Leading With Empathy


By Bobby Benavides

One of the hardest parts of leading young people, at times, is interacting with parents. This is particularly true of parents who value your work, yet question you and why you’re doing what you are doing.

30 Hour Famine is, of course, a great experience for so many young people. For a large portion of the event their worldview will be shifted and they will be encouraged to serve beyond themselves. You will celebrate those wins. You will announce them in church that Sunday. You may even be able to share these encouraging stories with leaders of the church.

Then you get that email or phone call, asking why your students were not allowed to have cell phones or why they were being made uncomfortable by learning so much about struggling families in foreign countries. They will wonder why they weren’t playing games all night. You’ll certainly have a parent question you about the safety of kids not eating for 30 hours.

The truth is, you may get these emails or calls before the event, but some will come after the fact.

So, how do you respond?

It is so easy to pass judgment, even share your frustration with other youth leaders. Those parents are “just not getting it.” Trust me, I’ve been there.

I have also been put in check by the Spirit when I began to feel that way, most of the time after I posted something or made the phone call. 

I came to realize that many of these parents never had these opportunities. Many of these parents were not educated about the issues facing children and families in other countries. They never had a youth pastor who took the time to inform them about starvation, death, poor economies, corrupt governments, and so on. So much of their questioning comes came from a sincere place of wanting to know more (and wanting to be sure to protect their kids from harm). 

I had to humble myself and begin to have empathy for them. Just as I have empathy for the students in my group, knowing they may be experiencing something brand new to them. See the parallel? Many parents are experiencing specific parenting issues for the first time also.

Yes, it is frustrating when we get the questions. Yes, it feels like our leadership is being questioned. But we need to be humble. We need to be wise. We need to be patient.

We may be called to serve and lead the students, but God has also called us to love the parents and, at times, lead and serve them as well.

We need to lead with empathy.