No matter what you’re doing in youth ministry, you will most likely have had some sort of predecessor, someone who did what you’re doing before you came. Maybe you know this person, maybe you don’t. But here’s one advice: always be nice about your predecessor to others. If you talk about him or her with others, always be positive and praise him or her where you can. Why? Because you don’t know everything and until you do, you have no right to judge.
I’ve been guilty of it, I admit. Being new somewhere and immediately concluding that my predecessor did a bad job or at least, fell short in several areas. It’s so easy to judge when you’re new, right? You’re not sucked in into all the details of the job yet, you still have the clear vision and objectivity of an outsider, which makes it so much easier to see what’s wrong. Or so you think.
The Native Americans have an old saying: you shouldn’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. And they’re right, although personally I’d recommend you refrain from judgment till you’ve done about 20 miles or so. Because really, you don’t know a person, or a job, or the circumstances, until you’ve been there yourself. Let’s look at a few things that you don’t know about.
If you’re new in a church, you will probably have met the pastor(s) and at least some of the elders, maybe even some other leaders. But you know the church, not really. Every church is different and no matter how bright things may seem from the outside, there could be a million things going on that you haven’t picked up on yet. There could have been fights, people leaving the church in a bad way, there could have been difference of opinion about key theological issues or about insignificant details for that matter. You haven’t experiences that yet first hand. But I bet your predecessor did, and it may have made his job difficult. Bottom line is, you don’t know.
Even if you knew your predecessor, were you close? Close enough to know what was really going on in his life? He may be having personal problems you know nothing about, that have severely affected his performance. Maybe he’s had a crisis of faith, maybe it became too much for his wife that he was away so much, maybe they discovered one of their kids had a behavioral problem and needed more structure. Bottom line is, you don’t know.
It is very possible that your predecessor was indeed a mismatch for the job. Maybe he lacked the skills, or he found out that he didn’t fit into the team. Maybe it was his first position as a youth leader and he had to find out that it was not at all as he had expected. There were for instance a lot more mundane administrative tasks then he had ever dreamed off, taking away his dream of reaching lost people for Christ. He may just have left a bit broken and even bitter. Bottom line is, you don’t know.
Your predecessor may have started as enthusiastic as you, inspired by his wonderful job description, the same one you got. Only he found out that every time he wanted to change a program, he would encounter resistance from other leaders, from the board or the elders. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t change the parent’s perspective that teen ministry was just a more elaborate form of babysitting. Then there was the issue of the pastor’s son who was just a big pain in the neck in the youth ministry, but had to be endured to keep his daddy happy, and those two youth leaders who were really doing a bad job, but happened to be big contributors to the new building, so they had to stay as well. Wouldn’t that be enough to make you run screaming? (as a matter of fact, it just might!) Bottom line is, you don’t know.
Yes, of course I’ve made all the possibilities incredibly dramatic. I’m seriously hoping no one recognized them all from their own lives! But the point I’m trying to make is this: you don’t know the exact circumstances under which your predecessor had to do his job in his life, the job, the church, and everything around it. So don’t judge. In a few years, it may be you who’s leaving and who will need the grace of your successor. Because you shouldn’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins, right?
Have you ever thought or spoken badly about your predecessor? How did you feel about that afterwards? Or have you experienced your successor speaking negatively about you? It hurts, doesn’t it?