This week I’m blogging about a presentation I gave to West Michigan area youth workers about the top ten dumbest things I’ve ever done in student ministry. Last week, I posted about being over scheduled, the dangers of being a student ministry rock star and trying to be amazing at everything. I’ve broken my dumb mistakes down into three categories: burned out, ineffective and disqualified. Here’s my #7 dumbest mistake:
I don’t know about you, but I like to get along with people. I’ve always been very accommodating. As a teenager, I was able to float between all sorts of social groups because I never rocked the boat. I knew how to make everyone happy. Whenever conflict came I buried it. I always kept my hurts and anger inside because I discovered early in my life that to let them out was dangerous to relationships.
I know what you’re thinking: “Well, that’s not very healthy!” Hey, slow down! I didn’t know that yet. Besides, you’re ruining my punchline.
Anyway, I carried this understanding of conflict and relationships into college, marriage (which is a whole other blog series!) and ministry. The thing about ministry is that it is loaded with conflict. I mean, it is just riddled with it. I once heard a seasoned senior pastor say that ministry is a “series of difficult conversations.” I think that sums it up pretty nicely.
So here’s the thing, in my early years of student ministry, I skirted around conflict. I chose not to confront co-workers or superiors when I had been hurt and I surely didn’t have conversations with volunteers who weren’t meeting expectations. In short, I didn’t rock the boat. I kept everyone happy. And the thing is, everyone was happy. I was getting glowing reviews, regular raises, and the student ministry was growing quickly. The only thing was that I wasn’t happy.
The problem is that people disappoint and hurt each other. This is normal in friendships, marriage and church work. It’s the nature of things. When volunteers, co-workers and superiors disappointed and hurt me and I said nothing. I thought it was best to keep the peace. What actually happened is that over years this disappointment and hurt grew and evolved into something dark and incredibly heavy. In fact, it became something so big that I lost control of it. I became bitter and jaded.
We all know that person in ministry who is jaded. You can hear it in their tone of voice and in words dripping with bitterness. Their boss is an idiot. Their elders are out of touch. Their church is dumb. The church across town is has sold out. So and so author is a heretic. Don’t become that person. How do you become that person? Easy. You simply don’t speak up when you are disappointed and hurt. When you choose to keep it inside, you choose to drink the poison of bitterness.
What I’ve learned, the hard way, is that it is far better to speak up in two ways. First, seek to clarify hurtful conversations. Most of the time, when I get disappointed or hurt, it is because I misunderstood something someone said or something they said came out in a way they didn’t mean. By simply asking clarifying questions releases 90% of my disappointments and hurts.
Secondly, I’ve learned that careful confrontation is crucial to healthy relationships. We’re all broken. The thing about relationships, whether a friendship, marriage, or working relationship, is that they gravitate toward chaos. It’s the nature of trying to relate in a fallen world. You have to fight for healthy relationships. I’ve learned that in order for a relationship to work over the long-haul, it must involve calling each other out when we get disappointed and hurt. Ignoring this truth will inevitably lead to either a superficial or broken relationship.
In the end, I left my first church, in part because I had become frustrated, bitter and jaded. What I’ve learned is that if I had clarified hurtful conversations and carefully confronted when necessary, I’d probably still be there. It is a great church, with great people but because I functioned in relationally unhealthy ways, I allowed myself to become jaded.
What we do in student ministry is far too important and life-changing for us to become bitter and jaded. We must choose maturity and maintain healthy relationships so that we can serve and lead for the long-haul because that’s what it takes to grow a great student ministry. Don’t be dumb. Speak up.
image credited to ceratosaurrr via Flickr