I wish someone had warned me just how damaging a few words could be, how a few innocent statements could sabotage my efforts at getting a new ministry off the ground. I call them the Unmentionables, words that have a way of eroding our credibility and alienating the very people we most need as partners as we start in a new position:
Unmentionable #1: “Back in My Old Church”
Instead of saying, “Back in Rosedale, we used to…”
“What if we…?”
The second statement allows us to get our ideas on the table without rubbing our listeners’ noses the superiority of our previous church. And if we repeat this phrase enough, the stakeholders in our new ministry naturally begin wondering why we didn’t just stay…“back in our old church.”
Unmentionable #2: “This Church Just Doesn’t Get Youth Ministry”
Instead of saying, “This church has been trying to do youth ministry the way it was done in the seventies. News flash! This isn’t the seventies any more. And all those things you used to do don’t work any more.”
“There are folks in our church who have been praying about this youth ministry for years, people who are open to what God wants to do here.”
We will get what we focus on: Focus on the clueless morons who ran the youth ministry before you arrived, and watch them multiply before your eyes. Focus on the willing hearts of those who long to see their kids grow in Christ, and they will start coming out of the woodwork.
Unmentionable #3: “I Don’t Have Time”
Instead of saying, “I’m not trying to be rude, but frankly, I don’t have time to go every kid’s activity!
“I sure want someone from our team to see your son’s play. If you can get me the schedule, what I can do is…”
By focusing on what we can do instead of on what we won’t do, we honor the input of those asking something of us and strengthen our partnership with those doing ministry alongside us. Of course, there will be plenty of times when we don’t have time, but using the “I don’t have time” excuse can come across as if we think that our busyness is somehow more important than the busyness of those requesting our time.
So the next time you’re tempted to speak one of the unmentionables, don’t mention it.
(First published in Group Magazine, 2008)
Mark DeVries is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (www.ymarchitects.com), and has served in his current church in Tennessee for the past 21 years.