When You’ve Hit Your Limit

This is a guest post on the topic of Student Ministry.  Dan Cooper has been a youth ministry volunteer for over 11 years, and started Ten Years Young out of a desire to share the lessons he’s learned, to learn from others, and to encourage other youth ministers.  He lives and works in Milwaukee.  Be sure to check out his blog.

photo by: www.empoweringparents.com
photo by: http://www.empoweringparents.com

I’d like to tell you that I am the most patient person you will ever meet. I’d like to tell you that I never run out of patience with a student; that I always love them like Jesus does, that I never come anywhere close to losing my temper with them, that even when they’re being incredibly difficult, I love them and gently correct them. I’d like to tell you all of those things, but I’d be lying. And the Bible has a few things to say about that, which is a totally separate issue (and a separate post).

Let’s face it: if you’ve been in youth ministry (or any kind of ministry, for that matter), paid or volunteer, for any length of time, you are going to have encounters with students that are going to try your patience. And it will likely be when you are away from home, on a trip with your students. And you will have one student who will make you want to turn to them and say, “there are seven trillion nerves in the human body, and you have managed to get on EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.” (7 trillion is an estimate. I Googled it). I know. I’ve been there. And what I’m going to tell you next isn’t anything you don’t already know, but it’s something that we all need to be reminded of (me especially): flying off the handle at a student (or students) is NEVER, EVER, EVER a valid option. You run the risk of causing emotional and psychological damage not only to the target of your wrath, but to any and all students who happen to witness the event, not to mention the potential for long-term, or even permanent, damage to the Kingdom. Truth be told, this applies just as much to whatever area of ministry or leadership you are in. Losing your cool will do far more harm than good.

I’m not going to tell you I have a solution for you when this problem arises. (If I did, I’d publish a book about it and make an insane amount of money). I will tell you that you need to do whatever it takes. Remove yourself from the situation if at all possible. Take deep breaths. Vent your frustrations to a trusted fellow youth worker in a safe place (where students will not hear the conversation), or with a fellow minister/leader. Hit the gym for some laps or some weights; the iron won’t mind your venting (but the gym management might, depending on where you train and how forcefully you vent). Even video games can be a good outlet; Halo used to be a form of therapy for me. If you must address the issue with the offending student/person, only do so once you have cooled down. But whatever you do, don’t take out your wrath on a student.

Bottom line:  Keep your cool, no matter what it takes.  The damage done in a moment of anger can take years to repair, if it can be repaired at all.

Thoughts?  Experiences?   Leave a comment below.

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