Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Does Your Youth Ministry Ever Welcome Criticism?


    Sometimes criticism, even if it is negative, can tell you that you are on the right track in your ministry.

    I was digging through some old photos the other day and was surprised to find this image from the very first church I worked for many years ago and some of the first youth I'd been blessed to serve. The photo was taken at the end of a 30 Hour Famine event.  We'd spent time the night before creating banners out of sheets and spray paint as a way to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness. The youth decided the best way to display the banners was to attach them together and hang them right off the front of the church building, facing the busy street (of course, I was the lucky person who had to crawl around on the roof in order to hang the thing!).  

    If you look closely, you'll see that the bottom panel quotes the scripture text "I was hungry and you fed me."  The middle panel reads "How can we ignore the homeless everyday but worship a homeless man on Sunday?" Looks pretty cool, right?  A great way to share the Christian witness, right?  Well, not everyone saw it that way.  On Monday morning the phone calls from the neighbors and from the businesses across the street starting ringing in the church office.  "It's offensive," one caller insisted. "Jesus was NOT a homeless person" (as if there were something intrinsically shameful/unclean about being homeless). Others found the banners to be too "political," perhaps believing that homelessness was not an issue of systemic injustice but more a matter of personal choice or failing. 

    As a young youth minister, I was a little worried how my senior pastor -- my boss! -- was going to take all this. His response:  "Sometimes a little criticism like this tells you you're doing something right.  You all have obviously pushed some buttons in these folks.  Maybe it will make them think a little!"

    I think maybe I've forgotten that too often over the years. Yes, sometimes a little criticism is good, even if it isn't constructive. It might just tells us that we are not playing it too safe in our ministries.  It might just tells us that we are pushing the boundaries and sharing a message that is more radical than the one the world offers. 

    What about you?  Have you happily received some criticism in your work with youth?  Have you experienced some push back when trying to share the radical message of Christ with your youth?

    -- Brian


    Anonymous said...

    Early this year I sent out a survey to all our students & their families and also invited anyone from the congregation to respond as well. I also made a copy of it on so that anyone could respond anonymously as well. Got some great, honest feedback that was a mix of support & criticism. Some common concerns and strengths presented themselves pretty clearly. We made some adjustments and have moved forward in a very positive way.

    All I asked was:
    1. I am a:
    ___Youth (not graduated from high school, including younger children)
    ___Young Adult (graduated high school to mid-twenties)
    ___Connected Adult (parenting or closely connected to Youth or Young Adult)
    ___Concerned Adult (no current Youth connection)

    2. Our Youth Group needs MORE:

    3. Our Youth Group needs LESS:

    4. Anything else?
    (What do you like/hate, concerns, ideas, suggestions, etc.?)

    Brian said...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Michael. A survey like this seems like a good way to get a handle on how others view the ministry. Sometimes our "insider" perspective can be biased. I noted on your website a post about the varying responses you received and I would encourage our readers to see what you had to say as I think it's really helpful in thinking about how to interpret criticism (constructive or otherwise) that comes our way:

    Who do you plan to share the survey info with and how might you use it?

    EYouthWNY said...

    I got some criticism last year that I certainly did NOT welcome. The fact that it was accurate and on point didn't help! As part of a renewal process offered by my denomination for lay and clergy employees we are asked to supply a list of folks who work closely with us to answer a rather extensive survey about us. There were several criticisms (constructive, honest and loving - as much as I didn't want to hear it when I read them) that struck a nerve. After prayerful consideration (I mean I chose these folks, I trust and respect them. How you gonna argue with them now?)I accepted that it was something I needed to work on. So far I've been told by several leaders (no idea if they were the ones with the criticism since it was done through the process anonymously) that I've shown real growth in those areas.

    It was an interesting and painful process.

    Chaplaincy blog said...

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    Chaplain of NBCS