5 Unforgivable Mistakes
By: James Grout
I’m a youth pastor, therefore I make mistakes. But some mistakes can inflict real damage. So I’ve learned to avoid some mistakes because the impact is very difficult to undo, including…
Always playing the Clown
1. Trevor is a funny guy. He’s always been good at making people laugh. Outrageous behavior is his defining characteristic. After college Trevor got into youth ministry because he could get paid to have fun and remain immature well beyond adolescence. Trevor is the youth pastor I try my best to avoid for fear of being too closely associated with him and his reputation.
There’s a lack of respect for student ministry in the church, and I fear were partly to blame—we so often feed rather than dispel negative stereotypes. We arrive late, leave early, make jokes in meetings, ignore dress codes, and generally feel the need to be the goofiest person in the room. Humor is an asset and being casual isn’t a sin, but we could do more to promote respect in our profession to uphold the best of what we’re about in all environments. Replace a joke or sarcasm with a story about God’s work in a teenager’s life. You’ll instantaneously improve the image of youth ministry in your church. A clown always gets a laugh, but rarely respect.
2 I work in a process-driven church. We’re slow to change and quick to form task forces, focus groups, committees, and sub-committees. This style of ministry does not fit my personal style. I work best in a “let’s try it now and clean up the mess later” atmosphere. I’ve perfected the art of “winging it raising it almost to the level of spiritual giftedness. But I figured out early on that to survive and thrive in my environment I needed to work within the system. Now, after many years in this church, I couldn’t do my job any differently. I find plenty of room for spontaneity, but that’s because I’ve bought into (and learned to respect) this process-driven structure.
A quick way to find yourself out of a job is to eschew your church’s system for guiding and measuring your work. Sure, it’s tedious work to do goal setting, regular ministry assessments, budget planning, volunteer background checks, and face-to-face interviews with prospective team leaders, but this stuff is vital to long-term success. You don’t have to be administratively gifted, but you must be administratively faithful.
Ignoring your gut
3 On the other hand, it’s possible to follow every procedural step and still end up with a sense something isn’t right. There are moments in ministry when we hear an inner voice that should demand our attention. Whether it’s a prompting from the Holy Spirit or an instinctive red flag, we need to stop, listen, and then trust that voice.
A few years ago I interviewed a young man for a missions trip and had a strong feeling it wasn’t a good fit. Pressured by others, I put him on the team and almost immediately regretted the decision. He became a destructive force on our team and nearly got us into a street fight in the country where we were ministering. I would now gladly trade the damage that was done for the feelings that might have been hurt had I trusted my instinct. I have said “no” to several missions candidates since then because I’m learning to trust my gut.
Shooting the shepherd
4 I got together with Dave when he was only a few months into his first full-time youth ministry position. The majority of what Dave had to say about his new job did not sound good. He spoke with disdain for his senior pastor—I knew the end was already in sight. I was saddened but not shocked when Dave left the church amid a messy and public disagreement with elders and the senior pastor. Dave’s departure was less than 12 months after his hiring.
Few youth workers have a perfect relationship with their boss, but there are right and wrong ways to go about dealing with differences. Openly criticizing your leader hurts the church and creates a hostile work environment. A better approach is to speak directly and discreetly with your senior pastor. Demonstrate your commitment to support him publicly and privately. Of course, this won’t guarantee a good working atmosphere, but you still must resist the temptation to go public with your frustrations. If submission to the leadership of your senior pastor has become impossible, the church is best served by your quiet resignation.
Forgetting you’re the adult
5 Sara’s style of ministry was to get as close to young people as possible so she could understand their every need. Despite being several years older than her group members, Sara didn’t notice when the line between leader and teenager began to blur. She spent most of her time with her kids that eventually led to a romantic relationship with one of them, which Sara did her best to hide. When the relationship inevitably became public knowledge, Sara’s ministry was over. The mess she left behind became her enduring legacy.
