Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dealing with Criticism in Youth Ministry

I originally created this particular post at a time when I was a little upset and defensive about some comments I'd heard about people in the ministry. However, I never felt comfortable with my post because it seemed like it was a pity party about how miserable it is to be in ministry and I didn't want that to be tone of the blog. But then I was reading a post from my friend Russ Bowlin about dealing with conflict in the church...particularly when you are on the chopping block. A few days later, I saw a post on Tim Schmoyer's 100 Blogs I Hope You Write requesting someone write a post about "How to respond to criticism." I realized, one reason that one reason ministers (particularly youth ministers) come under a lot of fire is because we have such a diverse job description and are expected to do a number of tasks on a competent level. A lot of times I think we come under fire because people don't realize how big our job can be. If you've been in ministry very long, you've had to address criticism--if not, you will soon. So, I offer five steps to help deal with criticism.

1. Pray about the issue and pray for your critics. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, submit your requests to God."--Phil. 4:6

2. Approach the situation with humility. Unfortunately, more often than not, you will get an email or overhear murmurings that Mrs. Jones is not pleased with the job you are doing. At that point, after praying about the situation, think of ways you can contact that person. Remember that we as youth ministers have a widely diverse job description and will not do everything well. You know, all throughout scripture, there were men who couldn't do it all--Moses had Aaron, Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Mark, and Timothy, David had Jonathan, Joshua had Caleb. So we should have the humility to realize our weaknesses and find people to help us in those areas. We should also help our church members understand that we can't be great at everything we do.

3.Determine if your critic has a valid complaint. This will have to be done with some sort of meeting with the nay-sayer at hand. Ideally, meet with this person face to face--nonverbal communication is lost over the phone and even more so over email. Some people will always find something to gripe about, but when you come under fire, determine if this person has a legitimate concern. If they just want to gripe, ask them for their opinion as to how you should fix the problem. Sometimes people don't have a gripe necessarily as much as they just want to be heard. Other times a person is looking at a situation through a colored lens and perceive actions completely differently from the way you intended them. So it's important to find out if their complaint is justified. If there is a true issue, then proceed to step 3.

4. Get a the opinion of others in the church to see if they will affirm or reject the criticism. I wouldn't go to your inner circle for this, but rather go to the people who you know will be objective and honest with you--including your Senior Pastor. Tell them the nature of the criticism and ask them if they think you've been negligent or lacking in the area in question. DO NOT TELL THEM WHERE THE CRITICISM CAME FROM, AS THIS MAY CAUSE MORE DIVISION. (Many times they know the source anyway, but do not use this tactic to be divisive). Listen to their responses in a constructive way and use this as an opportunity for personal growth. It may turn out that they want to reaffirm you and will tell you that you don't need to listen to your critic(s). If you need to continue addressing the issue, proceed to step 4.

5. Work with your critics and others to determine a solution to the perceived failure. Often times when people share their concern for a ministry their tone will change when they are asked to lead out in that area. Or, they may find that they can work alongside you in this area for the benefit of the youth program and the church.

Do not
Get defensive
Rally a "camp" of people to take your side
Tell a bunch of people what Mrs. Jones said about you and your ministry
Do anything that will further divide your church.

What suggestions would you offer in dealing with conflict?

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