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Building relationships look different during the new work-from-home, school-from-home, church-from-home, and eat-at-home world. Heather Stoll, mom, ministry leader, and lead editor at Ministry to Parents, shares an appropriately-timed piece of advice for anyone who works with students. With 5 simple principles, any leader can earn the sacred gift of a parent’s trust. 

Trust is a Sacred Gift: An Open Letter to Leaders of Students

Dear Ministry Leader,

Because age-graded ministry is so common in church life, people can forget the enormous privilege and responsibility that it represents. The pre-teen and teenage years are some of the most formative years in a person’s life.

When a parent invites someone else to influence their child or teen’s life, they give the ministry leader and volunteers access and opportunity to take part and speak into their development. This trust is one of the most sacred gifts a parent can give.

In a small group setting, trust is essential. According to Merriam-Webster, trust is the firm belief in the character, strength, or truth of someone or something. To share, disciple, and connect, students must trust one another and the leader. In the same way, trust is critical in parent ministry—particularly when it comes to small group ministry. I would argue it is a sacred gift.

So how can small group leaders, volunteers, and ministry leaders earn, keep, and treat the parental trust as a sacred gift—especially during the new work-from-home, school-from-home, church-from-home, and eat-at-home world where “building relationships” look different?

As a parent myself, I ask you to consider implementing these five principles as you lead students.

1. BE RESPECTFUL

Being a parent is hard.

That’s why I want to partner with ministry and small group leaders to raise up my children in the way they should go. I need all the help I can get!

However, the partnership is not 50/50. It does not come with equal pay, equal say, equal responsibility, or equal benefits. Ultimately, my children are my responsibility, and I am held accountable, which weighs heavy most days.

I welcome and desire your input, influence, wisdom, care, and prayers. But I also encourage you to ask for my input, my insight, my wisdom, and my prayers as you seek to disciple my child. I respect your role in the life of my child, so I want you to respect mine, as well.

When our family boundaries and rules supersede your guidelines, I hope you will listen when my children complain. Then I hope you will respect the burden we bear as parents, and come alongside to honor the responsibility we so desperately try to carry well.

2. BE TRANSPARENT

As a parent, I value transparency, honesty, and authenticity in the lives of those who influence my children. I don’t care how many seminary degrees you have (or don’t have) or whether you have ten years of parenting experience—or none.

You may struggle with organization, and you may get nervous talking to parents, and you may feel inadequate at times. The best way to earn and keep my trust is to be transparent and authentic—about yourself, your ministry, and your desire to point my child to Christ. Your response is so much more important than your resume.

3. BE APPROPRIATE

Appropriate communication applies not just to the content of the conversation, but also to the time, place, and delivery method.

In our instant digital world where almost everyone (kids included) has a personal device, it’s so easy to send a text, DM, or IM. You can efficiently correspond with a dozen different people in seconds—at all hours from any room or location. But this convenience can sometimes blur the lines of what is appropriate.

I have two children. My first-born is a boy, followed by a daughter almost five years younger. When my son joined the student ministry (and eventually got a phone), I appreciated the texts and messages his ministry leader and small group leader shared. However, it bothered me when they sent them later at night or used social media or gaming platforms that my son was not allowed to access (we had relatively strict screen rules).

When my daughter moved into middle school and started receiving the same type of messages, it gave me pause. It made me uncomfortable when a 30-year old guy texted my daughter directly to ask how her first day of school went down. Before you dismiss my concerns and call me old-fashioned or out-of-step with the times, I will readily admit I am old-fashioned. Maybe I am out-of-step. But I am also the parent. And prevalence does not equal permission.

In our media-saturated, newly virtual world, I would ask you to err on the side of caution. Seek parental permission before initiating any communication with a student (even if it is from the same gender). Engage parents on what type of connection or support they would like you to provide or offer.

Seek their input on timing and ask them to share their screen rules. It takes more effort and intentionality to “customize” the communication for each child, I know. However, the blessings you will reap from that relationship and parental support should far outweigh the inconvenience.

4. BE HELPFUL

In the new work-from-home, school-from-home, church-from-home, and eat-at-home world, parents are struggling. Distractions and demands can be overwhelming. I do not question your sincere desire to minister to families, but I ask you to put yourself in my shoes (you may already be there yourself!) and think about what would be “helpful.” 

Please don’t ask my kids to set a timer and carry eggs in a spoon three times around my kitchen. If I’m honest, I also don’t want to help them find an old sport coat in their dad’s closet or a red umbrella in the garage.

I appreciate your efforts, and I commend your level of commitment, but could you award scavenger points for making the bed or emptying the dishwasher? Could you arrange a homework help session or teach them how to sew or make a spreadsheet? Maybe you could use the small group zoom to write a letter to the sibling they teased all day or their mom (who is now their teacher) who needs encouragement.

Take a moment and ask yourself, “How can I really “help” these families?

5. BE PRACTICAL

As a former staff member at a mega-church, I understand the pressure that ministry leaders regularly face. Whether it is attendance, programming, curriculum, or events, there is pressure to do more with less to increase engagement.

The virtual world created by the pandemic has only upped the ante. Everyone was forced to move their ministry to the same online space. Now we have online worship, daily devotions, small group zoom, student ministry zoom, online family scavenger hunts, and the list goes on.

I appreciate the creativity and commitment churches and ministries have shown in caring for and engaging their members, but filling up every family’s (or student’s) schedule with online meetings and events is not practical or healthy.

Ministering to students and families is a unique calling, and it is challenging, time-consuming, and emotional. I realize there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for ministry. You have kids with two parents at home and kids who suffer from fractured families and broken homes. However, my prayer is that you hear my heart in these suggestions. A single mom struggling to support her family needs you to respect her role and be helpful as much—or more—than the traditional two-parent, middle-class household.

Leaders, thank you for your ministry. Thank you for partnering with other parents and me to invest in our kids. I pray that you will remember what a truly sacred gift it is.

A mom,

Heather

Heather Stoll, Lead Editor at M2P, has more than twenty years of ministry experience, predominantly in the area of communications and media. She has served churches in South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee, alongside her husband, Jeff. Together, they have two children, and they currently reside in Saint Augustine, FL. You can contact Heather at heathermaystoll@gmail.com.


Other posts from the Small Group Leader Series:

5 Ways to Lead Well In A World of Virtual Gatherings

 Top Three Mistakes Small Group Leaders Make

Why Should Small Group Leaders Care About Parents?


M2P Members, pick up your training resource in the Toolbox: Build a Parent Ministry Plan.

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