A Crisis in Youth Leadership

A Crisis in Youth Leadership
Matt Galleger

If there’s anything we’ve learned as leaders is that being a leader isn’t easy.

Usually, the most difficult part of leadership is the inner battles. Within a divided heart, internal conflicts can wage a terrible war. When the war is finally won, there still remains unsettling causalities.

Yes, we’re better for the battle…but wounding is unpleasant.

I’m Having a Crisis

When a leader faces crisis, they usually don’t talk about it to the people they are leading. The followers wouldn’t fully understand all the complexities and it isn’t right to dump it all on them anyway. Even if we did dump it on them, they probably couldn’t offer much help anyhow. So where does this leave leaders, when they are in a crisis?

Questions abound. Loneliness magnifies. Fear arrives. One’s calling is even challenged.

As a leader, you may feel the pressure to appear as though you have “it all together.” That is, at a minimum, you may feel the need to have it together “enough” to lead teenagers. But the deep confusion that can come from a fierce internal wrestling match will ultimately undermine your leadership confidence.

In the depth of your heart, you probably realize that you’re not alone, but it sure feels lonely. And the way you feel is very real.

Crisis can yield ugly fruit in the life of a leader, like cynicism or criticism, both of which can dismantle and destroy leaders. Unfortunately, that ugly fruit doesn’t help one overcome a crisis. Actually, cynicism and criticism keep others (who might be able to comfort and help) at a safe distance.

Fortunately, during these moments (and even seasons) of ugly fruit, GOD doesn’t leave us on our own. He may be difficult to sense thru our hardened filters of cynicism and criticism…but he’s there waiting to give us the wisdom we so desperately need. Until we pursue him, the loneliness is magnified.

For the next two weeks, we will take a candid look at a few of the common battles facing many youth workers. We will share from our experience and explore some positive ways to grow through the crucible of internal crisis. There is hope…hang on.

I Want To Quit

Ever feel like you want to quit youth ministry?

It’s a normal feeling! Every veteran youth worker has dealt with the debilitating desire to throw in the towel and walk away. It feels like a death grip on your heart and it’s very difficult to press toward the finish line.

Life as a leader isn’t always smooth sailing and it seems like the most difficult battles are the ones we fight from within. Here are a few ideas to help you process through wanting to quit on youth ministry:

Slow Down

It’s okay to allow some things to fall through the cracks while you try to figure out the pain. Wanting to quit youth ministry is a BIG DEAL, and you need to intentionally create some margin in your life so you can work this through to the end. Staying busy will only prolong a solution. Are you moving too fast to deal with this inner crisis in a healthy way?

Reconnect With God (if you need to)

We aren’t assuming that you’re disconnected from God simply because you feel like quitting youth ministry…not at all. However, we recognize that our perspective on life and ministry gets twisted and turned upside down when we’re not walking with Jesus. God wants us to cast our anxieties on him–even the anxiety of stepping out of youth ministry. We can’t trust God with all of this if we are disconnected from him. How’s your current walk with Jesus?

Identify the Pain Points

Use the time you’ve gained by making intentional decisions to slow down to think about the source(s) of your frustration. Write out the sources of your pain in your journal. This exercise works to take a generalized anxiety and make it more specific. When it’s specific you can deal with it. Until you identify the pain points, you’ll be navigating the maze in the dark. What specifically is driving you out of youth ministry?

Get Outside Perspective

God created us for community, we need one another to share joys and burdens and gain insight and support. Talk to someone who is a safe outsider to the crisis. It can be refreshing to hear from someone who doesn’t really “care” about the success/failure of your youth ministry. Instead, this person cares about you. Difficult issues often require another set of eyes to pursue a solution. Who is someone safe that you could talk to?

Decide Your Next Step

Here’s where our short daily email can’t be much help: there are simply too many possibilities for your future for us to assume we could help you with “the right answer.” God may be leading you to stay, but in order to stay you need to make a change in your heart or situation. Or, God may be calling you to leave (at least for a season). We know God is doing something in your life, so look for it! What is a potential next step that you could take?

Your responsibility is to discern if you are in a temporary season or stuck in a rut. A season calls for patient endurance, a rut requires significant change. Either way, there IS a next step.

