Personal Land Mines in Your Youth Ministry

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I know about stressful days in church leadership and youth ministry. Twice I thought I was about to be terminated. Beyond my own experiences in Youth Ministry I have had hundreds of conversations with youth ministers about hard times they were going through. Though every experience is different, here are a few principles that sometimes can be helpful.

I. Staying Out of Trouble with the Pastor

1. Minister to his self-worth.
Leaders sometimes act in unpleasant ways because their own sense of worth is not healthy. Most youth ministers know how to genuinely minister to the self-worth of twelve-year-old boys. You just move those same strategies to the pastor.

2. Don’t surprise him.
Most people respond poorly when they are caught off guard, especially by upset church members.

3. Support his priorities.
Listen to what he promotes from the pulpit and what makes his eyes sparkle in staff meeting. You may not agree that what he thinks is a big deal is indeed a big deal. But if you do not support his priorities most of the time, even if he never says anything, your stock consistently will decline.

4. Never speak negatively of him.
Notice the word never. What you think you are saying in confidence to your most trusted supporter will be quoted during a called church business meeting.

5. Be the first to tell him bad news.
Yes, wake him up in the middle of the night. Your critics will be waking him up an hour later anyway.

6. Keep him knowledgeable about the youth program.
Al Gore will forgive you for using more copy paper. Slide everything you print or mail out into his Inbox.

II. Staying Out of Trouble with Parents

1. Never say or do anything with teenagers you wouldn’t do with parents present.
The prank that sounds so cool at the moment will sound less so as parents explain it at a called deacons’ meeting.

2. Never make a solo decision in your youth ministry to put teenagers in a situation with physical risk.

3. Ask, “If it were my child, . . .”

4. Give parents a process for making complaints.
Consider creating a Parent Advisory Council (see Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ). If there is not a low-stress way for parents to make their views known, then the first time you may learn about a matter will be during a church discussion about your severance pay.

III. Staying Out of trouble with the Congregation

1. Keep your Youth Ministry budget within balance.
Our beloved president goes trillions over budget, but you are not him. When the church votes on a budget, they are not granting staff members permission to go against the will of the people.

2. When in doubt, don’t.

3. Have predictable work habits.

4. Gently insist on a written job description.
When some question whether you are doing your job, a well-written job description provides objective answers.

IV. Staying Out of Trouble Morally

1. Be cautious when spiritually dry.

2. Be sensitive to childhood issues that can trip you up.
Sometimes temptation springs from not hormones or lust but from a void in one’s sense of worth that has existed since childhood.

3. Take every thought captive.

4. Be concerned if marital difficulties occur.
One of Satan’s most wretched lies: “Things are so cold at home that I have a right to . . .”

V. Surviving if You Do Get into Trouble

1. Find a support group or person outside the church.

2. Work through proper church structures (personnel committee, etc.).

3. Follow the biblical guideline on containment (Matt. 18:15–17).

4. Keep notes.

5. If appropriate, include the director of missions or the state church minister relations leader.
They can give you wise counsel, and they may be able to chair meetings with the various factions in the church.

6. Exercise, whether you feel like it or not.
Church conflict floods your system with toxins. Exercise reduces their harm.

7. Keep up your regular work.
If conflict makes you want to stay home, you will just add more ammunition to your critics.

8. Eat responsibly, whether you want to or not.
Conflict increases hunger for sugar, refined flour, and other comfort foods. But when your body is under stress, such foods just exacerbate the damage.

9. In prayer, spend more time listening to God than talking to Him.
It is human nature to want to tell God all the details of what is wrong. Some of that is fine, but if you spend all your prayer time telling bad news, you will miss His brilliance and His comfort. Block out some of your prayer time to focus entirely on King Jesus and to listen. Then allow Him to hold you. And breathe into you. And restore your confidence that another chapter of life is coming.

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