During my very first week as a full-time youth minister, my inaugural youth committee meeting was in a shark tank and I didn’t know it. The elder who formed this team of sharks (mothers) had a specific strategy. He wanted to keep several parents on the inside or in the know instead of leaving them on the outside where they could cause more harm. In short, this optimistic youth minister who had 3 great skit ideas, a guitar and a couple talks about Zacchaeus left that meeting in tears and I remember talking to my dad about quitting after 1 week. I got an earful about how things were and how they should be when I was looking for a “we can’t wait to work with you and drop off pecan pies on your porch” type of meeting.
Why Mothers Attack- There have been a few times in the outdoors when I’ve seen a black bear and my eyes begin to frantically look for cubs. Why? Mother bears are so protective that they don’t even think twice about going medieval on anyone who threatens their cubs. All kidding aside, when a mother feels like her child is being taken, ignored or even harmed by the church, she will let you know in a host of ways. The most common reactions are taking the child out of your ministry, trash talking the ministry and the minister to a host of families, coming into your office for a “come-to-Jesus” or worst of all…nothing.
During the Attack- I am a sensitive fellow, so attacks have never been my favorite (By the way, I have had only a few major run-ins over the years that have taught me much. For the most part, sharks are my friends.) Nowadays I try to look past the drama and the tantrum to understand the heart of that mother. What is she really trying to say? For the most part, moms want their kids to be loved, invested in and cared for. I’ve also learned that striking back during the attack is deadly. Again, listen to the heart behind the rant and make your response to that mother happen over a long period of time, don’t fix it in one meeting. Simply make sure the mother feels heard.
Avoiding Sharks- Avoiding parents is never healthy, even the difficult ones. I actually used to run away from certain moms on Sunday mornings.! One thing I have learned more and more is that our calling to students is as much of a calling to their parents. In many cases parents can act “sharky” because they could use some encouragement and when a parent is praised, witch hunts seem to be called off.
While this is the not so fun side of Christian community, it is community. For youth workers I will go one step further by saying; if we have never heard the concern or hurt from a mother, then we are standing too far away.