I’m Just A Volunteer, Don’t Get On My Case

Yesterday I met somebody who is a new believer and has started serving at our church. He told me a story that, at first, angered me, then challenged me about my role as a volunteer.

He plays in one of the bands at a satellite campus for one of our ministries during the week (purposefully vague here). He stepped off the stage during a rehearsal to listen to the sound coming through the speakers. As soon as he did this, a booming voice came through the speakers from the sound board, “Remember we’re just volunteers back here at the sound board. Don’t get on our case about the sound.”

The musician hadn’t even said anything. He just stepped off the stage to listen. The band leader advised this new believer to go apologize to the guy at the sound board. Apparently, two years earlier, when the band leader stepped off the stage to listen, he didn’t apologize and the sound guy turned it into a much bigger ordeal than it needed to be.

Because of the caustic nature of the sound guy, he’s not getting better at running sound and the quality of the music the attendees hear is suffering for it, even though the band is great. It’s crazy to think about how a person would be so defensive and unwilling to even be open to suggestions. Even more absurd is the idea that he would be able to get away with that for two years or more. We’re going to have horrible sound in our ministry because nobody can upset the sound guy. That kind of thing dumbfounds me.

I woke up this morning thinking about this story and how it relates to my own volunteer work as a youth leader. Here are some questions I’m pondering. I thought I’d share them with you because all youth workers would do well to think through them:

– Am I approachable and willing to be instructed?
– Am I secure enough to be not be destroyed if somebody offers a suggestion about what I do?
– Have I become a better leader over time or am I happy with the way I’ve always been as a leader?
– What have I done to improve?
– Do I talk about youth ministry with other youth leaders and parents? Do I share what I’ve learned and learn from them in return?

I want to be an asset to my youth ministry team, not the guy people have to treat gently lest I blow up at them for making a suggestion.

I don’t know the volunteer running that sound board, but he will be getting some training soon because I am connected with people who handle sound and lighting for the church. As a good leader, I wouldn’t let that go unaddressed now that I know out about it. It’s very important that our kingdoms fall and we’re open to suggestions which make our church more effective. By sharing this with the ones who need to know, our sound will be better for that ministry and a volunteer will become a more approachable, well-trained servant… like I want to be.

Are you willing to address issues or will you avoid them until they resolve themselves while the ministry suffers for it? They won’t likely resolve themselves. We need to discretely, strategically, and with a right heart, deal with issues in our church… and work hard not to be the guy (or gal) people are afraid to approach when we need help.

Attitude Check Without The Attitude

First off: Never say the word ATTITUDE to students if you want to them to hear anything you would say following the word attitude. That word is more like a weapon than a tool.

A student is coming to help me with a project today. He texted me a few minutes ago to say his mom was on his case about getting his chores done, but he’d be here soon.

What he needs is an attitude adjustment at home. I can’t tell him that without triggering a negative internal reaction on his part. So, instead, I wrote that I was proud of him for helping around the house and that it would do wonders for his home life if he does it with the right heart.

Basically, I told him to check his attitude in a way that would have him actually check his attitude instead of check out of our conversation.

Bonus thought: The more strategic we are with our words in youth ministry, the less counseling we’ll have to do because students will feel the effect of the encouragement to go the right direction.

Family Counseling: Start From a Good Place and Control the Meeting

Here are a few tips I’ve learned by counseling students with their parents:

– Don’t be available at a moment’s notice. If you can delay the appointment for at least a few hours after the explosive argument, they’ll have a chance to cool down and the session will be more productive

– Start the appointment with prayer. Prayer brings God into the conversation and reminds the counselees that they are Christians. That’s a little tongue in cheek. But, really, sometimes this will help the gloves not come off so much during your meeting.

– Begin with stories of what they like or appreciate about each other or a fond memory. Everybody has to share something. This accomplishes 3 things: 1. It softens everybody in the room, 2. It shows you are going to lead the meeting, 3. It sets a positive mood.

– Stay on point until you reach an agreement. Tackle one issue at a time. THIS IS ESSENTIAL!!! The tendency will be for the conversation to go down secondary paths not related to the current topic. You are in control of the meeting. When somebody (parent or child) takes the conversation down an unrelated bunny trail, it’s important that you pause and redirect the person back on track until a common understanding is reached. You’re not looking for buy in or agreement, you’re looking to help them understand each other. Good questions during this time are often, “How would you have handled that if you were the parent?” and “How would that have made you feel if you were the child?”

– Keep the conversation moving. The tendency will be for families to harp on a subject much longer than they need to. They’re pouring out their pain and it feels good. You’re leading the conversation so it’s your job to come to an understanding and move on to the next topic. Once understanding is met, announce, “Now that we have an understanding there, we’re going to put that on the shelf for now and not revisit it again in this session. What’s the next issue?”

– Summarize and suggest action steps. Repeat every issue discussed in the meeting as well as the understanding everybody came to on each topic. Give some ideas that could help them communicate better or be more considerate of each other.

– Close in prayer.

They Want To Hear Yes

I will repost some of my more popular posts I’m able to recover from before this blog had the hacker attack. This one is kind of funny, but also has some wisdom that will make help you handle difficult situations with a little more ease.

Our church has a cars ministry. The ministry fixes cars then gives or sells the cars at a low cost to needy families. There was a woman who was declined to receive a car through our normal application process. She did not like the answer “no” and wasn’t going to settle for it. She either wanted a car or she wanted to be put back on the list to get in line for a future car.

After much debate with this lady, the church staff member who had been unsuccessfully trying to get her to accept the news, came to me for help. Of course, who do people typically go to when there’s dirty work to do? The youth guy. Her request was simple, “Please go to the lobby and tell the woman she did not get a car, and she cannot be placed back on the list.”

Being a big fan of the word, “Yes,” I thought about the scenario as I made my way to the lobby. No matter what, I was going to give the woman a “Yes.” I just had to figure out how to phrase it. It came as a flash of genius as the words were coming out of my mouth. It must have been a Holy Spirit-inspired moment.

I told the woman, “Yes, you can get back on the list to apply for a car. That will not be a problem.” Her attack-mode demeanor softened while the poison-laden words she reserved for me evaporated. With her on my side, I followed that comment up with the caveat, “We just can’t put you back on the list for one year. Those are the rules of the car program. As soon as the year is up, we’ll gladly put you back on.”

With a quick thank you from her, that part of the story came to a satisfying end. I was anxious for what I knew would come next. I knew it was going to be good.

I walked back to report what happened. Before I could say a word, the staff member with hopeful, but timid words asked me what I told her. I said that I told the woman she could get back on the list. After that, I didn’t say a word. I just watched the atomic bombs of fury going off in her eyes. If she’s going to have the youth guy do her dirty work, I have to get something out of it, right? It was better than the 4th of July. She was livid . . . until I told her the rest of the story.

That whole exchange, from being asked to talk to the woman to having a little fun with the staff member, took less than 10 minutes. The argument that ensued before I got involved had been going on for weeks. It’s amazing what the power of a well-used “yes” can do.

In your ministry, diplomacy goes a very long way. Look for ways to tell people what they want to hear with integrity and then work in the caveats of truth that they would be less receptive to hear otherwise. This usually requires more thought than I had time for in this situation. Typically we should be slow to speak so we can speak with wisdom, diplomacy and words that help or heal.

Diplomacy is an art I’ve developed over several years of maddening situations like the one above. The prideful, rules-are-rules, proving-your-way-is-right poke in the eye stirs up anger. A diplomatic gentle answer turns away wrath. (Please pardon the scriptural paraphrase.)