Youth ministries are supposed to be communities where teens discover and embrace the love of Jesus, discover his purpose for their lives, and experience being part of the family of God.
When toxic volunteers, parents, or congregation members enter this equation, we move away from the positive outcomes we strive to provide for teens. There are, however, tools we can use to protect our communities from negative, hurtful, dead-end conversations or statements.
Toxicity in youth ministry is like a bad rash. From a distance, it seems like everything is fine. But as you get closer, you realize that it’s spreading and becoming horribly uncomfortable and more and more visible.
In my years of ministry, I have discovered that toxic people have the most negative impact when left unchallenged or unaccountable. Toxic people left with the liberty to spread negativity will. Only by the grace of God, I’ve discovered that not every toxic volunteer has to be lost. We want to lead toxic volunteers to a place of healing. Under the hurt, anger, or misunderstanding, is a member of our God family.
Keys to Stopping Toxic Volunteers in Their Tracks:
- Shush them with the Truth. Toxic people often become entangled in bad information. They can thrive on the reaction they get when people hear something that is literally unbelievable and become entangled themselves. When we are able to explicitly decipher the truth from lies, we have the ability to stop these toxic untruths in their tracks.
- Give them positive direction. Not all toxic people spread lies. Unfortunately, sometimes they are onto the truth and have a point. It’s not what they know that makes them toxic, but what they do with what they know that makes them toxic. Giving toxic people positive direction can actually make them a force for good. Inspire them to become a part of the solution.
- Keep them on task. Bored volunteers can make bad conversation. We all can when we’re bored. Keep your team challenged, inspired, and on task. Invite them to come to youth group and other youth events early so you can give clear instructions and remind them of the mission. Volunteers who are busy accomplishing the mission of ministry do not have time for toxic activities.
- Invite them to leave. I know this seems harsh but too many students leave youth communities and all the positive outcomes that come with being involved in a youth community because of the hurt and harm caused by one toxic leader. Ask them to leave. Explain the situation to your direct report and gain the support you need to move in the right direction.
If we have the courage to lead toxic people, I believe less and less teens will walk away from the church hurt or confused.