7 Keys to Influencing Church Leadership to Partner with Parents

You’ve likely heard it said that our time with kids and students is getting shorter in an increasingly busy extra curricular culture. Parents however, still have the greatest influence with their kids, While what we do on a Sunday or midweek program is vital, it’s imperative that we make a shift in our time and resources to help parents to succeed at home. But, it’s not entirely up to us, is it?

Influencing church leadership to embrace a vision of reaching the whole family is critical. After all, your leaders set the direction of the church. And if the church employs you, it’s likely you will have to get them to buy into partnering with parents. But that’s not always easy to do! Team Up! The Family Ministry Playbook for Partnering with Parents.

Here’s the question I get asked a whole lot! How can I get buy in from my pastor or church leaders to reallocate my time and resources to partner with parents? 

Climbing Leadership

While it can often feel like climbing a mountain alone, there are some practical and tactical steps you can take to gain buy in from those who lead us: 

  1. Focus on your Job Description First. It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or full-time, the leaders in your church see your primary responsibility to invest in children or students (or both). We have to remember that the idea of partnering with parents, and the titles of “Next Generation” or “Family Life Pastors” is foreign to many leaders in the church. We also have to consider that there is a certain way children’s and youth ministry has been done over the years. Therefore, it is essential that we gain influence first by doing a great job in the role that we were called to. It can take two or more years to establish a healthy ministry before partnering with parents can truly become a focus. While this might be frustrating, it doesn’t mean you can’t infuse partnering with parents into your role, it just might take a little longer to arrive…
  2. Pursue Healthy Conversations. Part of our role is to constantly find ways to passionately talk up the need and vision to partner with parents. However, in my experience it is crucial to pursue conversations that are positive and filled with great reasons why, as opposed to criticizing what the church is missing out on. In pursuing healthy conversations with the decision makers in your church, keep in mind that they are usually managing multiple people, plans, and ideas. Therefore, ensure that you come prepared.
  3. Own the Vision. Can you articulate why it’s essential to partner with parents in a sentence or two? Can you provide a biblical basis along with specific examples of how partnering with parents is more effective? Chapter 4 in my book provides a clear vision for you to articulate. If you need help in this area, consider picking up a copy.
  4. Have a Strategy. One of the greatest shortcomings in my early days was not having a good strategy that other leaders could support. Having a strategy that includes a timeline and specific steps showing a progression of implementation is crucial.
  5. Share Stories. A story of life change is always going to be the most effective way to cast vision with leaders in the local church. We all want to know one thing. Does it work? Providing stories of how partnering with parents is making your ministry more effective and how it is helping parents to be more effective is so crucial. It ultimate serves as a crucial way to cast vision for leaders.
  6. Request “Stage Time”. I am very fortunate in my church when it comes to my senior leaders supporting the vision to partner with parents. It’s not difficult to ask for opportunities to cast the vision in the overall church. However, this has not always been case. Even though there are always so many events to be promoted and given stage time, it shouldn’t mean that we do not ask. As long as we don’t come across as whiney kids, you and I might be surprised by the opportunities that come our way.
  7. Commit to the Long Haul. One of the greatest ways you and I can influence leadership to capture a vision for partnering with parents is longevity. When you have been around for a while and you have a track record of “getting your job done” as well as having gained trust with key leaders, longevity brings influence.

What would you add to this list? How much “buy in” do you have with your church leadership to truly partner with parents? Is it just an add on, or is it something that is weaved into your role? Who are the leaders and influencers you need to connect with this week to discuss your vision to reach the whole family?

Phil <><

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Perspective Provides Purpose

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

fall pond

Recently I went back to my hometown in the UK to see my mother.

Just over a year ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She has deteriorated quite quickly since. While she still knows who I am, there will come a day when she no longer can grasp simple realities.

As I spent time with her, I cherished simple conversations and made the most of asking questions that her longterm memory still allows her to recall. There were questions I had never thought to ask before, and things I knew I needed to say while we still had precious time together.

Spending time with a parent who is slowly deteriorating certainly has a way to bring things into perspective.

So, here is a question I leave you to consider: 

If you knew your time on earth was limited, what would you do differently? Why not start today? 

Phil <><



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The Importance of Saying “No” to ‘Yes People’.

