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GUEST POST: An Opportunity We Might Miss

 —  April 29, 2012 — 6 Comments

The other day I was sitting in my office, when a teenager I did not recognize knocked on my door.  He said, “Hi, I think I’m supposed to talk to you, but I need someone to sign these forms saying that I did service here.”  I took the forms from the teen and saw that the forms were for his school’s service hour requirement.  There is nothing unusual about this; several times a year (especially Fall and Spring) I get the mad rush of teens trying to complete their requirements for the school year. What made the situation odd is:

  1. I barely recognized the teen.
  2. What he wanted me to sign off on was something he did 3 years ago.  

The reason I knew it was three years ago was because we hadn’t done that type of service project at the church in the last three years.  Like I said, I’ve done a ton of recommendation letters and service requirement forms, and usually it’s for teens I know and I can confidently say have earned my support.  But, once in a while a teen or a parent I’ve never seen walks in and asks me for “This Favor.”

Ideally, you would want to have a conversation.  You would talk about how you don’t feel comfortable vouching for someone you don’t know or something you have never seen.  And then you would develop a plan to get the student more involved so that you could be confident in putting your name down, right?

In theory that’s what we would like to do; however, many of us are guilty for just signing off and enabling the situation because we are:

Too Busy – Often times we give a student a pass because we are just super busy.  I can’t blame you, there is a lot on your plate and when something like paperwork hits the desk, you look for the quickest way to process it.  If this is you, you need to come up with a system where you allot time for situations where you don’t feel rushed to just GET IT DONE.  The teen (or parent) might plead to get the form, letter, etc. back as soon as possible; however, you need to be their youth minister and sometimes that means holding them accountable to what they are requesting.

People Pleasing – You just can’t say no, you don’t want anyone to feel bad and you just hate conflict.  You’d rather a teen have pleasant encounter with you than feel rejected by the Church.  In fact isn’t that the reason people are leaving?  They feel rejected?  I believe teens crave structure and someone with a strong foundation.  Yes, you may upset the teenager; however, if you follow the NO with love and care, they’ll respect the fact that you are looking out for their best interests.

You Agree With It – You see things like recommendation letters and service hours as something small.  It doesn’t matter if you know the teen, it’s just a part of the system; therefore, having a conversation with them about whether or not they really earn this letter is mute.  You believe that as the youth pastor you have an obligation to do what the congregation asks of you, even if the teen isn’t a full-blown member.

While the situation may seem insignificant it does say something about your ministry.  It’s circumstances like these where we have a real opportunity to talk to teens about investing in the local church, especially if we don’t know them or they rarely get involved.  By signing these forms and writing your letters your vouching for your ministry, so you want to be as truthful as possible.  By signing for them, you are vouching saying they are a representative of the Church, and that is saying a lot.

What are your thoughts?  Is this a big deal in your ministry?  Do you have any solutions to fixing it?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

Josh Griffin

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6 responses to GUEST POST: An Opportunity We Might Miss

  1. I have had parents and students try to get me to sign off on hours that they were working to fundraise for camp and I have had to say no way. I even have a hard time with students using service projects to get hours because so many of them do it just to get hours and are not really learning about have a heart to serve others for nothing in return, so I still don’t know what to do with that.

    My go to rule has been to let students know to approach me before they do something for hours to make sure it is something that I will sign off on and then approaching me again right afterwords so that I do not forget that they were there.

    I don’t have a perfect solution but this is what works so far.

  2. I gotta say, I would find the attempt laughable. I’ve got a list of volunteer students on my wall who have spoken to me about getting hours if they fill specific roles. Every week, I write how many hours they’ve completed by their name, and about every month, I fill out their sheets and give it to them to submit to the school.

  3. I think variations on “I wouldn’t lie to you, so I won’t lie for you” are always the bets approach in situations like this.

  4. Related -
    I love writing letters of recommendations for students. I find it an honor to be asked to recommend youth for scholarships, admission, etc. However, there are some frustrating things that happen during this process. Here are a few:
    - Parents and/or youth dropping off forms and telling me to complete how many hours he/she completed during the year. I usually tell them this is the youth’s responsibility – please have him/her return with completed form.
    - Youth asking for a recommendation the night or the day before it is due. My response is ‘sorry, but I need more time.’
    - Text from students requesting a letter of recommendation without any information regarding what the letter is for.
    - Parents who fill out all the forms, request the letter, and the youth has no responsibility in the process.

  5. P.J. I couldn’t agree more with writing letters of recommendation. When a student wants me to vouch for them I think it’s awesome. I do also agree with your frustrations; however, I remember how I was as a teenager, so I’m quick to forgive.
    I think overall it’s a shame that we live in a legalistic world where we need to track hours to show how big our servant’s heart is. I think the best thing to talk to our students about how service is good, but with God in mind it’s better.
    Thanks for everyone’s comments.

  6. I guess maybe I might be the oger but unless I know the student has done the community service in the last 90-120 days I don’t sign off on the paper. I live writing letters of recommendation but only do so for students I know well enough to write the letter. I’ve had students and parents get frustrated at the standard I’ve set but because there is a lot going on I just share that if I’m going to use my time to write a letter it needs to be one I can do quickly & with specific points because I’ve interacted with the student enough to stand behind what I write or sign off on.

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