What do all these statements have in common?

  • This church just doesn’t support youth ministry.
  • These volunteers won’t support my vision.
  • Parents around here just don’t get it.
  • I’ve never seen kids busier than these kids.
  • I never have time for the things that matter most.

What do these statements have in common? They are all the words of youth workers who have resigned themselves to the unintentional role of victim. It’s not the complaints, the criticism or the resistance to change that transform these otherwise positive leaders into helplessness. It is, more often than not, the inability to translate the chronic challenges that face almost every youth ministry into stepping stones into authentic leadership.

How, then, can victim youth workers become catalytic leaders who can begin to re-culture their churches and their ministries? Three decisions can begin the transformation:

1) I will take responsibility for creating the change I want to see. Leaders who move beyond the victim role examine their calendars and carve out time to focus on re-culturing their ministries. When a negative pattern, like a distrustful senior pastor or an out-of-control schedule, slows down the strategic progress of a ministry, leaders do something. They may not know exactly how to transform their ministry’s climate, but they make a priority of making time to figure it out, by seeking out expert advice or through trial and error experimentation.

2) I will focus on what I can do and ignore what I can’t. We can’t change the fact that our youth are busy, but we can take steps to create a magnetic ministry they want to come to. We may not be able to slow down the demands on our time, but we can carve out a Sabbath day every week. We may not be able to create a ministry that prevents every parent’s complaints, but we can learn to respond to parental criticism without defensiveness and with a readiness to find creative solutions.

3) I will stop blaming and start leading. It doesn’t take a superstar youth minister to recognize, usually within the first few months in a new position, that there is someone in their organization standing guard over the status quo. Though these guards of tradition seldom use the words, “We’ve never done it that way before,” they find ways, often passively, to put up road blocks to strategic change. It is easy for victims to spend far too much energy blaming those who seem to stand in the way of progress. But the blame game is a negative spiral that feeds on itself until finally the blamer is swept down the drain with the blaming.

Every youth worker can be an active agent for the transformation of the norms surrounding his or her ministry. But the transformation of the attitudes of parents, church leaders, or youth seldom happens accidentally. It happens when victims make the proactive decision to learn beyond their victim mentality.

Mark DeVries is a youth pastor and founder of Youth Ministry Architects, a youth ministry coaching service that works with individual churches to establish sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries (www.YMArchitects.com).

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