When we start building relationships with students, eventually we have to build relationships with their parents too. Even if that makes us uncomfortable. When you look around your community, chances are not too many parents actually parent the way you would.
Statistics say that only about 25% of Americans attend church these days. (A New Kind of Leader p. 65) That means a whole lot of parents are going through all the stuff of parenting without Jesus. Plus, our rural communities have high rates of poverty and substance abuse.
AND, they love their children and their children love them.
Let all that sink in for a minute…
I know, it doesn’t always look like parents love their children. Some of their circumstances are out of their control. Some are because of poor choices they’ve made or were made for them. Some of these parents were raised in similar or even worse situations, and they are just doing the best they know how. But none of that changes the fact that they love their children the same as you love yours.
On the other side of it, even children who have been abused or neglected by their parents still care about them. As a former foster parent, I can tell you how strange it felt to sit with a child who just wanted to be held by his parents who were in prison because of their actions. The connection between them wasn’t severed, it was just broken.
Similarly, our connection with our Creator is not severed by our sin, but broken. If by the sacrifice of Jesus, our relationship with God can be repaired, then so can our broken earthly relationships. In Christ, all our relationships can receive forgiveness and healing, but it starts with our relationship to God.
Research has been published in the book Sticky Faith which shows that students are most likely to take on the faith of their parents. Yes, there are some exceptions to that rule, and simply building relationships with parents will strengthen the impact we can have on students whether their parents accept Jesus or not.
Building relationships with parents helps us understand our student’s world which helps us understand their behaviors and thought processes and connect with their hearts. When students feel known, they feel safe. They trust you and they are more likely to engage in conversation. (One of the hardest things to accomplish the older they get!)
Building relationships with parents also builds a level of commitment. Students who say they will be there and then don’t show up, probably don’t have parents sending them. If parents know you as someone they want their child to learn from, they will be more likely to support and encourage your time together.
Remember the story in Acts 16 about the jailer who repented and was baptized because the prisoners stayed when they could have left? Paul and Silas had been preaching and singing in that prison- in the midst of unfortunate circumstances. Scripture says that he and his whole family were baptized that night. There are several instances in scripture of whole households coming to faith. Each starts with one relationship.
Ultimately, we do hope that the whole family will come to know Jesus as their savior and Lord. Just as student discipleship starts with our relationships, so does parent discipleship. It may require a whole lot of unconditional love, but just remember: It isn’t your job to change anyone. (See John 16:8) Our job as disciples who make disciples is simply to share the love of God with them. Once they know the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will transform them just as He is transforming you!
Check out more on this idea in chapter four of A New Kind of Leader by Reggie Joiner.