I remember it all to well, the day my lead pastor walked into my office with an envelope in his hand. He asked if I had a few minutes to chat, which we all know is code for "you're screwed". He gave me the letter and let me read it. It was from an anonymous parent that was less than pleased with how things had went for their teenager in the student ministry I was leading. The letter was scathing, calling me names I'd rather not repeat and questioning my leadership. The parent, who wrote the letter, held nothing back. Instead of delivering the letter to me, of course, they sent it to my lead pastor. I was mad, I was hurt and since the letter wasn't signed with a name I tried to figure out who could have written such a letter. I will never forget that conversation, I will never forget the letter and I still to this day have no idea who wrote it. So my question is, how do you handle criticism?
If you are in ministry long enough you learn quickly that criticism comes with the territory. As a general rule, most people respond to criticism poorly. I know that my first reaction is to put up my walls and get defensive. I get defensive because I feel they are taking a shot at my character, my identity and my competency. If I am totally transparent with you, I hate criticism, constructive criticism and negative criticism. I don't like knowing Im not good enough or at least feeling like I'm not good enough.
Taking a defensive stance on criticism is the least effective way to approach push back. Below are three ways I am learning (yes, learning cause its still hard sometimes) to deal with criticism.
1. Consider The Source
Who is it that is bringing criticism? The answer to this question dictates how much stock you should place in the push back. There are people who are going to negative about pretty much anything. There are people who will always go to bat for you. When the people that usually go to bat for you are giving you feedback, you should probably listen a little harder. On the flip side, do not give the wrong people more credit than they should have. Ask yourself, "does this person bring a perspective that I should listen to?" The answer to that question will lead you into the next point.
2. Where's The Truth
Once you have determined whether the person giving feedback is a perspective you need to listen to, you need to find the truth in their statement, feedback or criticism. More often than not, they are not 100% correct in what they are saying. What if their feedback is 50% right? Shouldn't that be enough to take note of and acknowledge? Even if its just 10% correct, its worth taking in and acknowledging the truth that is there. When you look for the truth in the feedback/criticism you are approaching it with humility. That posture of humility when receiving feedback/criticism helps you evaluate honestly and allows you the opportunity to grow and not be offended.
3. Humbly Respond
Your response to the person bringing the feedback/criticism will let them know what type of a leader you are. Humble leaders are gracious in their response, quick to acknowledge truth and will own mistakes or short comings to provide a clear road to resolution. Every person deserves a gracious response, no matter the circumstances and no matter how fired up you might be. If you need to wait a day, a week or longer in order to garner a humble response then wait the appropriate amount of time. Your response will leave a lasting impression of you and your organization.
Those are just some things I have learned and still need to be reminded of often. So what about you? How do you handle criticism? Do you have any good tricks you use?
Parents are often a source of frustration as a youth pastor. They either don't value your programming like they should or are highly critical of whats going on at the church. You have to get past the urge to not care about them. The truth is they care, and care a lot. They, more than likely, have no idea how to do your job and the nuances/pressure that goes with it. Instead of holding a grudge, being dismissive or writing them off, what if you started building bridges with the parents of the students at your church?
Here are a few things you can start doing right now to make parents a priority and communicate to them how important they are! (You can get all 21 ways to make parents a priority HERE!)
1. Tee It Up For Them
Most youth ministries do not think about parents when they plan events. You think about the students loving the event and what the student can get out of it. This mindset isn't necessarily a bad thing, obviously you want students to love the events you put on but I believe that there is a crucial piece missing.
What if you took your events and designed some of them for parents to have the winning conversation with their child. You are probably good at setting up a great environment for your students to learn or have an encounter with God. It’s probably easy for you to get up and craft an incredible message about the harmful affects of pornography, the importance of purity, identity in Christ etc. I would imagine you are used to having those serious conversations with students and challenging them in their faith when it comes to the issue at hand. Where there is a drop off is the follow up, accountability and follow through with commitments that are being made. Lets be honest, we get to see our students for a few hours a week tops. This is where I think youth ministry can take huge steps in designing meaningful experiences, include mom and dad and allow parents to be the primary disciple makers and provide accountability to their own kids.
When you set mom and dad up to have the winning conversation you communicate that you understand their God given role as a parent. Parents usually aren't great at carving out time to have the kind of talks they should be having with their kids. Take the guess work out of it and make space for them to enter into the dialogue.
What you can do today:
Think critically about some of the events you currently do or dream up a new one. Here are some ideas to get your brain moving in the right direction.
Mother Daughter Mud Run - Create a mud obstacle course and set up Moms to have a conversation about their daughters identity in Christ.
Father Son Event - Flag football and a chili cook-off to set up dads to have a conversation about pornography and sexual integrity with their son.
Father Daughter Ball - Host a formal event where everyone gets dressed up has a nice meal, maybe even have some dancing and set up dad to talk about sexual integrity with their daughter and how they will fight with them and for them when it comes to this matter.
Mother Son Adventure Race - The amazing race on TV has some incredibly compelling challenges and is fun to watch. You as a youth pastor can probably create something just as fun for moms and their sons to experience. Plan it all to set mom up to have a conversation about how to treat the opposite sex and what being a man of God looks like from their perspective.
These are just ideas, what could it look like for your student ministry at your church!
2. Options For Them
Most parents enjoy being a part of what their kids are a part of. Think about the community rec sports landscape. How many dads and moms volunteer to coach their kids soccer team or little league team and have really no business being the coach? They do it because they want their child to have an awesome experience playing that sport. I believe that they would do the same thing for your ministry if they realized there was a need and that there were different options for them to serve and be a part of your student ministry.
