Navigating Know-it-all Parents

By Tim Downey August 13, 2015

One of the most challenging hurdles in student ministry—and life in general, for that matter—is navigating through conflicting values with others. Everyone thinks they know what’s best for students: youth workers, the students themselves, and especially parents.

You’ve probably had this internal conversation: If everyone would just listen to me and embrace my values, things would be so much easier! Things would be so much—go ahead and say it with me—“better.” No more stress. No more difficult conversations. No more meetings where we just go round and round. Why can’t others just see it my way? I mean, I didn’t just stumble onto these values of mine. They have been etched into my mind as a result of years of wrestling with God, others, and experiences.

Yet, while we would rather not admit it, our values, while very valuable, are just that: our values. And while it’s true that we may on occasion bump into parents, students, staff members, or other youth workers who don’t embrace our values, most of the time our conflicts are not about whether or not we value certain things at all. Usually the conflict is about what is valued more.

Let me illustrate. Your student’s parent values discipleship and Bible study. But when sustaining a 3.99 GPA is balanced against those things, well, the GPA wins. Or perhaps it’s not a high GPA, but playing soccer. Youth ministry is important—just not as important as playing on the team. Maybe it’s not a parent with conflicting values, but a pastor who is more concerned with students filling up the weekend service than filling up discipleship groups. Or maybe it’s students who value a fun-filled camp over a challenging mission trip that might stretch their leadership muscles.

So how do we navigate conflicting values with parents, students, pastors, and others? While the strategy is pretty simple, the tactics are a bit more Spirit dependent. It’s one thing to map out how to navigate conflicting values; actually navigating an emotionally charged conversation is a whole different matter. Our ability to actually follow through requires nothing less than the power of Christ in us.

“Everyone thinks they know what’s best for students: youth workers, the students themselves, and especially parents.”

With that said, let me encourage you towards the following navigational tools to use while depending on the Spirit of God:

1) Choose to love the other person. This will definitely require the power of Christ in us. Yet when we love one another, we display the gospel as we should (John 13:35; Phil. 1:9–11; 1 Peter 2:12).

2) Define your story. What do you sincerely believe about the conflict? How have you positioned yourself in the conflict? What could be the fallout of your positioning in the conflict? Is it worth it (Phil. 2:5–15)?

3) Listen before talking. That means listening with an open heart and mind. We can learn a lot from just hearing another’s perspective. Listen to the why behind the what.

4) Identify common interests. What can you agree upon with the other person? If you say, “nothing,” the issue is not a simple conflict of values, but more likely sin (Eph. 4:3).

5) Find mutually beneficial alternatives. To do this, both parties will likely need to sacrifice something, without sacrificing everything.

You may think, I have tried all this before, but the other person refuses to move at all. This may be true, and if so, I encourage you to ask yourself, Am I willing to move towards unity as much as I want the other person to move? All too often, ongoing unresolved conflict has more to do with pride and stubbornness than true deeply held values. We cannot change another person’s heart, but we can allow Christ to change ours. Because at the end of the day, there is only one person I am responsible for: me.

The challenging thing about values is that, because they are values, they are expensive. They are costly—valuable. While not a theologian by any means, Patrick Lencioni once said, “A value is something you’re willing to get punished for.” Our values will always cost us something. There are times when our values will cost us everything, because regardless of the fallout, we cannot violate our values. Other times one value may trump another. We may decide that our value of unity is greater than our value of philosophy or approach.

In the end, the essential navigational tool to use is grace. With it much conflict can be avoided. Without it conflict will abound. We must be “fully convinced in [our] own mind” about what we hold as most valuable, while allowing others to do the same (Rom. 14).

CC Image courtesy Mystic Seaport – Mystic CT on Flickr.


About the Author

Tim Downey

Tim Downey is an Associate Professor of Youth Ministry, specializing in the areas of discipleship and leadership at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. For 30 years, Tim has served the Christian community as a youth pastor, missionary, college professor, and international speaker. He and his wife, Kaye, have three daughters and one granddaughter. Tim…  Read More