My kids like to use the phrase” “No Offense,” as a way to tell others about their inadequacies. For example just the other day I heard my 6th grader say this to her sister: “No offense, but you aren’t really that good at art.” Later in the day brother to sister: “No offense but, you have an attitude.”  I think you get the idea.  We have tried to explain to them on more than one occasion that sticking “No Offense” in front of a hurtful statement, still hurts someone’s feelings.

Ever had a “No Offense” moment as a youth worker?  It’s when we mess up blatantly or unwittingly but still know we have steam rolled someone in the process.  Maybe you mishandled a parent, when they deserved your rage because if they had actually READ one of the notices you sent home, they would have known better.  Perhaps, you undermined senior leadership and they found out about it.  It could be you made a “WHAM” (whopping, huge, aggravated, mistake) and you know it.

What matters as a leader is less about what we have done TO mess up and what will we do TO deal with it?

1.  Take Ownership Of Your Part

Venting to your peers they will not argue that the parent or senior leadership was wrong.  However, what part did we play in the misstep?  Stop pointing fingers at everyone else, and own what you have done.  We don’t have to take the blame for everyone, but the Holy Spirit brings conviction when we are wrong, and it is obvious in our heart. This means we are willing to repent (or turn away) from what WE did.

2.  Genuinely Say Sorry

Ever seen someone say the words, “I’m sorry,” through gritted teeth?   Yeah, you know they aren’t feeling it.  Truth is you may not be feeling the apology either.  However,  taking the “high road” means we own it and then smooth out out our part in the story.  You can’t control the other party, but you can come with a repentful heart in what you did wrong. Hurting someone for the right reasons, is still a wrong approach. My daughter knows she isn’t a great artist, but her sister making fun of her was mean.

3.  Have Integrity

There are times when we “fall on the grenade.”  These are the times when we don’t think we were wrong.  There are two questions we need to ask in that situation: 1. “Does this person (like a parent or senior leadership) deserve our respect no matter what?”  2.  ”Is it worth me damaging, breaking or losing a relationship?” There are times when integrity dictates we “do the right thing,” which is to own it and apologize, regardless on if we were right or not.

4.  Next Time

Ever notice how many movie and television plots revolve around someone messing up and then not being able to properly confess it?  We keep thinking, “Why did they run again?   It’s not an unfixable mess. Rarely is anything “that bad.” Instead we ask ourselves,  “If I land in this same scenario in the future, what will I do next time?”  Every time we fall down, it really is an opportunity for growth and transformation into the image of Christ. Next time, handle it differently.

No offense, but you messed up. We all do, and we will again.  Christ just wants us to stand up and deal with it. Worse case scenario we are reminded acutely our need for a Savior.

What do you do when you have messed up?




It begins with a lump in the throat, followed by a cold sweat, clammy palms and finishes with a sinking feeling. It’s the moment you realize you’ve “failed” in youth ministry.

Today I thought I would share some of my most cherished moments from the “how not to be a youth pastor” handbook.

1.  ”The Unbroken Arm”

Imagine your student who is “that kid.”  You know the one who needs to push all of your buttons, and you are too proud to admit it? At camp I say four times, “Don’t stand on the trash can that is five feet in the air, we are playing basketball, and you could fall off.”  14 yr. old Malcolm ignores me.  He falls, grabs his arm screaming, “It’s broken.”  Me in an award winning moment, “No it’s not, go play basketball like you were asked.”  Malcolm finally begs me to go to the nurse.  Begrudgingly I take him, even though I think he is “milking it.”  I go back to my group while he ices his arm.  Ambulance comes.  Four hours later he returns waving a cast in my face, evil laugh, “It’s broken.”


It doesn’t matter if a student doesn’t listen,  when they get hurt you should not prove a point.  2nd lesson: Next time don’t let them get on the trash can in the first place.

2.  ”Biking Home”

Imagine taking your students camping. You bring bikes so they can “explore” on their own. Everyone else thinks a different adult told Freddy he could take a bike. So when everyone was supposed to meet back at 3 he was no where to be found. Dinner came and went,  still no Freddy.  Police became involved.  I got to call home to tell Mom, who barely spoke English, we had lost her son, 7 hours from home.  Finally, somewhere around midnight he was found sunburnt and dehydrated.  Apparently, he had attempted to “bike home” after deciding “no one liked him.’

