Category Archives: Leadership

The danger of affirming words

1337706956_WordsAre our encouraging words harming the teenagers under our care?

 In my last post I talked about the important role our words of affirmation play in the development of the teenagers in our care. I talked about how young people have too many voices speaking into their lives and how we need to provide a more impacting voice that speaks a deeper truth.

 But was I wrong?

 In “The Godbearing Life – the art of soul-tending for youth ministry” Kenda Creasy Dean & Ron Foster (p.65) talk about the dangers of affirmation. When comparing our affirmation to the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce her role in the incarnation of Christ in Luke 1:28, they say that

 “The danger comes when we stop with Gabriel’s opening line (greetings, you who are highly favoured) and fail to deliver God’s message in full. Right on the heels of God’s affirmation comes God’s invitation and expectation. Despite all the positive messages we send to our youth, affirmation without invitation or expectation subtly tells teenagers “We don’t really expect much of you or ourselves because God loves us no matter what”. In the face of abject rejection, anonymity, and powerlessness our words “you’re great”, “you’re special”, “you can do anything” ring hollow to suffering youth who simply conclude ‘grown-ups lie’.”

 How often have you been guilty of this: affirming a young person with hollow words, without following through with invitation and expectation to live out the affirming reality we see in them?

 When we fail to follow through with our affirmation, we run the danger of falling into a ministry of feeding a young person’s narcissism. We build up their ego without building their character. We give them lots of fluff about how great they are without actually helping them to live out that greatness and help them see it for themselves.

 

If all we give teenagers are nice words of encouragement, are we actually setting them up for a fall? 

 But it’s more than that as well.

 God created the young people under your care for more than feeling good about themselves and having a good self esteem. He created them to accomplish great things. He calls them into his ongoing redemption of the world.

 If we simply encourage teens and help them see the potential that is in them but don’t direct that potential with an invitation and a challenge, we leave open the possibility that this potential be directed in any manner of ways, sometimes with dire consequences.

 God created us for a reason, there is intention in his creation of young people. There is an invitation in knowing Christ, an expectation to live out – in all its fullness – who God made us to be. If we encourage kids without inviting them into this new way of living, we are simply setting them up with over-inflated egos that will either be expended in selfish and hurtful ways or, even worse, never really amount to anything, which will render our words empty.

 

How can you not only speak new life, but also invite young people to live this new life?

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Why high expectations are central for an effective team

The health of a ministry will depend almost entirely on the health of the leaders of that ministry.

In youth ministry, we totally rely on volunteer leaders to keep ministries running and to make a difference in young peoples lives. There is always the tension between getting as many volunteers as we can because we always need more and getting the right people for the job. Often I see people compromise on who they let into their teams or the terms they let them in on and I see their ministry suffer for it. I have also done this a number of times.

While it is important to get the right people on your team (maybe this is another post), it is just as important to have a healthy team culture that these people enter into. A healthy team culture can straighten out a number of kinks in a person’s character or reliability. Just as a healthy person can still be dysfunctional within an unhealthy team environment, a healthy team environment will help bring out the strengths in all your leaders and help them grow in their leadership potential. So how do you grow a healthy leadership team and how do you create a healthy culture within the ministry you lead?

I have found that having high expectations of your volunteers and setting clear boundaries is one of the best practices you can have in creating a healthy leadership culture and, in turn, a healthy ministry. Now, many people shy away from this because they are scared of losing leaders but I have found the exact opposite to be true. Here are a number of reasons to set the bar high when it comes to your volunteer team:

  •  You get rid of unhealthy dysfunctional people that were bringing your ministry down. Let’s be honest, we have all had those people in our ministry and they hurt kids more than help them. They kill team moral and simply bring something unhealthy into the ministry that is hard to get rid of.
  •  You give people something to strive for. People actually want to be stretched and challenged. They want to grow. Healthy leaders are people that are looking for things that will increase  their potential and grow their skills.
  •  You communicate that this matters. How high you set the bar communicates how important this ministry is and how much it matters. I don’t know about you, but I want to be involved in things that matter and are important. I want to be involved in things that I know are going to make a difference. Asking more from your leaders communicates that this ministry matters and this, in turn, creates a greater sense of belonging to something important which then creates a greater sense of ownership and investment which creates a healthier ministry. Setting that bar low, however, does the opposite of all this. If you want a healthy ministry set the bar high.
  •  You communicate clearly. It is actually just a very practical tool to let people know where they stand and what is expected of them. What’s the time commitment? What events do they need to attend and what time do they need to turn up? What tasks do they need to do each week? This helps bring clarity and again makes it easier for them to own the role. The parents of your junior leaders will also love that they know what their children are signing up for.
  •  You avoid conflict and create accountability. All this clear communication of expectations and responsibilities cuts off so much of the nasty stuff called conflict that so many unhealthy teams are infected with. We have communicated clearly, we have set the bar high, people have signed up being clear on all this, there is much less chance for things to go awry. And if they do, you have a whole lot of stuff to fall back on. You have a signed code of conduct where the leader agreed they would not engage in this activity. This makes it much easier to have the conversation about what they got up to on the weekend or what they posted on Facebook. With high expectations and clear communication comes a high level of accountability which again grows the health of your team and the effectiveness of your ministry.

This year in our youth ministry I updated the leadership role description (yes we have one) and code of conduct (yes we have one of those too).  It is now a two page document that leaves no room for people to claim they don’t know what they are getting into and what is expected of them.  My leaders actually appreciate this as it makes things much simpler for them. The new documents we are using this year have been adapted from some material I got from the kind folks at St Hillary’s Anglican church in Kew, Melbourne. You can down load our role description below.

Next time you are starting a team, don’t settle for ‘whoever and whatever’, because you will end up with a ‘whatever’ ministry.  Set the bar high and see how your ministry flourishes.  If you don’t get any volunteers with the bar so high, maybe you weren’t supposed to do it in the first place.  Sometimes no ministry program is better than a dysfunctional, unhealthy ministry program. If you are in an existing ministry and things are really bad, then consider raising the bar in a number of increments so there isn’t too much of a culture shock. But if you’re starting out new, start high.

If you’re interested in the leadership agreement we use or would like to adapt it for your setting, you can download it here.

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