If you are like me, it always feels good to hear affirmation as a leader. If I am honest, there are times when I wish everyone would agree with my vision, philosophies, and my day-to-day decisions. But, sadly, as a leader that is not the real world…

Say no

Every leader should expect push-back, criticism, and opposition at different times. However, over time, there is a concerning tendency to silence those voices and replace them with people who are quick to agree with everything we say or do.

While it makes for an easier life by surrounding ourselves with “yes” people, it actually stunts our personal growth as well as that of our organization. Rather, we should surround ourselves with leaders and thinkers who have permission to think in alternative ways and speak up when plans appear to have flaws.

Surrounding ourselves with leaders and thinkers who can speak their mind is essential because…

We refine our message. A plan might seem crystal clear to you and I, but it might not be the case for our followers. Giving a voice to our team in the early stages of a plan will help us ensure that possible misunderstandings are removed by the time the plan goes live for everyone else.

We avoid pitfalls. It’s impossible to think through every pitfall in a plan. Recently, as I was creating a training event for our volunteers, I sat down with my team to look at how the event would go. It was only in those early discussions that we saw one major pitfall together. I would never have seen it by myself!

We lead stronger. There are times when we will receive feedback and opinions that is potentially painful and hurtful. While there will be certain people who complain and moan constantly, it’s essential to realize that certain feedback in areas of our own deficiency is needed to grow and change.

When we give permission to a trusted few to speak truth into our lives, it is then we can see areas of our leadership that needs repair and improvement.

We attract (and keep) leaders. Who wants to be a part of team that is dictated by one strong voice that is unwilling to hear from anyone else? Other leaders want to be heard and be part of the creation of something that will make a lasting impact. When we give them a voice and value their thoughts and ideas, it gives them greater ownership and purpose. When potential leaders are looking to join our organization, they must sense that collaboration and dialogue are part of the DNA. They need to know they will be given a voice and given the opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions without being shot down.

What kind of people do you surround yourself with? How can thinkers and leaders help you refine your message and create a better plan? How can a culture of transparency in your organization help you grow as a leader even when it’s painful? Who are the people in your life who need a greater voice?

Phil <><

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Simplify Your Communication to Volunteers and Help Them Succeed!

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
— General Colin Powell

Mixed Messages Volunteers

As a pastor to families, I directly and indirectly oversee staff and volunteers in our children’s and student ministries. With busy volunteers, and with so many competing messages in their world, it can be a challenge to communicate the details, programs, and vision for our ministry. Volunteers will soon tune out my communication if I don’t simplify what they receive from me.

1. Cast Vision: Everything we write or say to volunteers is a opportunity to cast vision. Whether it is at the beginning of your weekly email, or sharing a story at the beginning of a volunteer meeting; the vision of your organization needs to placed in front of your volunteers on a regular basis.

A well placed (short) story that captures and communicates the vision is one of the best ways to help a volunteer team focus (and refocus) on what matters most.

When vision leaks, good volunteers will determine in their mind what the vision is… 

With so many church backgrounds and varied personalities, even our best volunteers can stray off course. Being slightly off course at the beginning of a ‘journey’ will mean you are way off course by the end of it. It’s essential therefore, that we constantly chart the course in our emails, stories, and meetings.

2. Clarity: In a busy world that is crammed full of competing messages, we should not expect that our volunteers are going to ‘get’ our message quickly. If there is something we want our volunteers to know or do, it is essential that we give them clarity in our communication.

Being clear will require us to craft statements and sayings that will stick over time.

3. Concise: Clarity comes when we narrow our focus down to the absolute essentials that volunteers need to hear again and again. In a frantic week full of competing messages, it is imperative that communication with volunteers is concise and to the point. We are helping our volunteers make our ministry a priority when we make it easy for them digest our communication. Who wants to read a novel in their email inbox?

But, are we ‘dumbing down’ the role of a volunteer by simplifying our communication? In my experience, it is better to simplify and to build from there, as opposed to overloading our volunteers with multiple and complicated messages that they will never remember or act on.

How are you consistently communicating by casting a clear and concise vision and instructions to a busy volunteer team? What tools and methods do you use for communication? What statements have you crafted that have become part of the DNA in your organization?

