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    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Getting Healthy Feedback

    One of the words that gives me the heebie jeebies is the word “feedback”. Most of the time when we here that word it’s probably because someone wants to give us bad feedback. We all have those moments of feedback. They look something like this: you just experienced a great event that went off without a hitch save a small hiccup in the middle of it; a girl in your group got a little hurt. Bad stuff happens, right? Well, as is usually the case, the parent of the girl asks to come to your office later in the week so they can “offer you some constructive feedback”.

    For most of my time in youth ministry these types of situations are all I attached to the paradoxical word: “feedback”. However, recently I’ve seen a whole new side of that word, and it has heavily changed my perspective.

    We as a team decided we would start requesting people in our ministry to do survey’s after EVERY event as well as once a year for our normally scheduled programming. We used a simple online tool that allows you to set up a survey tailored specifically to the events and programming you’ve been putting on. People can anonymously fill out the survey and turn it back in to us with their feedback (we use Survey Monkey).

    At the idea of this new means feedback I was full of fear and trembling (you know that “holy fear” kind of thing?), yet I saw that this may actually have some merit. In the time since we began doing these surveys, several amazing things have begun to pop up.

    First, our leaders feel more appreciated, heard and respected. Surveys enable them to own a stake in what we put together, as well as an amazing opportunity to be honest about how they feel about certain things. It also provides us (from their perspective) great insight into what bombed, what was awesome and some possible ideas for what we can do next time we offer that particular event or program. Second, our parents (who hold a bigger stake in the Youth Ministry than do the leaders) also felt more involved, heard and better communicated with.

    Another new insight that we found was that we have been able to see with much more clarity our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a.k.a SWOT). We can see what we do well so we can continue to improve those things. We also see where we are weak so we can build up better teams of people around us where we are weak as well as grow in the areas we need to personally work on. We can also see the things in our environment that are opportunities we can take advantage of (or things we are already taking advantage of) and lastly we can see the things that threaten what we do (like poor communication, which has been a constant feedback for us).

    God has used these insights to challenge and grow us in ways we never would have been without the feedback we’ve been receiving.

    So, how to get healthy feedback is simply putting some questions on a survey and asking leaders and parents to take it? Yes and no. I think the most important part of this healthy feedback thing is humility and the willingness to learn.

    One of my mentors Doug Bortner once told me that in order for me to be a great pastor, I would need to work on some things and get some counseling in certain areas of my life. At first when he said that, I was ticked off! I began thinking: “what will people think of me, a pastor who needed counseling? This feedback is not what I was looking for when I asked Doug: “how can I improve?” Yet, it was the feedback I needed at that time. For 24 hours I wrestled, toiled and struggled about his feedback. Thankfully, after much discussion and encouragement from family and friends, I decided to heed his advice and I am the better for it!

    I think we fear feedback because we don’t want to change or don’t think we need to change, but the fact of the matter is we can always grow and change in that growth. Will this getting healthy feedback also gain us some un-wanted, un-loving, just plain wrong feedback? Yes, it will. However, we must take this risk.

    Asking in advance for feedback is always a great way to go about seeking healthy feedback. When we ask for people to feed us insight they feel valued, honored and respected. It also says to them: “I know everything I do isn’t always amazing, help me become better for you and for these kids”.

    If we look at the Bible, we see tons of stories laced throughout Scripture where people got some healthy feedback. Probably the most famous story is that of Jethro giving healthy feedback to Moses in Exodus 18. Jethro sees all that Moses is doing for the people and asks him why he doesn’t delegate some of those responsibilities to other people. Moses displays a teachable spirit when he accepts the feedback and uses it to better himself (Exodus 18:24).

    To get healthy feedback, we first have to be willing to hear it. Next we have to seek out the feedback of those who hold stake in our ministries (i.e. parents, students, our Sr. pastor and our leaders). Finally we need to ask God for the humility to add some of the feedback to what we do; in other words we may need to change things, delegate things or improve things we weren’t previously inclined to change, delegate or improve.

    Gaining this healthy feedback will make us better pastors and will allow us to not get stuck in ruts we ourselves create. May we be like Moses by being teachable, humble people who willingly accept and readily offer opportunities for feedback!

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    Dealing with Conflict in Youth Ministry

    Sometimes in ministry we have things that pop up and those things cause conflicts.  I for one HATE conflicts and sadly I try to avoid them as best I can...yet they still happen.

      How do we handle this tension, especially with parents?  How do we bring up things in the lives of their kids that we know they are completely ignorant of?

      This was a question I had early on in ministry, back when Myspace was new and Facebook was only for college students. Myspace was home to much teenage craziness much like Facebook has today.  However, with Myspace it seems there is more freedom to display ...body parts? more so than with Facebook and some of my teens took advantage of this "freedom".

      One such student was a young, beautiful girl who was also an elders daughter.  She displayed some body parts that should remain hidden and teased as if she were to reveal more.  When my wife showed me the pictures, I was shocked that a young lady from the home in which she came could in fact take this step.  I wrestled for days as to how I would approach it.  Finally I took the young lady aside and shared with her that these pictures were not sending the right picture as to who she is.

      She of course could care less what I had to say and asked why I was "creepin on her page and looking at them (the pics) anyways."  I said "You're a friend of mine on Myspace and I was just browsing through your profile when I came across those pictures."  I then asked her to take them down or I would speak to her father about the pictures.

      Sadly, she didn't heed my advice and conflict was in my near future.  How do you bring something like this up?  How do you deal with this type of conflict...especially with an elder and his child?

      Eventually I grew a pair and one Sunday went over to the elder and shared with him the situation.  He of course was shocked, appalled and disappointed in his daughter.  We set up a meeting for directly after church so he could see the pictures for himself and make a better judgment.  When I was talking with him  his daughter saw and knew what was up.  She raced home after church and deleted the worst of the pictures...which I feared would spark more conflict with her father.

      Once we got to my office, I opened up my computer and went to her Myspace page and sure enough, most of the raunchy photos were gone.  However, some were left that her father was definitely not happy about.  We discussed what may have brought these things about and how we can help his daughter through this process.

      We eventually teamed up to share with her that the message she is displaying is one of a sexual being, rather than a human being.  She was advertising herself as an open, easy sexual target and in the climate of the current culture, this was a dangerous ad to be putting up for sure.  In the end, I think the message sunk in and the young lady took it to heart and eventually realized I wasn't out to "ruin her life" but that I cared enough to speak up on a potentially dangerous situation.

      This story is one that always comes to mind when I hear the words: "Conflict in ministry" because it, for me was a difficult hurdle to jump over in my second year as a youth pastor.  It could've gone much worse, the elder could've been in denial and charged me as a pervert for looking at pictures.  The daughter could've deleted all of the photos and the elder could've called me a liar.  Many scenarios "could've happened" but by the grace of God, the right scenario is what happened.

      Conflict is hard to deal with.  Sometimes its off to the side and other times it is in your face.  My theory now is to simply do what God asks of me in every and all situations.  Even though it hindered my relationship with that young lady for a time, I would do it again because I care to much for her as a person.  I care much more for her Spiritual, emotional and physical well being than I do for our "friendship".

      I love what I do, but sometimes the conflicts get huge and's then I turn to a youth pastor friend to lean on, get encouragement from and pray with. 

    God has called us to this mission and we must be faithful to that calling, even through and in conflicts.  Lean on your support systems of friends and the Lord and He will guide you in all truth through His Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  Don't be afraid to face conflicts (speaking to myself here!) because its through conflicts that we and others grow...just make sure the Holy Spirit is in it...because if He's not...the wrong scenarios is 100% guaranteed to play out.