I was happy to be a part of this weeks live conversation on Monday with Tim Schmoyer and Life in Student Ministry. The topic for this weeks conversation was dealing with conflict. Something I am well aquatinted with. If you are a breathing human being you will face conflict eventaully. If you work with teenagers your chances of facing conflict go up exponentially. What I have found is, that much of the conflict we face is self-inflicted.
For the Youth Pastor, there are two kinds of conflict, conflict over program and personal conflict. Program conflicts are represented by, over programming, “that game” you played, and “why can’t my 6th grader go on the senior only trip?”. Personal conflict comes when we don’t handle the program conflicts very well. There are a dozen reasons for parents to be unhappy. Let me share just five ways to avoid self inflicted conflict in these areas with parents
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
You can’t do it enough. Parents want to be in the know not left in the dark. It coul be something as simple as a time change you did not inform them of. Figure out how many ways you can change the way you communicate:
- Post the changes on Facebook
- Have a parent Twitter feed
- A weekly e-mail
- Quarterly parent meeting
2. Have all forms available.
Like many of you, I do a yearly permission form. When parents do not have the proper paperwork such as permission slips or retreat forms it make us look sloppy and even lazy. Have a place where these forms are easily accessible. Post them on your website, staple a folder on the wall and stick the forms in there, etc. If forms need to be notarized, make sure you offer a list of people in your church or places around town where they can get the paper work notarized. If all else fails, become a notary yourself.
3. Make it right and fast
If you blow it or think you blew it, make that call and apologize. Scripture says, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” Matthew 5:25
Paraphrased: “Make peace with parents quickly, lest they e-mail the pastor and then you are in deep trouble and are promptly fired, and are back to eating mac and cheese and raman noodles every night.”
4. Be involved
The more you are seen and heard by parents the more they can get to know you. Schools decrease the chances of conflict by having Open House where the teacher can meet parents and answer questions. Some parents need to have their fears alleviated like:
- Will this youth pastor really love my homeschooled kid?
- Will this youth pastor take unnecessary risks with my child?
- Does this youth pastor have sound judgement?
- Will this youth pastor be an ally to me and my home.?
Some of this will just happen over time but don’t avoid it. Invest early and you will reap rewards.
5. Watch your attitude
- Tone of voice
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Emotional Response
All these have to be kept in check if you want to avoid self inflicted conflict with parents. Don’t roll your eyes when a parent makes an insane request, don’t raise your voice when challenged, keep it even toned as much as possible (only God helps me with this because I am bad at it), don’t shift around or shuffle your feet when a parent is talking with you about something important and do make eye contact with them, otherwise, they might think you have somewhere else to be (and you might be) but show the parent they are important and their concerns are legit.
I hope these tips help in the short and long term. of your ministry. Am I missing one? I’m positive I am, so share yours and we’ll all be a little smarter when working with parents. God knows I need it.