By now, you’ve probably seen the #MeToo hashtag. And maybe you’ve been surprised at how many teenagers and adults you know are using it to publicly acknowledge sexual assault or harassment. The hashtag emerged after multiple actresses came forward to expose the predatory patterns of powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The revelations have triggered a massive confession of hidden scars from women and men alike.
Have you ever felt that way on a Kingdom level?
As a youth worker, you probably serve under some type of authority, whether it’s a senior pastor, ministry director, or board of elders. When a church is healthy and leadership is humble, a special synergy and care inspire you to pursue your calling.
But when someone uses their position to manipulate you, your job and soul can feel violated. Perhaps you know someone who, for this very reason, is considering leaving church work to get a secular job. Maybe you’re one of them.
Commenting on her interactions with Weinstein, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o said, “I was entering into a business where the intimate is often professional, and so the lines are blurred. … He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing.”
Could something similar be said about a ministry leader who harassed you professionally or personally?
I once served under someone who charmed the congregation by growing attendance while privately making daily life difficult for the staff. He’d get each of us alone and boast, “I helped us grow five percent this week. You’d better match that in your area, or else you’re out of here.”
At another church, a senior pastor told me not to attend a youth trip he’d planned, only to chastise me afterward for not going. “If you were a real youth worker, nothing I said would’ve stopped you from coming,” he said.
Here’s what I didn’t realize at the time: Working under each of these leaders took my focus off of God’s Kingdom and put it onto keeping my job. I wasn’t sharp enough to contend with the mind games, so I caved in. “Maybe I need to do some silly things to increase attendance,” I reasoned. “Maybe I’m not a decent youth worker after all.” Because my leaders’ insecurities inspired insecurity in me, I unknowingly hurt others along the way.
My stories may be unique, but the essence of what I’m sharing probably isn’t. As we work with people and their souls, we regularly wrestle with a blurry line of what it means to be professional without losing ourselves personally. As hired or appointed youth workers, it’s completely appropriate for leadership to hold us accountable to values and standards that prompt us to be more effective.
Yes, sometimes we deal with bullies who charm our churches into not seeing what we see. Most of the time, though, we’re just serving alongside imperfect people who (like us) are trying to give their best.
Here’s my two cents:
- When you feel stuck, ask “What do you mean?” This simple question works best if you ask it a few times in a row. Doing so causes people to move past their words to what they’re really thinking. It also keeps you from appearing defensive or offensive while revealing if others are.
- When you feel violated, follow Matthew 18 with context. It’s not a sin if someone does something you don’t like or leads in a way you wouldn’t. You don’t need to confront these things or involve others. Reserve those steps for when a clear sin has occurred—and then focus only on the sin, not on any personality conflicts.
- When you feel scarred, remember the scars of Jesus. Like your Savior, at times you’ll take a hit for the church. And at times you may need to overturn tables when something holy has been desecrated. Knowing the difference takes Jesus himself, so stay rooted in him on your best and worst days.
- When you feel alone, remember that you aren’t. Simply Youth Ministry is a network of youth workers who “get it.” Look for peers near you and take advantage of the next regional conference. Or post your story here, and we can look for Jesus together.
What’s your story?