Phil <><

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A Long-Term View of Student Ministry

A number of months ago one of our students was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to church with friends. This young man had a strong faith and had a passion for serving and missions trips. His funeral was obviously a very gut wrenching occassion, but in many ways a time to celebrate his faith, life, and his eternal destination. At the lunch after the funeral, a parent asked me this pertinent question:

When all is said and done, where do you hope to see students by the end of high school? What are your priorities for them?

It’s a question that I somewhat answered at the time, but is a question I have been working through ever since (and still am). The funeral of a sixteen year old student and this question from a parent gave me a new perspective on what I do. In some ways, it gave me a new lens to look through in what I do… It has caused me to struggle through the question:

What matters most in my ministry” What priorities are truly going to help students grow and “finish well”?

Or, maybe, frame it this way:

What is most important today that will impact students in the long-term?  Read more

How to be Taken Seriously as a Leader

Being a youth worker is not always the glamorous ministry position. There are times when some of us have experienced the feeling of not being taken seriously by pastors, parents, and church members. When I first set out in student ministry I desired to be taken seriously and accepted as a viable member of a church staff. I longed to be seen as leader who, (even though I was young), had wisdom and could be trusted by the adults, (or shall we say, the more ‘senior’ people in my life). The fact is, when we are young (or in a new position) in leadership, often it can feel like hard work to gain acceptance as a legitimate leader in ministry.

So what are we to do with this reality?

1) Realize that this is path of the course. You’re not alone. All of us at some point have to earn our stripes. One day the time will come when they say you have the leadership, but the kids think you are old… Enjoy this season if you are still in it…

2) Leadership is about trust… Trust takes time: No matter where I have been, or how old I am, I realise that people need to know and trust me before they can be led by me. I have been at my current church for just over a year now. In my first year I committed to not making any major changes (unless emergencies), until a year had passed. This went a long way with youth leaders, students and parents. Whether you are seasoned youth worker or not, people will follow when they trust you… it takes time…

3) Avoid using “when I” statements: I have been guilty of justifying my decisions by talking about my track record from the past. When I was younger I would often refer to accomplishments I had made in my short experience as a way to gain acceptance of an idea. Now that I look back, I realise that it only came across as insecure and showed my lack of experience. Note: I think it is perfectly fine to talk about ideas that have worked in the past, but when it is gain greater leadership acceptance and  fill the hole of inexperience, the truth will likely be seen by others…

4) It really does take time: I can’t say it enough… If we want people to follow, realize that greater leadership and experience must run it’s course. Relax, take it easy, enjoy your ministry and enjoy growing…

5) Have such integrity that people will believe what you say… From the words of Wiersbe, ensure that people see your ingretity. I have found that even while people will point out leadership flaws in my ministry, they are still willing to go on a journey with me when they know they can trust my integrity…

The Best Kind of Vision?

Do you ever have those moments when you daydream and think about what could happen if your ministry were to have all the right ingredients to see incredible life change and transformation? Do ever wonder what that could look like? Do you ever wonder how that happens? If you are like me, I can spend hours thinking about and planning ways to create a dynamic ministry… It’s easy to spend a lot of time (and energy) trying figure out how to “make it work”…

However, the more time I spend in student ministry, I don’t think it is as complex as we might think… I think the answer is not just kept to certain people or churches… I think we all can look forward to seeing ministries with transformation and life change as a regular occurrence. So how does this happen (or start to happen)? Well, first, let’s confirm that it all centers around Jesus and that should a solid foundation for every ministry. But, the question is, how can you and I be used to effectively build Jesus centered ministries..? Well, here’s what I have been challenged by recently… wait for it… I think it starts with vision… But maybe not the same kind of vision that you and I often hear about in church circles. Hang in with me for a few minutes and let me explain…

You can’t be in Student Ministry for too long before you start hearing about and begin to talk about vision. So many churches and ministries have developed well crafted vision statements and we often hear phrases like, “what is the vision for this ministry”? If you are like me there have been times when we spend months working on carefully crafting vision statements to make sure the vision is clear… When things are going well we might expect to hear, “this place has a great vision”… When things are going badly we might expect to hear, “the vision has died” or “there is no vision here”. Do you know what I mean?Here’s what I see with ministries struggling with vision:

Unplanned Ministries: Ministries will often just jump into “what we have always done” rather than stopping to consider their natural uniqueness and the needs of their current students and community.