The horrendous career-ending mistakes I’ve watched friends make often started with a mustard-seed mistake—they treated teenagers as their peers. At best this leads to a lack of respect for the youth leader’s authority, at worst an inappropriate relation-ship between leader and student. Guarding the leader/teenager boundary gives you the freedom to minister objectively. Your kids may not always “like” you, but they should always respect you. ?
5 Mistakes from Brenda Seefeldt
The hard part about writing this is limiting my “unforgivable mistakes” to just five. There are so many more I could share. That’s because ministry requires obedience to God as a co-participator in what he’s already doing, and I’m often too impressed with my skills to be as obedient as I could be. Yet in the midst of my decades of mistakes, God still works in the kids he’s entrusted to me—because he’s good. Onto the unforgivables…
Creating a me-based ministry
1. Early on, I created a youth ministry centered around me. I didn’t do it on purpose. I spoke at all the youth meetings. I planned and attended all the retreats. I coached the small group leaders. I went on all the mission trips. Of course, this was expected of me because I was the paid professional. But the unintentional results created a ministry not centered on teenagers or their legal caretakers or the church. If I’d left, the youth ministry would’ve collapsed. Here’s a tough question: At your church, are you following what the previous youth pastor did, or did you have to start over? My Brenda-based ministry seemed so right. But as youth ministry sage Jim Burns says, bad stuff happens when we have the right motives but the wrong phone number.
Usurping kids’ #1 influencers
2. The esteemed editor of this magazine once wrote in his column (January/February 2005): “When it comes to impacting teenagers for Christ, who’s the superhero and who’s the sidekick? Well, both Christian and secular researchers say you’re Robin and your kids’ parents are Batman.” I used to think I was Batman. And to be honest, I know there were many days I believed I was the superhero for all teenagers.
Finally, after year 18 in youth ministry and suffering from many frustrations over the lack of consistent growth in my teenagers, it dawned on me that I was ignoring, even usurping, the most important influencer in a teenager’s life—his or her parents. I also realized (finally) that I would never be that #1 influencer no matter what 1 did, Stet after stat, study after study says so.
The tipping point came from a George Barna quote in Third Millennium Teens: “Many of the church leaders talk about the importance of the family, but in practice they have written off the family as an agency of spiritual influence. Their assumption is that if the family (including teenagers) is going to be influenced, it is the organized church that will do the influencing, primarily through its events—worship services, classes, special events, etc. This philosophy makes the impetus behind youth ministry all about fixing what is broken—substituting the efforts of the church for those of parents. But there is a procedural problem here: Kids take their cues from their family, not from their youth ministers. God’s plan was for the church to support the family, and for the family to be the front line of ministry within the home.
Kids may glean truths and principles from us, but the greatest influence in their lives is still their parents.” Barna asks, “What are youth ministries doing to serve families rather than usurp them?” I was usurping. Yes, I was doing the occasional parent meeting, but my purpose was to applaud the great things my Brenda-based ministry was accomplishing. I naively thought I could “fix” their kids. I thought I was Batman.
Youth ministry is different for me now. My driving passion is to help parents disciple their own teenagers. I’ve shifted my creative energies from me-based activities to finding ways to encourage parents in their ministry to their kids. Now, in year 26 of youth ministry, I’m seeing better fruit. I like being Robin.
Neglecting the church family
3 I used to covet my youth room as our protected “compound” within the church. And I loved it when our kids sat in “their section” during the main service. But I now see that these identity-building practices were actually putting a relational wedge between my kids and their church family.
For years I operated under the adolescent psychology lesson that teenagers will separate themselves from adults so they can develop their own identity. That’s why I worked so hard to protect their space at church. But a string of books—including A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch, Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss, and Chap Clark’s Hurt—vividly showed us that kids feel abandoned by adults. My uninformed mindset furthered that heartbreak.
