As a Youth Pastor I have spent the last few weeks inundated with people quoting the outrageous lyrics to Rebecca Black’s now infamous song ‘Friday’ and all the talk about her has me thinking about just how powerful our words are in the lives of the people we serve and lead. Is Rebecca Black the most talented young singer out there? I would hazard to say not really, but her family encouraged her by spending thousands of dollars to have this song released and my concern in that is that they seem to have thrown her to the wolves by doing so. Youth pastors in general are quite adept at affirming students and leaders for what they have done and recognizing God given gifting’s that they clearly have. My thought process has come to questioning if sometimes we are just being “Nice Christians” and could potentially be leading our sheep to the wolves by being too “nice”.
A few years ago I met a young man who we will call Mike and he was a volunteer in our youth ministry. Mike was attending Bible school, and planning to become a youth pastor. The problem was that he didn’t really like to minister to students, and also had a very difficult time preaching and communicating due to a severe speech impediment. What Mike did have was an influential Pastor in his life who was affirming not only what he preached, but was (in an over the top way) affirming how he said it and encouraged him as Mike explored pursuing full time ministry. These were words that would change this Mike’s direction; his finances, his schooling and will likely lead him down a path of disappointment and failure. Was this a case of someone speaking truth, and telling him to go into Ministry or was it a careless affirmation from someone just trying to be nice?
A few things to consider when affirming students:
1. Choose your words wisely- Did students come up and share their testimony and stumble through the whole thing? Tell a joke no one understood? In the past my first instinct would be to tell them, “Great job up there, thanks for sharing. You did an awesome job.” The reality is, they didn’t do a great job of speaking and if I am not careful, that is what they are going to hear. What I should say to them is how I really loved what they said, and that it was great to have them share, affirming the “what” not the “how”. Part of being a Youth Pastor means that sometimes we need to pump-up our students tires from time to time, but lying to them is the last thing we should do. Students need to be encouraged with truth; anything else is careless and and potentially deceiving.
2. Recognize your power- Youth Pastors, we are have incredible amount of power when we speak to students and your support, care and encouragement carries as much traction as anyone in their lives. Its staggering when you realize the power your voice carries in their life, and if we are not careful, our voice can become louder than any other especially the voice of God’s spirit. We are spiritual leaders and when we affirm something in a person, they can perceive that as recognition of gifting or of potential calling. If what you are seeing is legitimate, tell them and often! But if you are just trying to be nice, don’t bother because there is a potential that you could steer that person away from the calling that God has put on their lives. We have the power to point them to God or distract them from Him.
Over the past months I have become increasingly aware of what my words actually mean, and that I need to understand how a student will interpret what I am telling them. I love affirming and encouraging our students, to see them grow in confidence as you tell them of something God has so clearly gifted them in. I am also abundantly aware of how potentially misleading and damaging a well-meaning comment can be. I have seen first hand how those careless affirmations can have severe consequences for the people we are simply trying to encourage.
Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and contributes to Youth Ministry blogs and ChurchLeaders.com, among other sites. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for more daily insights. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? Email me.