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How to Handle Confrontation in Ministry

Confrontation seems to always rear it’s ugly when you least expect it. Whether it’s in an email or done face to face, it can put you in an awkward place. It could be a parent complaining about the program. Sometimes it’s a fellow youth minister questioning your best practices. I’m a pretty defensive person, so when I open that email, I grow angry and begin to fantasize about how I can knock the person down a notch. The temptation to fight back is right there.

You will face confrontation in your ministry. It might be from a parent, a teen, your pastor or a complete stranger. Ministry is messy because it’s personal. When someone catches you by surprise with a backhanded compliment or public insult, it’s natural to react. The question is, how do you avoid leaning into a lose/lose situation?

Kill It With Kindness: Anytime someone comes to you with a complaint or critique, the first step is to thank them. It will catch them by surprise because it turns something negative into something positive. Thank them for their thoughts, tell them you appreciate their honesty and wish them a good day. Trust me, it works.

Pause … Pause … Pause: If you rush in right away, you’ll regret it right away. While this is hard to manage face to face, there really is no excuse when it comes to an email, post or text. Take time to breathe, and ask God for guidance. Never rush in.

Look For the Story Beneath the Story: The root of a confrontation is not always obvious. Someone might attack you because you happen to be in the way. You might receive the brunt of someone’s bad experience. Look for the story beneath the story by listening and asking them to go deeper into how they are feeling. Most times, you’ll discover it isn’t about you.

Engage With God: This should be common sense for a youth minister; however, it’s worth repeating. Work on your relationship with God and He’ll equip you with everything you need. What you are facing is a spiritual battle. Allow God to give you what you need.

Never Hide: While you don’t want to jump right into a situation, you also should never retreat. Pause, listen and then lean in. Embrace the tension even if it’s painful because you’ll move forward and get through the confrontation quicker.

Confrontation is not always pleasant; however, it can be a sign that you are moving in the right direction. Youth ministry is a spiritual battle, and the enemy will go to all costs to make sure you are stagnant. Embrace the opportunities and lean on God to guide you through.

How are you at handling confrontation?  

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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.