Side-tracked Ministries: Ministries get side-tracked with too many programs or events and the vision leaks. There are so many competing issues, programs and agendas that the vision becomes distorted…

Ministry Clones: Sometimes it’s hard to see our unique ministry gifting and how we can use that gifting.  Instead we become a clone of another successful ministry. We often jump into the latest ministry model or use others successful vision statements…

So, where am I going with all this? Well, whether your ministry is struggling to discover and enact a clear vision or whether your ministry is knocking the ball out of the park with vision clarity… I wonder if there is a more compelling vision to search for? You see, I think it is healthy to seek clarity and vision for our ministries and I will always seek this for where I am. However, what could happen if we sought out a different kind of vision with the same or greater passion and intentionality?

What if we were to help students PERSONALLY find God’s VISION for THEIR lives?

Unplanned Lives: You see, just like our ministries, so many of our students are just going through the motions and not even considering the incredible vision and plan God has for their lives. They appear to be just going through the motions and unaware that God could use them for amazing purposes…

Side-tracked Lives: And what about our busy students who have learned to take every opportunity that comes there way, yet there lives are defined by constant pressure and stress… Clarity cannot possibly be in view… Instead they live in constant detour mode as they take every path except God’s best for them…

Cloned Lives: So many students simply try to clone themselves and try to be like the the next “successful kid” in their class. As they try to clone themselves they are left wanting more… feeling somehow that what they achieve and discover is not enough.

The Challenge: What could our ministries look like if we were to use our time, talent and resources to work with our leaders and students to discover PERSONAL VISION? What would our students start to do when they discover and embrace their uniqueness? What would happen if we spent LESS time invested in corporate vision statements and spent more time helping students find clarity in God’s vision for them?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that vision is imperative in our ministries and I believe that we cannot do ministry without having a clear picture of what could and should be. However, I believe that we are sometimes guilty of making this more about a vision statement and programs than we have made it about students and their individual lives… do you know what I mean? Yes, we are responsible to churches and ministry executives and we need to craft a compelling vision and plan… But, how much of our energy do we spend doing this for students in comparison? Are we so focused on the programs and structures that we miss God’s vision for these students individually?

Just asking…

Phil <><

I’d be dead without Volunteers.

roadkillThis morning I am meeting Sara and Nancy for coffee, and later I am meeting Jeremy for lunch. All three of them are great volunteers in our youth program, but they have also become great friends in the last couple of years. In ministry, these are the kind of people I would be dead without! They not only produce amazing things at our events and programs, but they are the kind of people who every youthworker needs to hang in for the long haul. 

For me, the key to getting and keeping volunteers like this has been very intentional in how I meet with them and how we do life together. Here’s 5 things I do with all my volunteers: 


1) Large Leaders Meeting – Every two months: This is to celebrate victories, cast vision about why we do what we do, take a look at what is coming up in the big picture and pray for our kids. (I sometimes bring a load of postcards so leaders can write their kids as they pray for them. (When I say ‘their’ kids, I mean the ones that they have in a small group)… We always try to meet at the house of one of my leaders (it’s big house), and have snacks and drinks to make it laid back. (We could meet at the church, but I want it to me more like a party than a meeting)!

2) Individual Meetings: On an ongoing basis, I try to meet with all my main leaders at least once every two months for a coffee and catch up. I split an hour meeting into three ‘C’s. First, I ‘Check Up’. How are you doing personally? How is your walk with God etc. The second ‘C’ is: ‘Cast Vision’ – What do I need to say that will restate or refocus why we do what we do? Finally, the last ‘C’ is to ‘Communicate Details’: What events, details or changes do they need to know about?  

3) Key Leader Meetings: ‘Key Leaders’ are leaders who oversee a certain area in our programs. These are the people I often meet with at least monthly. This time includes, planning and implementing what is coming up. 

4) Emails – once a week:  This is how I communicate the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what we are doing. Schedule, events, details of program are emailed to leaders and are we have a calendar and events page online with specifics. 

5) Quarterly Fun Events: Events at my house, BBQ’s, Christmas party, Wii nights etc… All designed to build community and relax

Phil <><

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