In junior high, I was a member of my school’s volleyball team.
I loved being part of the team. I even enjoyed playing volleyball. Here’s the catch: I wasn’t very good. I just happened to attend a school that was so small that in order to field a volleyball team, pretty much every girl had to play. The problem is, though, that because I spent two years playing volleyball, I didn’t realize I wasn’t very good. I learned that the hard way when, at the start of my freshman year, I got cut from the girl’s volleyball team at my high school.
I still remember walking up to the team list following the last day of tryouts and frantically searching for my name only to realize it wasn’t there.
I was devastated.
So, too, were my other newfound friends who didn’t make the cut.
That devastation has stuck with me and now, 20 years later, I’m very aware of the fact that I never want teens in my youth ministry to feel that same kind of devastation regarding our student leadership team. In fact, one of the reasons why I utilize such an extensive selection process is that this process enables teens to self-select into or out of the process, thereby drastically reducing the number of teens I need to “cut” from our team.
Unfortunately, sometimes cuts are still necessary.
When they are, I never want teens to have to frantically search a list to see whether or not their name appears on it in order to learn whether or not they’ve made the team. For that reason, when it comes time to announce my team, I follow these three simple rules.
- Have difficult conversations face-to-face in private. Teens invest a lot of time and energy into a student leadership team selection process. In honor of that investment, if a teen doesn’t make the team, take them out to coffee and spend time talking with them one-on-one about your decision. Explain the reason for your decision. Acknowledge their pain, disappointment, and even anger at NOT being part of the team. Communicate a teen’s value and worth to them. Explicitly remind them they still have a place in your ministry.
- Announce your student leadership team in private. Rather than post a Student Leadership Team list publicly (on a Youth Room door or even on social media), announce it in private. Simply contact those who have made the team and let them know you’re thrilled to have them be a part of the team. Also let them know who else they’ll be serving alongside.
- Be sensitive to those NOT on your team. In order to avoid throwing salt in an open wound, at least initially, don’t make a big deal of who’s on your team to the rest of the teens in your ministry. Instead, introduce your team individually, whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself. For example: Instead of having everyone who’s a part of your new student leadership team stand for applause, the next time one of your student leaders organizes an event, leads a discussion, sets up chairs, or gives announcements, thank them for doing so and give them the title, “Student Leader.”
By following these three simple rules, you can help make your ministry safe, even for those not yet ready to be a student leader. That’s important because while not everyone is called to leadership, everyone is welcome in our ministries.
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