described as broken or dysfunctional–whether they are actually struggling or not. At the same time, calling a family broken or dysfunctional is generally unhelpful, no matter what they are struggling with.
The truth is not every family looks the same. Not every parent would define their family the same way nor have the same desires and goals for their future. But every parent wants their family, just as they are, to be seen as enough. And every family and parent is made in the image of God with the capacity to pursue wholeness. Our job as ministry leaders is to remind them how valuable they are and support them as they pursue health, not be another person telling them they don’t measure up. (By the way, how you define wholeness matters a lot too.)
Consider this: According to the latest Census data, one in four parents is a single parent. Alternative living situations are at an all-time high, with many millennials waiting longer to marry, and the overall marriage rate is dropping.
25% of millennials live with other family members due to increased housing costs. With this in mind, be careful not to elevate the perfect picture of the nuclear family above all others, especially in your communication and media.
Let go of:
- “God can still use your broken/fractured/dysfunctional family.”
- The “s” in “ parents” when referring to a child’s family if it’s not needed.
- Using the single mom in every example of someone who may need help
- Using step-parents as the example of someone a kid may disagree with
- “Your family’s story isn’t finished.”
- “If you feel your situation is broken, know that God can make it beautiful.”
- Use correct terms when describing a family’s make-up. Are they blended or extended? Inter-racial or multi-racial?
- Use the words “parent or guardian or caretaker” when making general announcements.
- Encouraging and affirming individual parents as often as you can.
When you take the initiative to learn what’s true of my family’s identity and choose to view us through a lens of wholeness instead of brokenness, you earn trust.
Every Parent Wants to Feel Significant
Parents will trust you more when you believe in their abilities.
More times than not, leaders are tempted to build volunteer teams based on the holes they have to fill rather than the skills and abilities of the people available to them. Job title aside, your parents have gifts in interpersonal communication, language, leadership, and problem-solving that could greatly benefit your church, not just your specific ministry, if there were a place for them to exercise them.
One of the greatest opportunities you have as a ministry leader is to remind every parent of their strengths and their significance, not just because of their ability to care for tiny humans but primarily because they were created in God’s image with a unique purpose.
Let go of:
- “We need your help, or Sunday won’t happen.”
- “Since you’re a school teacher, I think working with kids would be perfect for you.”
- “If you have a student in our ministry, serving here is a requirement.”
- “We invite you to serve where you see yourself adding value.”
- “Considering your weekday schedule, what kind of role would energize you for ministry?”
- “What do you think might be missing from the overall Sunday experience?”
Help Every Parent Be The Parent They Want To Be.
The truth is no parent needs help doubting themselves. The unique experience of parenthood can be full of enough disappointment and unmet expectations. It’s also true that not every parent will desire these things. The goal, however, is to shift your mindset to believing the best in parents so you do more for them than you would have done before.
When you talk and act like every parent wants to be a better parent, you’ll be more likely to see their potential, give them more credit, and respect them more, regardless of what makes each family different or the unique challenges they face. This mindset creates an opportunity for every parent to be the kind of parent they truly want to be.