There are a couple of other “choice” stories from trips, and parks to which I arrived at this conclusion.  (We already had them sign character contracts and liability forms prior to any of this.)


Taking students on trips for the sake of the event doesn’t really fit in to my philosophy of “relationally driven” youth ministry. Also losing kids is bad. Even in the age of cell phones, batteries die or they get turned off.  Instead, I realized that going forward in all things we would have one small group leader with 3-5 students every time we set out on any trip where they”had freedom.”  The purpose?  To build relationships. To be a family on a “family outing.”  Since that time you would be shocked at the depth of “life” we have learned from students in lines for roller coasters at parks and places where you can “go exploring.”

3.  ”The Stump.” (This one comes to us via my hubby, but too good not to share.)

Camping trip.  Youth Leader sees a tree stump sticking out of the ground that can fit maybe 4 kids holding onto each other. Decides to have a “team building exercise,” where 12-15 kids have to all stand on the “Stump” together.  By the end of “said” activity all the students were complaining and revolting so violently, lunch was withheld until they made it happen.  (Although it was literally impossible.)


You need to have team building- actually conducive to building cohesiveness.  Well actually the youth did unite: against all of the adults.  They actually had teens so angry from the “event” that parent meetings were held when the trip was over.  Those “youth,” who are now in their mid 30′s, make sure to bring up this “activity” laughing whenever they see us.  The point? No activity can be about the leader needing to be in “control” of the teens. In addition, deciding they “will learn this lesson or else” rarely works as a model of youth min.  Instead it’s about setting it up, allowing them to learn “something” (even if it isn’t what you intended) and knowing when to pull the plug.

I have many more “failures” over the years I could share. Through these I have learned invaluable lessons about honoring parents, teaching methods, and having more compassions for my students, just to name a few. While there was a higher percentage of all out “blow ups” in the early years, I still fall down.   It reminds me I am still learning, and it’s the Lord’s ministry not mine.

What about you?  What’s your “Biggest Mess Up” as a youth worker and What did you learn?

Who Takes The Blame?

Chris Wesley —  December 11, 2012 — 2 Comments

If you work with teenagers chances are you’ve witnessed many mistakes.  Maybe it was that game that you thought would be awesome; however, a girl ends up puking.  Or that trip that was incredible until you arrived home late because you couldn’t find the one teen in the rest stop gift shop.  In youth ministry mistakes will be made.  Parents, teens, volunteers and even the pastor will get angry with you.

When something doesn’t go as originally planned the temptation is to find a scapegoat.  You were late because of someone else.  The game didn’t go according to plan because the instructions weren’t clear.  You make excuses and point the finger; however, all it does it hurt your leadership.  Mistakes will happen because you and I are human.  As a leader instead of looking for an excuse or someone to blame:

  • Take Ownership Of The Situation:  Owning the situation doesn’t necessarily mean you will take the blame.  It means that you will take the steps to resolve the situation.  If someone is at fault you’ll find out who that is or if there was a miscommunication you’ll discover when that happened.  By owning it you are allowing others to hold you accountable.  By embracing the situation you show others that you care.
  • Criticize And Critique Privately: If a problem does occur because of someone else make sure you talk with them privately.  Making a fool of them in front of their peers is embarrassing and doesn’t look well for you.  If the situation is severe be sure to have an accountable party who will affirm the discussion.  This will also protect you if they aren’t accepting of the feedback.
  • Pray With Others: Most youth ministers are their harshest critique, which will drain us emotionally and spiritually.  Having a small group of peers to listen to your concerns is essential.  Allow them to pray for you and pour into you so that you can continue to move forward.  In the end you’ll know you aren’t walking through the problem alone.
  • Obtain Trustworthy Feedback: Make sure you analyze the situation with the help of others.  If the mistake was made by another person seek wisdom on how you could have prevented putting the wrong person in the wrong place.  Have someone you trust to give you the brutal facts to point you in the right direction.

I’m not suggesting that you as the leader take the fall 100% of the time; however, it’s important to own the situation.  Look to resolve it, share the burden with others and make the necessary preparations to avoid the situation in the future.  A great leader is one who is humble enough to know mistakes are made and that it’s all a part of being human.

How do you rebound from mistakes being made?  

