Here is a Sneak Peek into Part 6 of the Kids Church Cookbook – just to give you a glimpse the material it deals with. Someone was telling me the other day how the Cookbook gets a lot deeper than just how to use Puppets and Balloons and I need to share that more – so here is a “taste” of one of the “meatier” topics covered in the section of staffing your children’s church. (This was posted prior to the final editing.)
Dealing with Parent Conflict
Ben Franklin said that in life, two things were certain: death and taxes. When it comes to children’s ministry and parents, there are two things that are certain: kids and conflict. The kids are the easy part! The conflict… not so easy. Invariably, you are doing to do something that a parent is not going to like. Occasionally, you are going to do something wrong. A parent is going to call you on it. When that happens. Be humble, don’t make any excuses, don’t explain it away, don’t give the circumstances – just admit it and apologize. They know you are human and their respect for you will go up. And even if it doesn’t, the Lord will be pleased. That’s what a disciple does. But that’s not what I need to address here. What about the other times? You didn’t do anything wrong? You were just doing your job or being consistent or using something from the world of kids or (gasp!) correcting their child? And suddenly you have an offended parent! It can be ugly, I know! I’ve had one storm into the kids church room yelling right in front of the kids that I’m the worst children’s pastor in America and I oughta be fired! I remained calm and asked him his name, which he wouldn’t tell me. I asked him why he was so upset, and he said I could ask my boss after I’d packed my desk. Turns out it was because of my pastor-approved policy of making the parents wait when the adult service gets out early. He actually came and apologized to me after my pastor explained to him that the reason the adults wait is that our children’s service isn’t child care, it is a carefully orchestrated service that leads from high energy worship to a fun game to interactive learning to a serious conclusion with prayer and application and that if we dismissed the children as soon as the adults were done, the children would miss the conclusion of the service that every element had been working carefully toward and the impact of the entire hour would be lost. He then saw that his bursting in yelling probably ruined the conclusion of the service. He asked for forgiveness and even told me his name.
When dealing with an angry parent, be gracious. First of all, realize that you work for God – and they treated Jesus worse than you. So relax. Also realize, that if it about their child, this isn’t the only time they are dealing with this. It probably happens at school, on sports teams, and in other contexts as well – even if they deny it. So let church be the one place that responds differently, and with extra grace. In case you haven’t heard it – the definition of grace is getting what you don’t deserve. (As opposed to Mercy, which is not getting what you do deserve!) Reflect on that. What can you give this parent, or the child, that they don’t deserve? A another chance? A warmer voice? A hug? Some time spent in prayer? A book that might be helpful? Keep in mind that our goal at church isn’t well behaved children! It is making disciples.
Let me recommend Parenting is Heart Work by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, my #1 Recommended Book for parents who are struggling with a child’s behavior.
One of the things I love about God is His patience. If I was God, I would have given up on me a long time ago! Every year, I take a group of children’s pastors to Yosemite National Park for an UNconference called Yosemite Summit. I am struck every year by the agelessness of the massive rock formations and am reminded of how patient God is. He isn’t into instant results. Nor should we be. We want to see kids become disciples of Jesus and stop misbehaving by the end of the month, or else! God has a longer view of things. I employ a three warning process with kids before I engage the parents. That way, once the parents are brought into the picture, I have a track record of patience already established. They can’t accuse me of picking on their kid or labeling them as “bad” or just trying to kick them out of the program. After the child’s first offense, I talk to them and make sure they understand that what they did isn’t permitted, and let them know that I’m letting it go, but it is their first warning. I hug them, let them know I’m so glad they came, and I can’t wait to see them next week. I call it an “accident” and let them know I don’t expect it to happen again. I usually place them with one of the K.C. Krew girls to help prevent a second occurrence that week. I really want to see success! If it happens again, I act surprised, and when I talk to them, I remind them I called it an “accident” and ask if they understand it is wrong. They affirm. I explain why it is wrong again and express my concern. I then let them know I’m going to chalk this up as a ”coincidence” BUT if it happens again, I’m going to need to involve their parents as I will have a pattern. I explain that three times is a pattern. That usually is the end of it, as kids don’t want their parents involved! However, IF it does happen a third time, and I need to bring the parents in, letting them know that I first called it an “accident” and then a “coincidence” goes miles for me with the parents, as usually other leaders have called them on a first offense, not giving their child the benefit of the doubt. They can’t really jump on me, because I have already extended so much grace and patience toward their child. The next step is to ask the parent to attend with the child, or for the child to go to Big Church with their parent. (Stay home for a week is not an option – the next week they are at church, I want them either in Kids Church with a parent, or in Big Church, a week off church does not count.) Then, I assure the parent that when their child is back, they have a CLEAN FRESH START. No counts against them. Even if we have a repeat, the next offense would be a first warning. Worst case scenario, a child would be out every four weeks. (Unless, of course it was violent behavior of some sort.) When you are patient and loving, you not only see change in the child’s behavior, but you see a softening of the parents heart. After all, you may be the children’s pastor in title, but you are still a pastor to whoever crosses your path.
Even before I became a father, one thing I kept in mind when I dealt with parents was that I was dealing with their greatest treasure in life. No matter how badly their child had behaved – I was still talking to them about their treasure. Ever watched a documentary about a prisoner and watched a mother talk about her son in jail? There will still be tenderness in her voice, even though her son is a criminal. She may acknowledge his crimes, but she loves him still. Be respectful of the children – Jesus wept over Jerusalem, even those who would crucify Him. Yes, we have rules to uphold and enforce – but with gentleness and meekness. I’ve seen too many volunteers be forceful and harsh when talking to parents. I’ve had to pull some aside over the years and say, “Your words are all 100% right, but your tone and body language is 100% wrong. That may be a lost soul you are talking to. Remember, we are to be known by our love, not our kids church rules, O.K.?” That obnoxious boy is someone’s treasure. Never forget it.
Too often, parents are seen as the enemy. I hear it at conferences and read it on blogs and in books. It’s like a we vs. them battle is going on. Parents don’t do this, and don’t do that – and poor us – we are just trying so hard to raise their kids to love Jesus! Hog wash! Don’t even get me going! And I’m not one to toss it entirely back at the parents as many are doing today either. We are on the same team. Parents need us, and we need them! We are on the same team, and we have the same goals. We need to work together, and part of that happens by listening to each other and asking each other what the other needs to succeed. Don’t be afraid to get feedback from your parents on Kids Church or to ask them what topics they would like you to teach on. Their answers just might surprise you!
This is an excerpt of The Kids Church Cookbook – Part 6.
And don’t miss the Kids Church Cooking Show training videos! They are FUN and informative! And FREE for Kidology.org Members. The following are a few of topics covered: Hats! – Puppets! – Balloons! – Magic! – Stories!