I was waiting for my car to get its oil changed and I couldn’t help but notice the guy sitting across from me in the waiting area looking at me. Granted, I AM a good looking guy. [Editor's Note: This is when there really needs to be a “sarcasm” font. :) ] However, it was as if he wanted to say something. Finally after moments of awkwardness he asked, “Are you Chris Wesley? How’s your son?” A moment of panic rushed over me as I thought, “Am I supposed to know this guy?” He saw my confusion and immediately said, “Oh, you probably don’t know me. I go to your church and love what you do with the teenagers. Keep up the great work.”
His encouraging words meant a lot, and I was really appreciative that he asked about our new son. However, I felt a little awkward at the same time. It reminded me of a truth I've learned over the years. Maybe you have as well. It's simply this:
The longer we serve at our churches, the more recognizable in public we become.
Of course it’s natural for students, their parents, and maybe even their friends to recognize us. I know some of my students’ teachers and coaches, and some of them know me. But, the longer we spend investing in our church and community, the wider the circle of people who recognize us gets. And with that comes a certain erosion of privacy. Especially if you serve in a smaller or close-knit community.
There are interesting ramifications. Because of your position, your identity is tied to the moral and spiritual aspect of people’s lives. Therefore, there seems to be greater interest when you:
- Make mistakes
- Have a life change
- Participate in certain hobbies
- Give your opinion, even on non-church issues
For some youth workers, it’s flattering when they’re given this level of attention. But for others it can be offsetting. The line between public and private is a fine one, and when a youth worker feels like it gets crossed, it can affect both the family and the individual’s spiritual health.
How do we live with this tension? Here are some thoughts:
One of the results of a long tenure in a church or community is increased involvement in a community outside of your role as a youth worker. However, if you’re not careful, this adds to your already over-committed schedule and can easily rob you of family time. Set boundaries. Do your best to create blocks of time where the only reason you’ll pull away from family is in case of an emergency.
Keep It Consistent
We have to be consistent in our lives at church, at home, and in public. An appropriate level of transparency is a must. But, you still have to both protect the trust of your spouse as well as the trust of your fellow church staff (or volunteers, parents, etc.). It’s a fine line. Consider talking with your senior pastor and/or fellow youth workers to see how they handle similar pressures.
Surround Yourself With Support
Find a group of youth workers who are in the trenches with you. These men and women will pray for you and lift you up. They’ll offer sage advice and direction. These should be some of your most important relationships, as these individuals understand your pressures.
Embrace Both The Rewards And Consequences
Embrace both the influence and the accountability that comes with your role. People in your community might want to occasionally extend you a favor or show generosity in some way because of the impact you’ve had in your church/community. It’s OK to graciously accept. However, your role means you’re also under more scrutiny in your community, as well. People may be inclined to be more vocal if/when you show poor judgment somehow. But we can’t have it both ways. You may have earned a certain influence, but it comes with increased accountability. Embrace both. You’ll be a better leader for it.
When you make a significant investment in your church and community, there will be an increase in your public profile, no question about it. Certain people will take greater interest in what you say, do, wear, and so on. You’ll be criticized and loved. The goal is to own it. See it as a way of bringing people closer to Christ. Stay humble. Don’t get too high or too low. And remember your role.
Do you ever struggle with the breakdown of privacy because of you role? Is it wrong to think this way?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.