Youth ministry involves one tough call after another. “Do I stay or go?” “Do I fire this person or offer another chance?” “Do I send this kid home or offer mercy?” “Domino’s or Little Caesars?”
I used to consider myself a pretty good leader. I could make tough calls and knew how to manage very difficult conversations. I understood the best ways to move an organization forward. But amid all that, I was a horrible Christian.
Pros and cons occupied the space where prayer had once resided. Emotionless, matter-of-fact conversations took priority over mercy and grace. The church—Jesus’ bride, God’s family—became an organization, a spreadsheet, and a profit/loss statement. But boy-oh-boy was I a good leader! I knew how to apply the principles from whatever leadership book I’d just finished. I gleaned great information that made me better at my job and helped me face the next day’s challenges.
Unfortunately, none of that made me better at my ministry calling. The truth is, Jesus doesn’t call youth ministers to shepherd Excel spreadsheets and the latest performance improvement plans. We’re shepherding people here. Humans…with hearts…and families. And Jesus. None of that should be relegated to a series of positive vs. negative outcomes.
How can you keep yourself from being sucked into the “great leader” vortex that distracts your focus? Here are some questions I had to start asking myself:
Have I prayed about this? I used to have tough conversations with people before ever having a tough conversation with Jesus. I was firing people without praying about the situation first. Sure, they deserved it (I’m not completely heartless). But at the end of the day, that person still deserved my intercession, and I should’ve been seeking Jesus on behalf of both of us.
Where is compassion? I had checked mine at the door. Because of the intensity of certain decisions and conversations, I had built a wall around my heart. Some of it boiled down to just being jaded. After many years in ministry, some discussions feel routine. I’d heard it before. I had the answer. Move along, folks. Other times, it was too painful to invest my whole heart into what was happening. Still, compassion is key. If your heart isn’t engaged, ministry becomes just a job.
WWJD? Don’t laugh! This an honest question that sinks us when we stop asking it. What would Jesus do? We can’t just use our smarts and years of experience and the latest Christian-based leadership books to make the call. Read the Bible. What did Jesus do? That’s a good first step in determining what he might do in your situation.
Do I want my family seeing this? I’d become so desensitized to my decision-making practices that I was caught completely caught off guard when my family challenged me during dinner one night. “You’ve become so cold. How can you speak so matter-of-factly about this?” That shook me to my core. My nearly grown children nodded in agreement. “You’re a stone-cold killer, Dad.” I realized I didn’t want my kids knowing that kind of man. And I certainly didn’t want them knowing that kind of pastor.
The deeper we immerse ourselves in leadership culture, the easier it becomes to forego a compassionate culture. Although leadership will continue to require tough choices, the toughest choice of all is making them without Jesus in front. And he must be our first choice.
Honestly, most of the decisions I made during my “dark period” are ones I still would’ve made anyway. But decisions are always better bathed in light. And leaders are better when their hearts and minds are bathed in Christ.