It doesn’t happen all the time, but every once in a while you will get one or a few students that have a concern about some element of your youth ministry and want to talk about. These are not conversations I look forward to, but I have had enough of them that I can share the steps I use to get through it and keep the leader-student relationship intact.
Listen: The student who is coming to see you has likely thought long and hard about this conversation, so when you meet let them speak. Makes notes if you have to, the more information you get, the more you have to work with as your respond. The student might be expecting you to just dismiss them so hearing them out will be very disarming and allow a great conversation to follow.
Is it Biblical?: Now that you have heard the student’s concern about the program, are they highlighting something we are doing that is contrary to scripture? This is a great question to ask the student and chew on with them. It might put them on the spot, but it drives home the point that our goal should be to have a Youth Ministry that functions in accordance to Biblical principals. The majority of the time, student complaints are a reflection of taste and personal preference and that you are not running the youth group to their desire and if this is the case, remain calm and proceed to step 3.
Articulate the vision: Perhaps they don’t know why you don’t have the latest Skillet album playing every week when students are arriving, or that having acoustic worship as opposed to a full band means that the Worship team has less opportunities to serve. If you ask me to explain the intentional elements and reasoning behind our youth services, you better be sitting down because I could take an hour. The students don’t know all of that, and when you share why you do one thing and not another they appreciate the insider look at why things are done a certain way. While you are at it, share with that students where God is moving in the area they are concerned about, they might be surprised to hear it.
Recap and clarify: They have come to you with something they think might be wrong; make sure that you have not confused that student with Christianese Pastor Talk. This is the time to prove that you listened but reiterating their concerns and summarizing your response to it. This is really meant to make sure that they don’t leave frustrated for feeling unheard because you may not agree with them, but you cared enough to hear them out and explain why things are not changing.
Thank them: Sticking your neck out does not come easy to everyone and for a student to make time to come see you and share something they are passionate about is a big deal. Make sure you thank them, not only for their time, but for their passion for the youth ministry and willingness to talk to you and not to talk to all of their friends instead (they probably did talk to their friends about it, but verbally giving them the benefit of the doubt will go a long way). You don’t have to agree with them to appreciate the feedback/criticism, take it and be thankful.
These sort of conversations are not my favorite, but are a necessary part of being a Youth Pastor and if done well, are amazing growth opportunities for students and ourselves.
Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Want to get in on the fun? See how right here.