Damage Control

December 21st, 2017

We have all experienced it. If you are in youth ministry in any way, you have experienced it. That dreaded phone call from an elder. The closed-door meeting with the pastor. The verbal sparring match with a parent. The ‘suggestion-filled’ note from a ‘concerned yet anonymous’ church-goer. That email/text from an irate student.

Criticism is part of the life and calling of youth ministry. And not just youth ministry. It’s part of ministry. But why? Why do people feel they have the right to criticize to the point of being un-Christian within ministry settings? Well, there are numerous reasons, but here are just a few I have encountered myself or heard about.

  • There are those who believe that because they tithe, it automatically gives them a weighted opinion (strong or otherwise) because “they pay your salary.”
  • There are some who criticize because you are too young, too old, too male, too female, too extrovert, too introvert, too busy, too lazy and pretty much anything in between.

And because of the above reasons, your decisions will often be under scrutiny, or the events you organize will be under interrogation as to whether they are cost effective, while at the same time your decision to charge kids money for said event, is also under fire.

And what does this criticism do? Well, besides prompting youth pastors everywhere to keep secret stashes of chocolate in our desks, it is incredibly wearing. It tires us out and can cause burn-out. On good days it can irritate us to the point of 10 cups of coffee before 8:00am at which point the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth starts in. On a bad day it can get us to question our entire calling in ministry.

We begin to question this calling because we are human, and criticism can push us to the brink. And because we are human, we begin to doubt our worth in ministry and believe the lie that we aren’t worthy. We believe that we really can’t reach kids because we are an introverted, single woman in youth ministry. This described me for a long time. Even after being a full-time Youth Director for 11 years now, I still find myself questioning whether or not I can actually do this job God has called me to do. And when criticized, this doubt burns even more deeply into my soul.

It is at this point of criticism process that I have a choice. I can let it burn through me completely, or let it burn out. And while it will still leave its scars, it won’t stop me from pushing beyond the hurt and continuing in my ministry.

The devil absolutely loves the weapon of hurtful, well-placed, thought-less, heat of the moment words. Because they usually are the most spiteful. The most cruel. The most well-aimed at the heart.

And to be honest, I don’t have a great deal of wisdom in how to deal with those moments. I really find myself struggling to forgive and move-on. But when I can find a more clear-headed moment, I talk with those close to me to get advice. I try to see “my opponent’s” side of things and the bigger picture – that there might be other issues at play. I try to let it roll as much as I can – knowing this is part and parcel of being in ministry.

And I look for encouragement in my calling whether through prayer, Scripture, friends or my mentor to re-assure myself that yes, I have a calling. Yes, I can do this job. Yes, God has a purpose for me in it. And yes, despite all the criticism, despite my failures and bumblings, there is a place in youth ministry for a human like me.

Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is currently in her 11th season and is excited to see what the year will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE


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