Your Ministry of Discouragement

Having just spent a week with Christian leaders I came home with a raw heart.

Surely, I came home tired.

But I also came home perplexed by our unique ability to discourage one another.

Speaker shoes

When I went to my first convention in 2002– the whole thing was weird for me. It all seemed larger than life. The speakers, bands, seminar leaders, and myriad of volunteers all seemed bulletproof. I’d never seen anything like it and…

They are not. They are no different than you or I.

Now that I sit in different rooms during NYWC I see the event through their eyes as much as the eyes of those who have driven from all over the country to attend.

Imagine their perspective. For most, coming to convention is the highlight of their year. They are eager to present. But they are also eager to reconnect with lifelong compatriots, catch a friends seminar, or even to just be with people who remind them that they aren’t crazy. For many first-time speakers and artists it is actually an affirmation of years of hard work to be invited to speak. It’s a really big deal.

And so they do their thing. (Teach, lead worship, or even perform their talent) They are all the way into it. Their heart is there. They’ve given themselves to countless hours of preparation. They bought a new shirt. They got their nails done. And for a good chunk of them this is the largest audience they’ve ever spoken to. They are feeling big time because it’s one of the few places in youth ministry where we gather to acknowledge big time people.

And when they complete their task– most are both eager for feedback and too raw to receive feedback constructively. That’s why we’ve created spaces for them to just come and relax. For most, their hearts are just too raw and they need some time before and after.

This really isn’t any different than when I’ve taught or preached. (Thankfully, I’ve never been in a band!) You leave the platform feeling exposed, you seek out feedback, you want to know that what you did or said moved people or helped somehow or was just good and not bad.

It’s a raw state that anyone who speaks or performs experiences.

Inevitably, as folks bump into me, they want to know what people were saying online while they presented. If I’m on my A-game, I’ll have selected and saved a few tweets to share. I’m careful to show them things that will affirm. But folks are savvy and they know that if I’m showing them 1-2 things that there are likely a lot more. So when they ask, I suck at lying, so we look at them all.

And it’s depressing. You can feel the shoulders slump as they are shown a mirror they weren’t quite ready to look into.

There are lots of tweets quoting people. Awesome.

There are lots of tweets about how people feel as a person is singing or speaking. Awesome.

And there are lots of tweets about flippant things as people try to say something smart so that they can get re-tweeted. Not awesome.

It’s not awesome. It hurts. It sticks. And it bitters the entire experience. No one wants to read that someone thinks their hairstyle sucks. Or the color of their shirt is wrong for the color of their skin. Or that they look kind of like a celebrity.

It’s as if we get so caught up trying to out smart-aleck one another that we forget that these are real people who will likely read about themselves on Twitter, or Facebook, or Google. Yeah, when you @reply a person on Twitter it is very likely they are going to see it! Geez, you think?

That’s the problem. We don’t think. We forget that people are not objects. We forget that this is real life. And we forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

This isn’t about convention, it’s about you

In the same breathe lets acknowledge some truth. Anyone who speaks at convention knows that criticism, even over silly things, is part of the game. It shouldn’t be but it is. And they all get over it.

And just like when a student comes into our office and rips on us for 20 minutes… we all know that flippant negative remarks aren’t about us. They tend to be about what’s in the heart of the critic rather than style of the critiqued clothing.

Think about this for half a second: Who called you to a ministry of discouragement?

Planks

As I was thinking about this yesterday, I wondered how many people would like the same treatment this week? How would they like it if they taught a Bible lesson on Wednesday night in full knowledge that while they were sharing all of their pupils were having a dialog about their words and trying to one-up one another on Twitter or Facebook.

What would it be like to teach on Sunday morning, have people shake your hand as they left, and then read that there was a rowdy debate about whether or not you’ve gained some weight.

You would feel horrible. You would cry out to God, “Why have you called me to minister to these people? Why do I deserve this? I share the message you’ve laid on my heart and all they care about is where I bought my shoes!

And yet we do it all the time. Not just at events like NYWC, we do it all the time… all the time! We post some smarty-pants comment about a person not knowing or caring that this same person is going to see our tweet, click on our profile, and think… “Youth pastor at First Baptist, eh? What a jerk!

My plank is just as big and as weighty as anyone else. But being common doesn’t make something correct.

You are entitled to your opinion

I think there is an important distinction to mention here. There is a distinction to be made between a flippant remark, something sarcastic or a dagger about someone’s attire, and comments made about content. I’ve never known a person to not appreciate feedback on content. Even if it’s in strong opposition to what’s been presented. That’s on-topic and relevant. And I’ve also witnessed some incredible dialog as the result of comments made on content.

On top of that, when you pay to attend something you feel empowered to judge it. You watch television for free and when something isn’t to your liking you just change the channel and get over it. But when you pay to see a movie that you don’t like and you feel a responsibility to tell other people.

I get that. And I affirm that. You’re entitled to like or not like something. But you aren’t at liberty to tear down for the sake of making yourself look good. It is one thing to not like a movie. It’s an entirely different thing to make fun of someone who came to encourage you.

Change is needed

As I sat and thought about this phenomenon while coming home yesterday, I just couldn’t get two things out my mind.

First, a passage of Scripture I memorized long ago.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5:1-7

Second, a song we sing with children.

