Dealing With Failure And Restoration

Posted: 
Friday, August 28, 2020

Sometimes, the wheels fall off. Whether it is an adult volunteer or a student leader, you need a process to identify the issue and resolve it. Some of the key areas that we can see failure are communication, culture, competence, character and compliance. Hopefully we have some helpful ideas on how to fix them and move forward. There may be some internal policies that already exist in your church. So become familiar with those to help formulate your own responses when these failures happen in your youth ministry.

 

Failure in Communication

You don't have to be in leadership long to experience a failure in communication. What one person felt was clearly communicated, may not have been as clearly understood. So the execution of the task or project is not what was expected.

Communication is a two way street - the communicator and the receiver. Both should do their best to be clear, polite and make sure they are on the same page. If I give instructions, I try and make sure that the other person understands. I may even make them repeat things back to me if I am unsure. If I am receiving instruction, then I try to ask clarifying questions if I have any doubts.

Nevertheless, there are still moments of miscommunication and actions do not match to instruction.

Do your best to identify it for what it is - a simple miscommunication. Sometimes we jump to conclusions that people did something on purpose. We begin to question their motives, but it may just be a misunderstanding. I love this video of kids instructing their dad as a great example of how things can be miscommunicated.

  • Have the conversation with the other person about what happened
  • Believe the best until proven otherwise
  • Acknowledge any part that you may have played
  • Work out how to better communicate in the future
  • Do any damage control that you may need to with affected parties
  • Move on and do your best to maintain the relationship

 

Culture

Sometimes there is a clash or mismatch of cultures. I am not even talking about ethnic cultures. Your family, your previous church, your school, or youth group, all have a sub-culture. Ways of doing things that may be different from others. Most of them are not wrong, just different. And they change over time with different leaders and seasons.

Culture also often reflects our values. When I was a teenager, the culture of our youth group was definitely one of humour and mocking. I knew I was part of the group when I was getting mocked for things I did. It meant they knew me well enough to know what my line is between funny and offensive. If you didn't know someone well enough to know their sense of humour, then you wouldn't joke with them. Was it all healthy? Nope. Was it all bad? No. I remember our youth leader trying to change the culture by creating a list of things that we couldn't call each other. It did not go well.

There is also a difference between the culture of our youth group, and the leadership culture that helps produce it. I think fun should be a value in every youth group. Not because we want to only entertain and attract young people, but because fun builds connections and opens the heart. So young people may only see the fun, but leaders see chances to connect and opportunities to speak into teenagers' lives in a greater way.

A failure in culture, is when a leader does something without understanding or carrying the value that under girds it. This then can become legalism. They can start to focus on external things without carrying the spirit of it.

Maybe an example will help. Let's say you value engagement and involvement because it builds relationship and connection. You are having a messy games night and there are a couple of youth who are standing back. One of your leaders knows that engagement and involvement are keys. They push for these youth to get involved, not understanding that one of those youth is on the autism spectrum. That young person is barely coping with the overload of sound. To then require that they engage with the touching or eating or playing with something that is messy would push their brain over the edge. Relationship and connection is the leadership value that the leader should be operating under. It plays out as engagement and involvement for most youth, but not all.

A failure in culture is similar to a failure in communication and so is the remedy.

  • Have the conversation with the other person about what happened
  • Believe the best until proven otherwise
  • Acknowledge any part that you may have played
  • Reinforce the culture you are building
  • Do any damage control that you may need to with affected parties
  • Move on and do your best to maintain the relationship

 

Competence

A failure due to competence is one where the person does not have the the right set of skills for the role, responsibility or task. There are a couple of scenarios that generally at play here:

  1. The person never received training
  2. The person received training but did not fully grasp it
  3. The person claimed a skill that they did not have

In the first two scenarios, the plan of action should be to review how roles/tasks are delegated and how training and supervision is managed. The student leaders are still learning and so there will be times when there is a mismatch between a task and skill. Sometimes they will surprise you and step up, other times the gap will lead to something falling over.

In the third scenario, there probably needs to be a conversation around honest communication and the results when there isn't. I would probably lean towards including them in any "damage control" that might need to take place. It is important for them to see that their actions have consequences and that leaders take responsibility for their actions.

In any of the scenarios, if there is an ongoing competence issue, despite training and supervision, then you may need to consider whether that person is right for that task or role.

 

Character

Character failures are one of the hardest areas to deal with, because character speaks to the very heart of a person. Character failures can include:

  • Ego or selfish tendencies - there is a difference between confidence and ego
  • Anger or frustration that is poorly managed
  • Bullying
  • Inappropriate relationships - however you define that
  • Disrespect of leadership, including parents
  • Unrepentant when confronted on issues
  • Lying, stealing, cheating etc

Of course there are others. The challenge is how you handle failures that are character or moral failures. Leadership is influence and relies heavily on trust. Character failures erode trust. But we are also in the business of love, grace and forgiveness. So below are some of my thoughts.

First thing to consider is how you found out. Did the leader approach you about a struggle or failure, or did they get discovered? If a leader or student leader comes to me and admits that they have struggled or failed in a certain area, I am going to lean into a restoration process. And that process is likely to be a little shorter. But if they are discovered and I have to confront them then that will be a different story.

The next thing that will influence the outcome will be their response in that first conversation. If they are minimising or blaming or not taking responsibility then the path forward is a longer and rockier one. If they take ownership, show remorse, ask for help, then we have a softer heart to work with.

How they respond to the consequences is also another indicator on how things will proceed. If they submit to correction and consequence then we expect a smoother path. If they are antagonistic and push back then not so much.

The last thing that will determine the path forward is the nature and breadth of the character failure. A one off lapse in judgement that led to getting drunk at a party is very different to regularly taking underage youth to parties and getting them drunk.

Some guidelines that I try and follow for these conversations:

  • Don't have the conversation if you are still steaming or emotional about it
  • Get some advice and support
  • It may be good to have a third-party present
  • Do your best to maintain the dignity of the leader and preserve relationship, even if the relationship is no longer in a youth ministry context
  • Do not compromise on the health and well-being of your youth
  • Involve the parents, if it is a student leader
  • If possible, leave an open door for students to attend youth group
  • If possible, present a pathway of restoration with key milestones

What I want to be able to say at the end of these situations, is that I did everything I could to love and disciple that young person or leader. If I offer a pathway forward that they have rejected, then that is their choice.

There are certain scenarios that, in my opinion, disqualify you from being a youth leader forever. But that is probably best expressed in the context of a conversation and not a blog post.

 

Compliance

My need to use all Cs in this post, means I am using a stronger word than is really needed. A failure to comply is essentially the person who cannot or will not get on board with the decisions made by the main leader.

I do not want a team of people who just say "Yes" to everything. I want robust conversation that produces the strongest outcomes that we can. In tension with that, the main leader has been appointed to that role. That means they carry greater responsibility and a degree of anointing for it. There are also conversations that the main leader is having that other members on the team are not, which gives them perspective that others do not.

If there is a leader on the team who pushes back on every decision, who stubbornly refuses to support or enact decisions, then it is time for a hard conversation.

In a similar vein to the character failure, I would try and have the conversation when I am not feeling emotional. I would do my best to understand their perspective and their history. I would try not to go into the first couple of conversations with ultimatums, but trying to get on the same page. If you can't win them over, it might be time to help them find an area where they can fully support the leaders. With full acknowledgement of the time, energy and heart that they have put into the youth and ministry, help them transition.

 

So there you have it. A few thoughts on failures and how to manage them. Communication, Culture, Competence, Character and Compliance.

What are your thoughts and experiences around this? What failures have you seen and how did you handle them?

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