The Continually Critical Parent: How Teachers and Ministers Can Engage Them

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The Continually Critical Parent is the parent that you dread talking with and always comes around at the worst times. The Continually Critical Parent (CCP) is not the one we dream of doing ministry with. But if they are a part of our youth ministry then Jesus calls us to love them and lead them in his way.

You’re Not Alone With Critical Parents

Jesus had continual critics. In all four flavors of the Gospel, the big three critics of Jesus are scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. So don’t feel like you’re alone in dealing with a CCP in youth ministry. Other youth leaders deal with it, and most importantly, Jesus dealt with continual critics.

One poignant moment came when Jesus saw his continual critics coming from afar. He has to enter Jerusalem for the what will be the last week of his life before the cross. He knows he is going to have to face his critics. And he has three options on how to follow God’s will. He could run around the critics and slip in at night. He could attack his critics head on by calling down an army of angels. Or he could engage his critics and respond to them with truth in love (he had style going to face his critics—read Matt 21:1-11).

What Will You Choose With Critical Parents?

Run—So I’ve tried the avoiding option and it gets awkward. There are only so many times you can go to the restroom for 20 minutes each week at the same time. Seriously though, avoiding the issue doesn’t solve it. It typically makes it bigger and harder to deal with.

Attack—The best defense is not a good offense in these conversations. The work is not to drive away the critics or silence them because those critics are a part of your ministry. So it might feel good in the moment to put a person in their place, but in the long run it will just hurt more than help.

Engage the CCP—Here are some basics to engaging a CCP with truth in love if that is what you choose.

1. Take a breath and pray—This is a spiritual and relational issue you’re facing. You need to calm yourself and look to God when the CCP starts talking with you about another “problem.”

2. Recognize the Source—Recognizing that you expect the person to “complain” doesn’t mean they might not have something important to say. Now perhaps something happened with their child and we need to know about it. Or perhaps they’ve really observed something that can improve the ministry. Recognizing the source and choosing to listen is a choice to follow Jesus in the moment. This empowers you to love them.

3. Separate—Continually Critical Parents’ criticism can be grouped into one of two types, coaching or evaluation. Coaching helps increase knowledge, skill, growth or raises feelings in the relationship. Evaluation tells you where you stand, aligns expectations or informs decision making (source). Identifying what type of criticism they are giving and separating it from the other helps you keep focused on the purpose of what they are telling you.

4. Tell Me More—After the initial comments, identify one thing (not five or two, but one) and ask a specific question about that thing. And tell them you want to stick to that one issue.

5. Don’t Attack, Just Stick to Facts—In response to your question about the one thing, stick to the fact that you’re talking about that one issue. They may attempt to blend that issue into another issue. Or they may attack you personally along with the one issue. Don’t attack back, just push them to stay focused on the one thing with clarifying questions. You can say things like, “I know you may want to talk about other things with me but we can only really talk about this one thing tonight if we’re going to understand each other.”

By following these basic tips, you may just find that you’ll benefit from your next conversation with your Continually Critical Parents.  

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Paul Sheneman
Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor. He serves with the Macedonia Methodist Church in Ohio. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good. His main interest is exploring Christian formation. You can follow most of his ramblings on his blog at www.discipleshipremix.com or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.

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