What to Do When Teens Say You’re Doing a Bad Job as… | UMC YoungPeople
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January 2024

What to Do When Teens Say You’re Doing a Bad Job as a Youth Pastor

By Jeremy Steele

Receiving criticism about your performance from the teens you minister to can be tough. Okay, that was really professional-sounding, or as if it came from Chicken Soup for the Youth Pastor’s Soul (that’s a joke for those of you who were in ministry in the late 1990s). Teens might actually say things like, “Ugh Jeremy is lame,” or “Youth group is just so boring,” or “I wish we did things like that theologically irresponsible nondenominational church down the street.”

That kind of criticism is going to come, and your response to it can be the difference between bouncing back and bouncing out of your position. Instead of reflexively firing back, it's important to handle negative feedback with grace, understanding, and a constructive approach. As hard as it can be to not be drawn into a fight, you get to be a mature adult.

When teens express dissatisfaction with your job performance, start by listening. Often, their criticism may stem from all sorts of underlying issues they are facing both in your ministry and outside of it. Listening for what is going on below the complaint is essential. Understanding their perspective is crucial in addressing their concerns effectively.

When that feedback doesn’t come directly to you (which happens a good percentage of the time), ask the person who is reporting the feedback to ask the person who made the criticism to talk to you directly. You can say things like, “I really would like to understand their concerns better. I’d hate for them to feel X or Y, and I’m not able to address it. Can you ask them to set up a time to talk?”

Once you get clear on what is happening, you need to take a breath. Reflect on the criticism objectively. Is there a grain of truth in what they're saying? Use it as an opportunity for self-assessment and growth. Sometimes, the feedback can provide insights into areas of your ministry that need improvement or biases within yourself that you have not been paying attention to.

As you move through the conversation, acknowledge and validate their feelings and express your willingness to understand and address their concerns. This can build trust and show that you value their input. Even if there is little you can do immediately (or ever), telling them you want to work to make it better is important.

Sometimes the solution is simple; other times, it may be more complex. Make sure you don’t rush into a solution if you don’t know what to do. If you're unsure how to handle the situation, seek guidance from a mentor or a fellow youth pastor. These folks can provide an outside perspective and offer valuable advice based on their experiences.

Criticism from teens is not just a challenge but an opportunity to improve and adapt your ministry to better meet their needs. By responding with empathy, reflection, and a willingness to grow, you can turn criticism into a positive force for change in your youth ministry.

When he's not playing with his four children with his wonderful wife, Jeremy is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, CA. Jeremy has spent over twenty years working in youth and children's ministry and continues to train children and youth workers as well as writing and speaking extensively in that field. His most recent book is the "All the Best Questions." You can find a list of all his books, articles, and resources for churches at JeremyWords.com.