Another basic adolescent psychology lesson is that teenagers crave community. While a youth group certainly does provide community, kids know how two-faced their peers can be because they’re often two-faced. “Relational ministry” means more than building peer-to-peer friendships—it’s also connecting kids with their adult Christian community
Today I proactively find ways for the congregation to mix with the youth. I can see the fruit from these efforts whenever our kids enter the church they know they’re loved by the entire church because they often see adults recognizing them.
Ignoring the ways kids are disconnected from their faith
4. According to Barna’s Third Millennium Teens, the top rated issue for teenagers is educational achievement. And when group asked Christian teenagers about their top worries, their number-one concern was grades.
For too long I ran my youth ministry separated from kids’ obvious stressors. I’d often encourage them to be “campus missionaries”—ignoring that the “campus” was, for them, already a full plate of stress. Recently I served as a sub at a school. i spoke to a guy whose youth group I’d just visited as a guest speaker. i was riding him hard. When he asked me why, I told him I expected more of him because of his faith in God. He said no one had ever challenged him like I had, then he showed me his report card. “I go to youth group on Wednesday nights, but this is school,” he said. Kids compartmentalize their faith. So unless we connect their faith to their top concerns, their Christian life will remain irrelevant. Until I bring God near that most important thing, God will not be a part of it.
Trying to leverage lunchtime
5 I think it’s wrong to encourage youth workers to visit their kids during lunchtimes at school. Authors and experts have been saying this is a great idea for more than 20 years, but a lot has changed for schools since Columbine, 9/11, and now Virginia Tech. Security is just another problem schools have to worry about while they’re trying to educate kids, Your desire to visit your kids comes from pure motives, but it may not be perceived that way by school administrators, even if you’ve asked for permission. Lunch is a chaotic time—it makes administrators tense. Our presence is just another disruption during this uncontrolled time.
Do the school a favor—use the time you would’ve spent at lunch with your kids to volunteer at the school instead. Your kids will still see you on campus, you’ll get a clearer sense of their life there, and the school could really benefit from your expertise. ?
5 Mistakes by Doug Ashley
Jesus healed, performed miracles, taught parables, died for our sins, and rose on the third day—if there was ever a man of action, he’s him. But he was also a man of inaction. He sometimes chose not to heal, perform miracles, explain a parable, and comfort someone in distress. We generally know what Jesus was trying to show us by his actions, but what about his inactions? It’s time we heeded his example.
Dismissing parents’ beefs too quickly
1. A few years ago a young man started showing up for the sixth-grade guys small group I was leading. As I got to know him and his mom, the phone calls started—it was clear she was troubled by many things about the group. I always tried to patiently answer her concerns, but it seemed like every few months another issue cropped up.
Finally, I decided it would be a good idea to meet for lunch and talk things over. I went into the time thinking she just needed to understand our vision and then things would be fine. Instead, as we talked, she was the one teaching me about vision. Her main concern was that she felt disconnected from what her son was learning in the small group, Sunday mornings, and at retreats. Though we often talked about connecting our ministry to families, we were not engaging families very well in what we were teaching their kids.
So we took some steps to rectify that disconnect—our ongoing goal is to get everything we’re teaching into the hands of parents so they won’t feel like outsiders. Parents can be an incredible asset to us if we really listen to them. But we’ll have to re-code their concerns, replacing “personal attack” with “valuable insights.”
Overestimating our importance
2 The longer I’m in ministry to teenagers and their families, the more I realize I need others to minister with rye. And the best way to attract others to my ministry is to let leaders lead. After I’ve given them my best training and guidance, I know I have to release them to try things their way, even if it means making a mistake or two.
For example, we have a group of leaders who are trying to get our kids involved serving the poor. They expressed an interest in taking it on, so I encouraged them to go for it. This weekend they’re planning a youth-led party for children in a low-income community near downtown Denver. While I’ve helped them think through the logistics for the day, I’ve also chosen to not be there—I know they’ll do a great job. We have to trust people if we want them to serve. If I’m responsible for everything in the ministry, I’ll not only burn out but I’ll also kill any initiative my leaders have. People need to be encouraged, equipped, and then empowered to serve. Check your ego at the door, and your ministry team will grow.
