Managing Conflict in Your Ministry
I recently read about a book by Michael Servetus which caused an uproar in the Medieval church. Servetus (1553), contested the theological ideas of John Calvin which supported the concept of the Triune nature of God. In an effort to squelch the heresy of Servetus, Calvin and others sought to jail the author and burn his books. Once the general public discovered how the church (both Reformed and Catholic) hated the book, it became more and more interesting to the general public. In fact, it sold out several times! Ironically, very few people in that time held to denying the Trinity as Servetus did. However, the topic became a point of interest for many. The controversy drew people in. Unfortunately, many times the more controversial something is, the more people are drawn to it.
What this used to look like in my world
As a child, I can remember listening to a speaker who criticized the evils of a movie about Christ. It depicted Christ in an irreverent and disrespectful way. Christians everywhere were denouncing it. Letters from well-known pastors and speakers were being sent to churches to warn people about the deplorable content. I’ve never watched the movie and know enough about it to keep me from seeing it, but I found it interesting that the speaker said Christians needed to stop talking about this movie so much. The American church created more interest than if the movie had simply come and gone in the theater. By crying out against it so much, he said, we were helping sell tickets.
What this looks like today in youth ministry
This idea is prevalent today in social media and other places too. Within moments of a social media post, people are complaining about what was said and why the person who said it is bad or wrong or both. It seems there is a new company, product, film, book, or website recommended to be boycotted and railed against just about every hour. Christians can easily get caught up in the drama of it all. There are plenty of people and things which create offense for a follower of Christ. What if we acknowledge the presence of these offenses, but disengage the drama? Whether it’s social media or conflict about who likes who, we have the responsibility and privilege of challenging our youth to see life through a different lens. When drama happens in youth ministry, one of the best ways to dilute it is to focus on something that is worthwhile. We have an opportunity to redirect teenagers towards something more important than the drama. Challenge your youth to think: What is the bigger issue? How can we see things from a different perspective? Is what we’re doing genuinely helping or hindering the drama? In general, we too often get caught up in the “drama” all around us. We’re more than willing to speak at and against things, but maybe that’s not the most beneficial. In more than a few youth ministry pages and forums, I see questions being asked about how youth workers plan to talk about the latest controversy or event that’s on “everyone’s mind.”
What we can do differently
Before responding, consider the “hot topic" might not be on “everyone’s mind" and we have a responsibility to be honorable in communicating with teenagers. For many of us, respectfully talking on topics like racial violence or sexual abuse includes talking with parents/guardians and the church elders, getting permission, etc. first. Or maybe, we don’t know enough about the subject and need to not respond immediately before learning more about it. We may need to reach out to those in our community who are experts in their field (e.g., behavioral health, crisis work), and consult with them. Above all, we need to pray that God would guide our hearts in His truth and humility, not in our earthly wisdom and pride (James 3). Finally, with whatever we say, we must hold up the words of Paul in his letter to the believers at Philippi,“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Whether we like it or not, we are role models and leaders. The way you and I manage the onslaught of information in our world will be noticed by the teenagers in our youth ministries. And, our choices set the tone of youth ministry. So I ask myself, what am I focused on? It’s our job to explore if we are creating more chaos by responding to every issue, subject, or drama that comes our way.
Are we challenging our students to get to the heart of the matter rather than taking a “side” on a topic? Are we honestly looking at things from different angles to make sure they are worthy of what Paul discusses in Philippians 4:8? Sometimes drawing more attention to something is simply stoking the fire. This type of thinking is counter-cultural…which is precisely what Christ calls us to be.