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

I really like learning things, but NOT learning them the hard way and this is something that I have learned the hard way through my own actions and from the challenges it has brought up with some of our students. We have all been there, preaching to our students about something we are passionate about, something we know that many students are struggling with, you’re feeling it and take it off script and then…. It happens……

You throw down a absolute / blanket statement. You might not have noticed it happened, it might have been a throw away comment but the students heard it and they are thinking about it, reflecting on it and deciding if its true.

This is such a dangerous move; even if by accident, because when we say it, our students are going to assume its true and may act accordingly. A great example is a student named Mike that was in my small group for several years. He was solid, growing in his faith, making great choices, loving Jesus and didn’t struggle with much. We took our youth group to a local youth conference and the main session speaker came out with this uppercut:

“ I know that ALL of you guys are struggling with looking at pornography”

Fact: Mike had never been tempted by pornography in his life……. Until he heard that everyone was.

I have made absolute statements about guys and their intentions in dating that were hurtful, and I owned the comment, apologized the next week and wished I had never done it. But it was not fair to the guys and not fair to the girls who trusted that I was telling them the truth, the guys had ill intentions. I know of at least one student who has not come back since that night and that hurts

Absolute statements are rarely true, often hurtful and always dangerous and not worth it. Be careful, your flippant comment can have devastating consequences for the spiritual journey of a student who is trusting that the information you are bringing is true. Don’t learn the hard way like I have.

GS  (Twitter)

Gregg Farah as been on a blogging streak lately. I really enjoyed his post called 5 Mistakes Every Youth Worker Makes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s a clip of a common mistake – that if I’m honest about (and probably you are, too) is a mistake I make all to often. Head there for the rest:

5) Leave God Out (both rookies and vets are guilty)
We get so busy serving God we forget to be with God, we forget to talk to God, and we forget to listen to God. When I first started in ministry a vet youth worker said, “Don’t let your service exceed your worship.” I fight that temptation on a regular basis.

a) Stop. If you have a choice between a last-second review of your notes for a Bible study, or sitting still in the presence of God, go with God. Every time.
b) Model reliance on God. Pray with students before everything and talk about God’s answers to prayer. I think God answers prayer far more than we give God credit. Let’s help students get excited that God does hear our prayers and answers them.



Over the past 15 years (and 3 weeks) that I’ve been in full-time ministry I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. I’ve made so many I’m currently pitching a book called Youth Ministry Nightmares where I talk about the stories surrounding my biggest leadership gaffs.

While these aren’t nightmares, they are some mistakes I’ve made in the not-so-recent past:

Neglecting rookie volunteers
There is one group of leaders in your ministry that need you more than anyone else: the newbies. My mistake in the past was to concentrate on launching and not sustaining. The more time you take to make rookie leaders great the more you will retain and the better (and faster) experienced veterans they will become.

Not changing your leadership style to fit your team
When my volunteer team was all my close friends, I could manage relationally and we were overflowing with trust and history. As teams change, and you encourage outsiders to join your team, make sure you adjust to the people God has given you. Make history with them. Design activities to build trust. Make sure they are fully trained and equipped.

Falling in love with youth ministry more than Jesus
From time to time I have found myself in an unhealthy tension—choosing to love youth ministry more than Jesus. Loving what I do instead of who I do it for. It doesn’t take long in a season of discouragement to reveal which way you have erred.

Hope my mistakes help you be a better youth worker! Share your mistakes in the comments, too!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Thought this post on Ministry Best Practices was solid – there are 7 Deadly Recruiting Sins over there you should read when talking about volunteers in your youth ministry. Here’s the 3 that stood out the most to me:

Sin #4: Assume That “No” Means “Never”. Sometimes a “no” means that a prospect would rather do something other than the role you’ve described. Probe to find out what the person likes to do, then see if there’s a match for that in your (or someone else’s) ministry.

Sin #5: Recruit Just Warm Bodies. It is easy to get in the mindset of just needing to fill slots and needs within your ministry..but you don’t just want warm bodies, rather you want people with warm hearts toward your ministry. You want people whose gifts, skills and abilities are a good match for your ministry.

Sin #6: Recruit to the need. People don’t want to hear a desperate plea of how you need volunteers. You don’t recruit to the need, rather you recruit to the vision. Most people don’t volunteer out of guilt because you tell them that your ministry team is in desperate need of volunteers. Rather most people volunteer because they are compelled by the vision. Paint and cast that compelling vision for your prospective volunteers.