I LOVE my job. It is such a joy to be a youth minister and work with and for teenagers every day. There are so many great things that go along with what I do. I couldn’t be happier. There, now that I’ve said that I want to point out the most popular frustrations youth pastors deal with. “SUGGESTIONS!” dun dun DUNNNNNNNNNNNN!
It seems that the ministry is the only career in which everyone knows how to do what you do better than you know how to do it. What’s more is that it’s a career in which you’re not allowed to go too crazy with your rejection of suggestions.
If I was a mechanic and someone told me I was changing that oil wrong I would tell them to get the heck back in the waiting room and I’ll let them know when I’m finished. When you’re a minister and someone tells you “I don’t think you’re connecting the sixth graders with your ministry well enough, maybe you should start a special service just for them.” I can’t tell them to “Buzz off, I’ll let you know when your kid is ready.” Nope, instead we have to handle every suggestion, the amazing and the degrading, with grace and love. How do we do that? How can we make suggestion givers feel cared about and valued without starting a new ministry every time someone approaches us with an idea? In my experience I have learned, heard, and discovered a few, let’s call them “techniques” for dealing with suggestions. Here they are:
1. The Listener
You’d be amazed at how many suggestion givers just want to be shown respect and value. Sometimes the answer to dealing with suggestions is simply to listen attentively. They truly believe what they’re concerned about is important and that their suggestion is a valid response to that concern. If you tell them it’s dumb or barely listen to them, shrugging them off at the first chance you get, you’ll not only frustrate them further but you’ll cause them to think that you aren’t interested in bettering your ministry. If they feel like they have a valid solution to a real problem and you ignore them then in their mind you don’t care about that problem.
When you listen to them you give value and honor to their opinions and suggestions. You help them feel like their concern is valuable and important to you. Trust me, this is the result you want. If they feel like you care about what they think, they’ll care about your ministry. You may find these suggestion givers end up being your largest prayer or financial supporters just because you took the time to value their opinion.
One last thought on this technique: listening doesn’t always mean doing what they suggest. You can just as easily say: “Thank you for that. I hear where you’re coming from and we are (or will be) taking some actions to solve that issue. We’ll definitely include your suggestion in our conversation about the best way to make our ministry better.” You obviously won’t use these words every time but the point is to tell them you’ve heard their concern as well as their idea and you have every intention to consider it. Trust me, using language like “we’ll include your suggestion in our conversations” can give them a great sense of value and honor. That’s important. Also, be sure to actually include their suggestion in your conversation, even if it’s only to fulfill your promise.
2. The Recruiter
This one is my personal favorite. Because of this technique I very rarely have any non-useful suggestions given to me anymore. It’s simple really. Apply the first technique, listen attentively and then when they’re finished with their suggestion tell them you think their idea can be beneficial. The follow up with “I don’t really have the time or energy to put into a project like that, would you be interested in starting that ministry?” You’ll get one of two responses 1: “Um…uh…well, it’s just an idea. You’re doing a great job. See ya Sunday!” or 2: “Yes, in fact I’ve been praying for a chance to minister to this issue.” Then set up a couple more meetings with them to further discuss their idea. They’ll either come to the meetings excited and ready to “do work” or they’ll lose their passion and commitment and you won’t hear about it again.
I’m of the philosophy that there are many ways to do the same thing. I can only do a few things at a time but if you’re interested in say…a middle school service and want to head it up. I’ll equip you and empower you to get it done. Why not? For example:
Earlier this summer a parent came to me asking what we can do better for discipleship. This has been a weakness in our ministry for years so I was all ears when she began providing suggestions. She had ideas for classes and service projects and worship opportunities and it all sounded so amazing but all I heard was “You’re going to be busier than you’ve ever been before. Kiss your wife and kids goodbye until this discipleship thing is over.” So I pulled the recruiter technique on her. “This all sounds amazing but I don’t have the energy or time to put into it. Would you be interested in heading this up?” To my surprise she pulled out a notebook full of ideas for this new discipleship program. I set up a few more meetings with her and later that summer we did our first week of discipleship and followed that up with Sunday evening discipleship classes. It’s an important part of our ministry now, building leaders and more committed students. Without her suggestion it never would have happened. This is why “The Recruiter” is my favorite.
3. The Visioneer
This one is more of a prevention technique than a response. Many suggestions come from people who literally have no idea what goes on in your ministry. They don’t know what you do in your services or classes. They don’t know what happens at your retreats or at camp or mission trips. They are pretty ignorant about what happens in youth ministry all together. That’s fine though. It’s not their job to know but it IS YOUR JOB to tell them.
The best way to keep people from constantly approaching you with suggestions for your ministry is to always be telling them what you’re already doing. Maybe they didn’t know that your sermons take the form of discipleship type of lessons and thus fulfill that need. Maybe they had no clue that you focus on the Holy Spirit every year at your retreats and camps so just because they don’t see it happening in your services at home doesn’t mean the kids aren’t experiencing that. Perhaps they think you throw pizza parties and play games every week in service. If this is their idea of youth ministry, it’s no wonder they’re trying to give you suggestions all the time. They just want to help.
Don’t blame them if you haven’t told them. It’s important to cast the vision of your ministry to your students EVERY SINGLE WEEK and to your church as often as you get a chance. At Evidence Student Ministries our vision is to see students who are far from God become whole in Christ. The majority of your students can quote that to you if you ask. All of our leaders can tell you that if you ask and some of our non involved congregation could spell it out for you as well. Why? Because I’m constantly sharing the vision of ESM with our students, leaders, and congregation. Why? So they know what’s happening and can pray, give, help, support, and get involved instead of sit around and think about what that youth pastor should be doing.
This one can be tricky, especially if your Pastor isn’t one to give away time during the Sunday service but it’s crucial to at least pursue opportunity to share the vision of your youth ministry with your church as often as possible. Do it! You’ll be glad you did.
They’re trying to help!
These three techniques combined are guaranteed to give you success in handling those suggestions that come about while you’re giving your all in ministry. The key is to remember that people are (99% of the time) just trying to help. So let them help. You can’t control what they’re going to say, think or do but you can control your reaction. Use these techniques and watch it strengthen your ministry, your church, and your relationships with those in your congregation.
Have you discovered some techniques? What are they?
What is the weirdest suggestion you’ve ever got?
What is the best?
Author: Michael Prince
Michael Prince co-authored “What’s in Your Pocket? A parent’s guide to protecting your children online.” with his wife Melinda. They have four kids and live in an RV anywhere in the USA they see the need for an internet safety expert. Michael is leading the conversation in the American Church about family online security. He and Melinda founded BecauseFamily, a ministry that exists to inspire and equip parents to be the first influence in the lives of their children, in 2013. Michael is also a geek and loves Star Wars, Doctor Who, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and strategy board games.