One last thought:

Don’t allow guilt to keep you in youth ministry. Leading students because you think, “They need me! If I leave they will have no one!” will morph you into a lousy leader. This kind of motivation will short change your students and short circuit your faith.

I Want To Confront

You’ve been there: you need to initiate a confrontation and you feel like you’ve swallowed an anchor.

Every leader will face confrontation because it’s impossible to please everyone and your decisions will be ticking people off. No one is perfect, and your leadership will lead to mistakes and misunderstandings.

There is an upside to confrontation: growth is birthed in conflict that can’t be born anywhere else. Ministries are strengthened and wisdom is gained on the other side of conflict.

When a leader needs to confront, there are typically two automatic responses–they are both very different, yet both can have disastrous consequences. Some people are more inclined to implode (avoid and stuff their feelings within–wounding ones self), others are more inclined to explode (instant reaction–wounding others). Fortunately for you, the two of us happen to know each response very well, but we’ll keep it a secret as to who is who (if you listened to our podcast you’d know immediately who is who).

It’s a mistake to take an all or nothing approach to conflict: to always implode or explode will only multiply problems and limit your influence. Each situation is different and ought to be handled with prayer, self-control, and wisdom.

Make it your goal to share your perspective in a way that will most likely be heard. Confrontation doesn’t need to be a battle and ought to result in a positive change. Where confrontation gets ugly is when it’s just about sharing your opinions and getting it “off your chest.” That response should be saved for your journal, best friend, or mom.

A leader who needs to confront ought to do a little preparation before having the difficult conversation. Do the necessary heart work on yourself first, so your conversation comes from a pure heart. Don’t hide or bury your hurt, but don’t speak out of bitterness or anger either. At the root, confrontation ought to come from a caring and compassionate heart. When others see this, you forge a stronger bond.

Go one on one. A conversation is always better than an email! When in doubt go, personal…don’t hide behind an email. Talking face to face allows the other person to read your body language, hear tone, and respond immediately. Sure, it’s easier to type an email, but it’s a weak form and poor form of confrontation.

Be direct. Clearly identify the problems and some possible solutions. Speaking in generalities typically results in confusion. If a leader needs correction, give specific examples and offer explicit alternatives.

Be gentle. You don’t need to always bring the hammer! Confront in the way you would want to be confronted. Speak the truth in love, with gentleness and respect.

I’ve Lost My Excitement for Ministry

Have you ever experience a loss of excitement for youth ministry? For whatever reason, you found it more difficult to be fired-up to drive to youth group. When the night was done, you were glad you showed up because God did great things, but getting there definitely required more emotional effort than it used to. Well, if you can identify, you’re not alone.

We are continuing the series we began last week by looking at a few common issues that tend to send a leader into personal crisis.

Some might say that today’s youth ministry nugget is more aimed at the youth ministry veteran. That may be true, but if you can’t currently identify with a slight dip in excitement for ministry, file this away for later when it’s bound to appear.

It’s good to get into a groove with your ministry, but it can become dangerous to your leadership when the grove becomes a rut. Week after week, going to the same programs, doing the same things, seeing the same people, singing the same songs, and meeting in the same environment can lead to a “supposed to do” and the routine can drain one’s passion.

How is it possible to get back the ministry equivalent of the “new car smell”?

If you and I were having coffee, and I knew you had lost some of your excitement for youth ministry, I’d simply ask a few trigger questions:

• What is it that you love about being a Christian?

• What is it that excites you about your faith?

• Tell me what’s so great about your relationship with Jesus?

It would be fun to hear how God has worked in your life. The next question would be:

• Are you sharing this excitement/love/passion with the teenagers God has entrusted to your care?

The best type of relational ministry to teenagers is one that appears from an overflow of the work of God in our own heart. When a youth worker gets trapped in the routine they forget to share what’s important and that’s a recipe that results in apathy.

Consider recharging your passion by making a small change with your personal ministry to students. Perhaps it’s time to shift your responsibilities and add something new, or pull back somewhere so you don’t hit burn out. Or, maybe it’s time to take a break for a short season. You don’t want to quit altogether just because you’ve lost a little passion, but stepping back could do wonders to restore your excitement for youth ministry.

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.”

This article “A Crisis in Youth Leadership” written by Matt Gallegar, was excerpted from: www.youthministry.com daily newsletter. August 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.