One of my favorite parts of working with youth is getting to work with a team of adult leaders. Overall, I would consider myself pretty good at leading a team of leaders. However, I sometimes fall short. A leader in our ministry has decided not to return next fall as a leader, and he wrote a detailed list of reasons why. Before sharing that list, it’s important for me to say that this leader and I get along well on a personal level, and that he is very supportive of what we’re trying to do as a church in general when it comes to youth ministry. I am thankful that he took the time to delineate in writing why he was disappointed in what happened this school year (my first year at this church), especially related to my leadership. Though the letter contained criticism, it was delivered in a gentle, loving tone that exemplified how to disagree with someone in a way that upholds the demands of discipleship. He was kind enough to give me permission to share his letter with others, although I have changed some names and other identifying information. Here’s the portion of the letter that was specifically related to my leadership:
My small group never really showed any real interest in learning about God or the Bible. By the end of year they seemed less interested. There were a few good nights here and there, but no evidence of directional change or growth in the boys. At the beginning of the year you told me that you gave me this particular group because they are curious and want to learn. That does not seem to be the case at all.
Things seemed disorganized and chaotic with regard to getting our lesson materials, and us knowing what was happening on any given night. The lessons often did not engage the boys and I ran out of questions way too soon. It is okay to punt once in a while, but it seemed like I was punting almost every week.
I am really worn out by the level of disrespect in the high school group as a whole. It seems to be a culture of disrespect. I have a higher threshold than my co-leader had, but not as high as yours. I am not sure if your approach with the kids will ultimately work. I hope it does, but I don’t think I can take it that long. You need people with a similar threshold and I think they will all be a lot younger than me.
I think that I am too old for you to relate to, as well as the kids. You call me Mr. XXXX instead of XXXX, which just makes me feel old instead of feeling like I am your friend. When we met for lunch you didn’t have any interest in my life beyond my small group other than [talking about mutual acquaintances we both know]. That makes me feel like a worker bee instead of a family member. Maybe I was spoiled by serving with [a previous pastor] and expect too much. [My place of work] ranks almost last out of 200 federal agencies in employee morale. Anytime our church feels more like my workplace and less like family I don’t like it. (You not answering my e-mail last week confirmed this feeling.)
I’ve had some time to digest what he had to say. Essentially, in his mind I fell short in the following ways:
- Where I asked him to serve did not end up being a good fit, nor did it live up to what I said it would be like;
- I did not create a culture where our leaders were respected and appreciated by the students;
- I did not make him feel like we were teammates in that I didn’t support him by helping him be prepared to lead and I didn’t relate to him much outside of his role as a small group leader. Beyond small talk and discussing issues related to our ministry, I never really engaged with him on a personal level. In fact, at one point in time I did not reply to an email he had sent.
You know what? He’s right. I don’t think this is how I’ve been leading across the board, but in his case, I really dropped the ball. He was one of my most consistent leaders, and in some ways, I took him for granted because I never had to follow up with him, I never had to worry whether he was committed. To his credit, he served for the entire school year, which was his commitment, and came prepared each and every Wednesday, even though he had decided at some point not to continue on as a leader in the ministry. As for the lessons not being organized, I do feel like we did a pretty good job (mostly because our youth ministry administrator was on top of things and created a leader’s guide for each series we did so that leaders had all the lessons at the start of every series), but he did not feel like they adequately helped him be prepared as a leader.
I think this letter will help me grow a whole lot as a leader of leaders. This leader could have just faded into the night by saying it just wasn’t his thing, but he helped me by being honest in a loving way. I’m thankful that our church has created an environment where honest, loving criticism is welcome. I hope that God continues to help me grow by showing me–sometimes through people–where I am in need of improvement as a pastor.