How to Put Out Fires in Your Youth Ministry

Almost burned the house down the other day.  It wasn’t like I was playing with matches, in fact, I was trying to cook a nice meal.  Unfortunately, I was a little careless with picking a suitable pan that would prevent oil from spilling in the oven.  Next thing I know I see smoke pouring out of the oven.  I tell my wife, “Get ready the fire alarm is about to go off.”  

She runs into the kitchen to find the fire extinguisher.  I open the oven door.  Flames devour the fresh oxygen.  Smoke fills the room and my son yells, “My eyes.  It’s dark.”.  My wife hands me the fire extinguisher, I pull the pin and spray.  Team effort, fire is out, dinner is ruined, we get in the car and enjoy a night out as a family.  Problem averted.

Putting out fires in your own house is scary because of the loss that might occur. To put out fire in your youth ministry can be just as deadly.  Fires in your youth ministry can be anything like a:

  • Angry parent over a decision you made.
  • Rumor spread throughout the ministry.
  • Teenager in trouble with the police..
  • Volunteer doing something inappropriate.

Whether you are in the midst of one at this minute or about to face one any day it’s important to know that a fire in your youth ministry will not only hurt people but put your entire church in jeopardy.  If you want to put out fires in your youth ministry you need to embrace the role of leader and:

  • Remain Calm – It’s easy to panic when someone brings a mess into your ministry.  The initial reaction is to run and then hide.  A part of you wants the problem to go away; however, that’s the worst thing you can do.  Take a deep breath, ask God for guidance and lean into the situation.  A cool head thinks clearly and will prevail.
  • Assess The Situation – Again, do not rush into a solution.  Ministry fires can be very chaotic and messy because of the emotions they can bring.  Jumping into conclusions will lead to judgment and this will limit your ability to handle the situation with patience, love and trust.  The best thing for you to do is listen, observe and ask questions in order to understand the situation fully.
  • Ask For Help – A single firefighter does not put out a fire, it’s the team.  Just like a firefighter you need to trust the people around you.  Go to your pastor, fellow volunteers, law enforcements and whoever else might assist in the situation.  Not only will they bring their expertise; but, accountability to make sure you follow through.
  • Learn From The Past – Sometimes a situation is caused by an error on your part and then sometimes it’s out of your control.  One of the best steps you can take after putting out a fire in your ministry is learning how to prevent situations like this in the future.  Granted you don’t have to pile up the mistakes to put together an awesome handbook.  You just want to make sure lessons are learned from examples before.

Youth ministry is messy.  When you become relational with teens and their families emotions and challenges will arise.  Educate your team on what can and will happen.  Work with other youth ministers to know how they handled certain situations in the past.  Never tackle a fire on your own, make sure you go in well equipped.

What steps would you add?  How do you put out fires in your youth ministry?  

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Chris Wesley
Chris graduated from Xavier University in 2003 with a BA in Communications: Electronic Media. He moved to Baltimore in the fall of 2003 where he served as a Jesuit Volunteer for a year. During that time, he was a Case Manager at Chase Brexton, met my wife Kate and felt God's calling to Student Ministry. In the summer of 2004, heI was hired by the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland as a Middle School Youth Minister. Today he oversees grades 5-12 as the Director of Student Ministry.

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