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When Rules Hurt Your Youth Ministry

When Rules Hurt Your Youth Ministry

Here’s a newsflash: Rules are essential. A necessary aspect of life, relationships, and, yes, youth ministry.

Our youth ministry rules help us enforce boundaries, create positive environments for spiritual growth and personal disclosure, and generally conduct our business. We have to have them.

But, I’ve noticed over the years that how we communicate our rules can go a long way toward creating either a positive or negative vibe in our ministries and our relationships.

First, let’s think about how this impacts our ministries. When we are starting something new−a new ministry season, a new week of camp, a new small group, and so on−we can tend to lead with the rules. “First thing first, here are the rules.” I don’t like this approach. I don’t like the “feel” it communicates.

I prefer to start with casting a vision for what the new year, new event, or new group is all about. Why are we doing this? What do we hope it will accomplish? How will it impact the lives of the participants? Once you’ve done this, rules can be positioned as part of the structure that will allow you to accomplish your goals. They become the guardrails that keep you on the right path.
When we go all “rules-first,” we communicate the wrong message about our intent and about the heart behind what we’re trying to accomplish.

Second, how can we re-think how we communicate rules to individuals? In most cases, when we’re personally communicating rules to students, it’s because they have been broken. And how we handle communicating our rules in these situations can set the tone for our relationship with the individual student.

The conversation about rules is always, always received best within the context of relationship. If you’re fortunate enough to have a relationship with the “rule-breaker,” start the conversation by referencing and building up the relationship. Then, the discussion about rules is done with the relationship in clear view. The admonition has a much better chance of being received because you’ve demonstrated that you truly care for the individual.

If you can help it (and sometimes you can’t), pull aside the student to have the rules talk. Sometimes you’ll have to have it in front of the group, but if possible, handle it privately.

Also, empathy is huge. Try to see past the broken rule(s) to see the person behind it, and what unique variables he or she may be dealing with that leads them to act the way they do. While it won’t undo what’s been done, it may help you have more understanding and compassion toward the individual.
We have to have rules. And they have to be enforced. But how we communicate them to our students will go along way in keeping your youth ministry moving in the right direction.

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