Hands On Help: Lifeskills
group magazine: March-April, 2003
by Mike Woodruff
“Friendship is on the edge of the love and knowledge of God. It is a simple step from true friendship with another person to friendship with God.”
—Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship
Our beliefs about control involve four types of events:
1. Events we believe we can’t control and, in fact, we can’t control them—the weather, for example.
2. Events we believe we can’t control when, in fact, we can control them—a reoccurring emergency, for example.
3. Events we believe we can control when, in fact, we can’t control them—other people’s responses, for example.
4. Events we know we can control but for some reason don’t control—personal organization, for example.
We need to write off #1 and #3 and to focus our attention on #2 and #4. To do otherwise is to fret, stress, and waste time.
Boss-bashing is common practice. In fact, it’s so popular that some magazines have “worst boss of the year” contests.
While most youth pastors would never stoop that low, at least formally, we often engage in a practice just as harmful. We circulate among people who actually condemn our boss with their faint praise. For example, “Pastor Bob does a pretty good job, all things considered.” Or “As a person I think Pastor Bob is wonderful, but as a pastor...” What makes these conversations so difficult to avoid is that they usually begin with comments like “Boy, we sure do wish you would preach more; you have such a gift.” Or “If the church had the kind of leadership you’ve offered the youth group, everything would be just fine.”
Neutral parties see these comments for what they are—bait for a trap. But it’s difficult for us to think straight when we finally meet someone who sees our tremendous potential. Nevertheless, if you want an effective working relationship with your senior pastor, you have to be loyal.
When you hear anything resembling, “He means well, but we’re sure you’d do better,” it’s time to take action. Option 1 is to run—not walk—to the nearest exit. Option 2 is to confront the person making the comment: “I’m not sure I agree with you. As part of the staff, I see things from a different perspective. But if you have some criticisms, why don’t you talk directly to Pastor Bob?” Don’t be an unwitting pawn in a power play by disgruntled church members.
About 18 months into my first ministry, my wife looked across the dinner table and asked me, “Do you know what your problem is?”
Since I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, and I couldn’t narrow the list of 80 possible answers down to one or two, the question hung ominously in the air for about 60 seconds. Finally, swallowing hard, I looked across the table and said, “No.”
“Your problem,” she said, “is that you don’t have any friends. But even worse is that you don’t even know it. You’ve got lots and lots of acquaintances, and they all think you’re just great, but you don’t have any real friends. You’re hanging out with college students all day long. It’s sad.”
I protested, but of course in the end she won because she was right. Way too many people in ministry have no friends. And way too many of those people don’t even know it.
So what are friends? Without getting esoteric here, let me simply tell you what they aren’t.
• They’re not people who ask you to pray over a meal. “Aren’t we fortunate tonight to have Mike and his family over for dinner? Let’s ask him to pray.” If someone views you as a professional Christian or a spiritual superior, then he or she has an idol and you have a groupie.
• They’re not on your staff. It’s great to be friends with the people you work with, but if you can’t name someone outside of the staff team who’s a close buddy, then you’re a working drone, not a human being.
• They’re not your students. Enough said.
• They’re not people who would get rattled if you said you were struggling spiritually. You need people around you whose walk with Christ is independent of yours. If their faith would suffer because you share your doubts, then you’re always on call. You’re their pastor, not their friend.
• I’m tempted to write that they’re not people who go to your church. But instead I’ll say this: They’re not people who care what job you have. Friends are friends. If they’d be less interested in spending time with you if you exchanged youth ministry for a teaching position, then you have some strange type of performance relationship, not a friendship.
I could go on, but you get the point. Life is short. You need friends. They take time, so work them into your schedule.
Mike Woodruff divides his time between directing the Ivy Jungle Network—a loose association of men and women who minister to collegians—and serving as an associate pastor in Illinois. The above articles are adapted from his book Managing Youth Ministry Chaos (Group Publishing, Inc.).