O be careful little mouth what you say

O be careful little mouth what you say

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little mouth what you say

O, that we would be a people known for lifting people up instead of tearing them down.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

20 comments

  1. Adam you are right. It seems that so many times we feel like we have the right to say something and we don’t filter it through God’s Word at all. We are a culture who flippantly ignores Matthew 18 – even in the small things.

  2. Thanks for this Adam. I was one of those that tweeted a comment about Starfield and a celebrity in San Diego, and it was for the purpose of making a cute comment others might laugh at. And it was wrong. I’m sorry. It took away from the amazing time of worship they were leading and cheapened it. I owe an apology to Tim and the guys.

  3. I totally agree. I went to the Novelli brothers’ session and made a point to stick around after to talk with them about their session. One of them (Michael) has spoken at several events, and the other (Mark?) has not. As I was speaking to Michael, I could overhear the other brother sharing with some people that this isn’t his comfort zone teaching like he just had. So I shared with Michael about how well the session was and how I thought his brother had done a great job. Then I shared it with Mark.
    Not sure if it makes much of a difference on the grand scale that I did that. But I know how much of an encouragement it has been to me over the years when people stop to share positive feedback. It’s far too easy to only remember to provide feedback when there is a problem. The church needs to remember how important the Barnabus’ are in ministry – especially in youth ministry! Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank You! You are so right! As I was reading tweets after certain things I couldn’t help but think “wow, I can’t believe someone just tweeted that.” We are too quick to judge one another. Jesus doesn’t care if we wear the wrong color shirt or if our hair is parted funny or even if we have gained a little weight. He cares about our heart. I am not saying that I don’t struggle with this as well. It seems so second nature to be quick to judge someone else so no one is looking at your faults. We try our hardest to get attention turned away from ourselves by drawing attention to others. We need to take a moment and think before we tweet or before we open our mouths. And really consider what Jesus would and would not tweet or say. Thank you for the reminder!

  5. HIGH FIVE. BIG HIGH FIVE, Adam.
    I truly believe the significance of Christ’s words is that they were always encouraging, even when angry or correcting people. There was always hope, always love, always grace.
    Thank you for writing this post. May our twitter stream become much more encouraging!

  6. Good word, Adam! If we want our youth to be encouragers in this world that categorically tears down people who are different we must be willing to lead the way. It’s time to bring civility back and it begins with this generation.

  7. My filter at this moment is of a mom of a middle school girl along with being a youth leader to a group of middle schooler girls that are currently working through some posting of cruel facebook statuses about one another and the hurt feelings that are the result of it and I find myself saying over and over “if you can’t say something nice…” Yes, there is a place and a time for criticism – but I don’t think it should be on a public forum.

    I wish humans didn’t have that “need” to be hurtful to one another.

  8. Adam, amen and amen! One of my passions in working with jr hi kiddos for 20+ years has been creating a safe place and teaching them how to encourage each other. I truly believe that when a teen is able to feel safe, he will be more open spiritually. And we leaders have to be the leaders. When WE get rid of cruel comments supposedly made okay by ‘just kidding’ and trying to be funny at someone else’s expense, we will probably be shocked at the difference in our ministry.
    If we really want our youth group to make a difference in students’ lives, leading the way in encouragement is the best change any of us could make.

  9. Adam hits the nail on the head what a great blog I needed the comfort personally having had some of this latly it’s real and relevant to me so thanks

  10. unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend NYWC, but I wish I could’ve been there. There have been many times that I have typed up a tweet and paused to think before I hit the enter button. I end up erasing it because of exactly what you said. But I see this type of thing after every Passion, or for #thenines each September, and so forth. It all just makes me uncomfortable.

    Thanks for the reminder Adam.

  11. I heard someone say several years ago that criticism is not a spiritual gift. That always stings when I think about it

  12. Adam, it was a very good point that you made. We must not forget about the people who tweeted the hurtful feedback. THEY are most likely receiving that same kind of feedback as well back in their ministry. I say this because I’ve been in their shoes. My husband an I do ministry together and the church we were at had no support for the ministry and every move we made was criticized to no end. My defense mechanism is to become bitter which then leads me to harsh, unnecessary feedback of everyone I see/hear/talk with/walk past. I got so bitter because I was so hurt, and they seemed as though they weren’t and I wanted to be happy like them so I would cut them down to make myself feel better. Even if we get to a place where we are so bitter an are making comments to make ourselves look better, don’t forget that we have feelings too and it could be our way of crying out for help. Be sure to put yourself in their shoes and try to get a sense of where they’re coming from before you call them out.
    Again, your article brought a very good point that we all need to remember while using social media or not. And your scripture reference is a great reminder of that!!

  13. Adam, loved this post… and hated it. Love it because I am personally convicted of all the times I have tried to make myself look smart by having some pithy thing to say about a presenter. It is a great reminder to me to watch what I say.

    I hate that this post is necessary. I hate that anyone in the public eye just has to accept that people will say things, some of them true, that will hurt our hearts. All of this makes me world weary.

  14. I adopted a policy many years ago – before sending any e-mail, tweet, v-mail – ask myself if I would be ok with it being made public for all to see.

    I wish I could be faithful to live out 100% one of the prayers I pray on a regular basis, “May every word I speak to every person I meet be filled with tenderness.”

    Thanks for your words Adam.

    Peace,

    Mike

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