Handling Criticism In Youth Ministry

How do you handle criticism in youth ministry?

If you’re leading, criticism and controversy are guaranteed. As the saying goes, “To escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

Before we talk about how to handle criticism, let’s start with this basic premise: Criticism is good.

So often, as leaders, we seek to maintain 100% buy-in and avoid any criticism. As I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve learned that if this is happening, you either have:
* Team members who are complacent
* An environment that doesn’t welcome feedback
* Or a leader (you) who isn’t making the tough decisions, innovating, and leading.

Criticism is good.

Are you providing multiple ways for your team of volunteers to give feedback — the good and bad?
Are you pushing your team to take more ownership of the “big ideas?”
Are you avoiding the tough decisions? Or are you innovating and making changes when needed?

This isn’t to say, that criticism isn’t hard to hear. It is.

But I’ve taken some general rules in regards to criticism, especially in the youth ministry world. Since we (the youth pastors) generally think and work 20 times more/harder than the average volunteer (We think about it 50 hours a week or more; the average volunteer probably thinks about it 2.5 hours a week), then it is fair to say that we need to take criticism with a few thoughts in mind:

1. Take it with a grain of salt. I’ve had leaders tell me they would basically do everything we aren’t doing in this ministry. Now, this is a bit of a dramatic statement, but essentially, I conclude that I (and my close team of leaders) are the experts. Period. In my job, I should know what potentially works best for junior high ministry. Big, fun, practical, Jesus-centered, and hugely relational. If they want a youth ministry that is “contemplative” or “quieter” or focused on teaching only “doctrine,” then honestly, they can go elsewhere.

2. Provide opportunities for them to give feedback in “anonymous” ways. Almost at all costs, I avoid potential group think. Trust me, I’ve been seriously wounded by the “pack mentality.” One person says, “My son loves that camp more than life itself” and all of the sudden, people are emotionally charged! So, seek feedback, but in one on one, small group, or online ways.

3. Respond to all criticism. It’s hard to face conflict. It just is. But I’ve learned, I MUST respond to it. First of all, I want to be challenged, so I truly consider it. Second, I want them to be heard. Third, I want to express my side equally.

4. Teach ways for them to express criticism. I’ve been an assistant college baseball coach two times. In both situations, I learned that players love to come to the assistant to complain. So, I established some guidelines. First, I never dogged the head coach myself. Second, I made sure that the criticism was justifiable. If they were being just players — and thus, not the expert the coach should be — I let them know it. Third, I never let it fester. Our leaders need to be taught that they can’t simply accept everyone’s criticism of the program. The “assistants” need to learn how to become a buffer.

5. Remind everyone of the main thing and the purpose ALL THE TIME. Vision leaks, Bill Hybels says. Oh man, is that true. I find that while I remind myself of the MAIN THING and the PURPOSE, this isn’t true of those who think 20 times less about youth ministry than we do. Therefore, don’t tackle the side issues addressing the HEART — the main thing and the purpose. For our youth ministry at Eagle Brook, this is RELATIONSHIPS — A relationship with God and relationships with adults and their peers. Usually, the criticism has to do with strategies — this is SIMPLY not the main thing, so let’s talk about it. But we always need to be tying our strategies back to the main purpose of why we do what we do.

For more on controversy, read this article by Steven Furtick here.

How do you handle criticism?

Stay strong youth pastors. Remember, your identity is found in Christ, not in the criticism.

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