Assuming your family’s needs will be met
3 I always figured that my ministry position would win my family automatic care and support from our church family. Isn’t the church supposed to be a community of brothers and sisters who are there to care for one another? So why were we feeling alone and unsupported in our church? Why did we feel forgotten and ignored? Well, we ignored one imperative of ministry—we refused to allow ourselves to be needy. We were acting like the “consumer-minded” churchgoers we’d always eschewed. Just like so many in the church today, we’d pinned our expectations of bliss on a church experience rather than on the God who created us and a broken community that wanted to love us—if we’d let them.
We’ve grown up a lot since those early days at our church. We’ve learned that we have to make our needs, even our desperation, known to others. And we have to accept help when it comes. Sometimes givers have the hardest time being receivers—if we’re going to be a true community, we must be people who practice both.
Treating people in your local community as enemies rather than potential friends
4 Here’s a strategy-every youth leader in the country should develop at least one friendship with a leader in their local community someone outside the church. I’m talking about a business leader, teacher, school administrator, head of a PTO, police officer, or a government official. No agenda, just build a friendship. Think of what could happen.
When I stepped out to build a relationship with the middle school leaders across the street from our church, I realized very early that I was the outsider. They assumed I had an agenda. If I was going to have a friend in the community I needed to be a friend, and that meant friendship had to be my only agenda—pure and simple. Now those friendships have borne fruit in a big way this year. These people have been a huge encouragement to me in the midst of a difficult tragedy that has rocked our church community.
If we want to point the world to Jesus we need to be Jesus to the world that means making friends with all kinds, even the ones who think they’re supposed to be our enemies. Let’s remind them they don’t have to be.
Promising what you can’t deliver
5 We get into ministry because we want to help people find Jesus, but often ministry people crave praise from others. This is a deadly poison to mix with our vision. How often I’ve tried to be the “savior” in ministry. How often I’ve tried to impress people in ministry. It’s when I operate out of these motivations that I miss my true calling and offer something much less than what God’s given me to offer.
The person who leads our pastoral team at my church made a very impressive statement to our team when he first came on board. He said: “You can count on the fact that I will disappoint you, I will let you down, I will not meet your expectations. I’m simply a fellow traveler who wants to follow Jesus with you.” How refreshing. If we live our lives that way, we’d be free to be what God has called us to be. Besides, we’ve already got a Savior—we don’t need any more of those. ?
The Top 5 Evangelism Training Mistakes
By: Greg Stier
1. Tell kids words are optional.
Sorry St. Francis, but words are necessary. In Romans 10:14 Raul says: “…How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” If kids think they can share the gospel without words, they’ll never actually do it.
2. Never coach them in gospel conversations.
Many kids don’t know how to bring up the gospel, so they don’t. Role play with them—helps them discover how easy it is to talk about their faith.
3. Ignore their unique style of evangelism
Not every teenager shares his or her faith in the same way. Neither did Jesus’ disciples! Help your kids uncover their unique style of evangelism, based on their personality and spiritual gifting.
4. Teach them to use terms that make no sense to non–Christians
If our kids are not crystal-clear when sharing their faith they can confuse their friends. Phrases like, “All you have to do is say this prayer…” may sound spiritual; but they have no biblical backing and can create more questions than clarity in unbelieving minds.
5. Assume they’ve all embraced Jesus
They may know the Bible stories and worship-song lyrics, but are they in a committed, obedient relationship with Christ? Just because they go to youth group and say the right answers doesn’t mean they’re genuinely Christian.
This article “5 Unforgivable Mistakes” written by various authors is excerpted form Group Magazine a July/August 2007 edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat, throw away the bones.”