You know that little white card you see at hotels and restaurants? You know, the one that allows you to offer “suggestions” regarding your experience? Yeah, those cards. Now, do you ever feel like you’ve got one of those permanently attached to you?
There seems to be something about youth ministry that invites a steady stream of “suggestions” on how to better run our ministries.
At times it’s almost funny how often parents, students, or random people attending our churches feel the freedom to tell us what we need to do differently with our ministries. I was talking to a friend, who is in sales position with his company, about this issue. I asked what would happen if people he hardly knew approached him with suggestions on how to do his job better. He replied that he would probably “laugh at them & walk away.” Now, I think we all know this isn’t an application for our ministries. But, I do think it illustrates the point well.
Before I go to far, hear me say I know my ministry isn’t perfect. Neither am I. I welcome people’s input. I value teamwork. I look for ways to improve. I want a wide range of people in our church to feel ownership in my ministry. And I’m not complaining . . .
But it seems to me that there’s something unique to the ministry (especially youth ministry) where people both feel the freedom to express what “they want,” and expect that their specific wants should be accommodated.
How do we manage this dynamic? The truth is that many, if not most, leaders are insecure about some aspect of their ministries. When comments address those areas, we can get hurt, bitter, frustrated, and can often make poor leadership and/or relationship choices as a result.
This is a tension for me and probably for you, as well. But I've discovered a few areas to consider when attempting to wade through which suggestions to consider, and which ones not to.
Consider The Nature Of The Comment
If what is being said about you or your ministry attacks your integrity, character, or leadership, address it quickly. If someone’s “suggestion” speaks to any of these areas, have a conversation with him or her as quickly as possible. Seek to clear up any misconceptions. And if the critique is valid, take the necessary steps to address it.
Consider The Motivation
Is the suggestion made really concerned about the effectiveness of your ministry? Or is it someone simply wanting it “my way”? Listen, we all have a certain way we like to see things done. And the nature of our “on demand” culture only heightens the feeling that we should pretty much get what we want, when we want it. Many people make “suggestions” about your ministry based on the way they’d like to see it done, not with any eye toward overall ministry effectiveness.
It can be a tough reality, but you’re not called to tailor programs or vision based simply on how someone would like for it to be done. You are called to shepherd students, and people have unique, personal needs that will need attending to. But we can’t allow every personal preference to dictate the ethos of our ministries.
Consider The Source
We have to consider who is giving the suggestion. While we must always be open to solid input from someone we may not know, it’s only logical that we would pay closest attention to those individuals whom we trust, whom we have a relationship with, or whom we know is committed to the vision of our church. It’s not always easy. There’s definitely some discernment involved in knowing which suggestions are constructive, which are simply filling time, and which are intended as criticism.
Consult The Lord’s Guidance
Full disclosure here: I’m more bugged by people’s comments and criticism when I’m not seeking God for wisdom as a leader. When I’m seeking Him for wisdom, guidance, and affirmation of leadership decisions, my ability to rightly handle criticism is much sharper.
At the end of the day, we have two choices: We can respond to these “suggestions,” or not. Some will be valid and will make your ministry better. Some will be harmless and won’t require any response at all. Others will be critical “darts” you’ll have to address directly. Regardless, it seems like it’s a part of youth ministry that simple goes with the territory. It’s vital we know how to deal with it.
How do you deal with the different kinds of input people offer?