May 24th, 2017

We should have seen it coming.

A few years ago something new began to happen. Sightings and rumors of close encounters with juvenile great white sharks along the local beaches here in Orange County, California began happening from time to time. Not to worry, we were told. After all, “juvenile” sharks are relatively harmless and pose no serious threat.

Fast forward a few years. Shark sightings have become a fairly common occurrence, and a couple of weeks ago the unthinkable happened: A female surfer was attacked by a 15-foot adult great white shark at a local surf spot…the same place I’ve surfed since I was a teenager.

We should have seen it coming.

In an interesting way, this whole scenario reminds me about youth ministry. Specifically, the tendency I have to notice something that seems amiss, or has potential to cause problems down the line yet I chose to ignore it in the hopes that it’s relatively harmless and poses no serious threat. And more often than not, I end up getting “shark bit” a few weeks, months or years down the road by the very problem I should have seen coming.

You know what I’m talking about…

  • The email from a frustrated parent that you choose to ignore because you’re certain it’ll all blow over in a matter of time.
  • The volunteer leader who is constantly pushing back on your leadership that you fail to confront because you’re convinced he’s a good guy at heart.
  • The “light-hearted” teasing that happens in your small group that goes unchecked because it seems like it’s all in good fun.
  • The passive-aggressive comments from an elder whose grandchild doesn’t think youth group is deep enough that you chose not to address out of respect for his position and authority.

You should have seen it coming.

I’d like to give you a homework assignment before the busyness of summer kicks in. Take a look around your ministry for a few juvenile great white sharks. Small, seemingly harmless, threats to your ministry that you’ve ignored up to this point. Identify them and jot down a timeline and plan for addressing each one as soon as possible.

After all…juvenile sharks are easier to deal with than 15-footers.

Kurt Johnston is a long-time youth ministry veteran who leads the student ministry teams at Saddleback Church which consists of 14 Southern California and 4 international campuses. When he’s not doing churchy stuff, Kurt likes to hang out with his family, surf and sit by campfires.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.