There are parents that would be rock star small group leaders, worship leaders, game inventors, set designers, curriculum developers, light programmers, cafe workers, etc. They are missing the personal ask or the option to use their gifts. Can you create enough options for every parent in your ministry to have a meaningful serving opportunity? That is more of a challenge than anything else. There are parents that honestly do not want to serve in the same place their kids attend but there are some that are waiting for you to ask them or show them options of how they could plug in.
What you can do today:
Start writing down different ways you could utilize parents in your ministry. Think outside the box and start dreaming about what could be. Create 3 new opportunities that currently aren't options in your ministry. Get ready to send out those opportunities and see what happens.
3. Plan For Them
Your ministry calendar usually revolves around the school schedules in your community. Do you think about families when you plan events or give families the space to spend time together? Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving are all holidays where you have to make a decision on when to have programming and when not to, or when to schedule an event and when not to. Consider that families are looking for chances to spend together in the midst of the busyness of life. Help your families out with your schedule, realize the need for family time and plan accordingly.
What you can do today:
Send out a survey to your parents and ask them about the holidays, when it would be good to have programming or an event and when it would be detrimental. Get good data before you make decisions. This will endear you to parents if they know you are thinking about them before you plan.
What are you doing to INCLUDE parents in youth ministry?
Are you doing ministry for Jesus or with Jesus? One of the questions that rang in my head thanks to Samer Massad at NYWC 2019. It was a question that I think I have been wrestling with for a numbers of years and haven’t really been conscious of it. Was I being Martha, striving to serve, to do things for Jesus, to use my gifts and talents but fail to see that all He wants is for me to sit at his feet and BE WITH Him? Also at NYWC 2019 Albert Tate decided to hit me upside the head about the idea of remix. Does something old need a remix to be new again in your life? The week before that at Northview church, Steve Carter decided to pull out the scripture about remaining in Christ; "keep the remain thing the main thing". Then a few weeks before that I had a moment of weakness, of doubt, of insecurity, of pain and broke down while talking to my amazing wife. She said, maybe its cause you always try to do it on your own. Echoing in my ears, was this thought of striving, pursuing, pushing, driving towards what I thought God wanted me to do, what my job was calling me to do, what people expected me to do.
I have been doing youth ministry for the past 13 years. I have had the privilege of serving with some of the most selfless staff, leaders, volunteers and students over this time. I feel truly blessed and honored to be around such incredible people. I didn’t go to college to study how to be a pastor, in fact, I did a pretty good job of running away from that direction. I had an incredible youth pastor growing up and he encouraged me to think about youth ministry. I had bigger visions of making lots of money and living comfortably. As God always does, he put this longing in my soul for something that actually was a bigger vision for my life, working with this generation to help them see HIM, know Him & love Him. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was what I should be doing with my life. I stepped into the role of youth pastor at the church I grew up in, me Jesus in, was baptized in and loved. So… in typical Enneagram 3 fashion, I dove in and got after it. I had a chip on my shoulder trying to make sure everyone knew I could do it, even though I didn’t have the experience or the schooling. I kept pushing, driving and doing more with the ministry at church. I wasn’t good at asking for help, I needed people to see that I could crush it on my own. So for the next 13 years that was my mentality, not on purpose, but in my humanity I fell into the achievement trap of ministry. This doesn’t mean that God didn’t use my misguided subconscious. God has done so much in the past 13 years and has shown up time and time again (like there was ever any fear of Him not showing up). I have had a front row seat to God working in students lives, transforming them from the inside out to be reflections of Him. I tear up just thinking about all the ways I have seen God work these past 13 years.
I've had moments of clarity along the way, where I was honest with myself. I’ve had moments of candid conversations with people I trust about my inner drive to be loved for what I got done, to be loved for what I can accomplish, to find acceptance for being great at whatever I do.
What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and pop 25 year old me in the nose. Pop him in the nose and let him know that all the striving, all the pushing for more, all the stuff you went after in your head isn’t really the main thing God wants for you. Jesus told Martha in Luke 10 that Mary had it right, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and was with her Savior.
I had been doing ministry FOR Jesus for far to long and it has to change. It has to change for myself and my own spiritual maturity. It has to change for my family and modeling what following Jesus actually looks like to my kids. It has to change for those I have the honor of leading, because they need to know the its not about what you can do, its all about what has already been DONE on the cross. No amount of striving can ever earn God’s love, it’s already been given to me. God loves me no matter what I can accomplish. My thick skull has been mulling this over for the past month or so and it was in TAMPA at NYWC ’19 that I think the hammer came down. I have to completely surrender all of me so that God has more to work with. I have to surrender my accomplishment attitude, my drive, my striving to Him in order for Him to get more out of my than I ever dreamed.
For anyone out there in the same boat, I feel you! I know where you are at and I know what the enemy is saying in your head. Ignore the insecurities, rest in your identity being in Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to actually lead your life. Control is a comfort but not a way to live the fulfilling life God wants for you and for me!
I am going to start sitting at HIS feet.
I am going to start carving out time to just BE in His presence.
I am going to sit and listen to that still small voice.
I am going to be sensitive to His spirit and direction for my life.
I am going to lead from a place of Christ like surrender.
I am going to stop striving, pushing and driving to be perfect.
I am going to get out of the way and let God be what HE always should be in my life… the leader!
That's my #NYWC19 moment…