Hello Mr. President,
This isn’t going to be one of those letters. I know you have been getting quite a few hate filled letters from people who obviously are not your fans. I’m not really a fan of yours either, but I’m not writing about that today. I’m writing to give you some advice from my years as a youth minister which may be helpful. I found that working with people doesn’t really change across the boards so these things may be helpful to you. Or they may not be, I don’t know I’m just a former youth minister.
Don’t make changes too quickly!
This was something that my youth ministry professor stressed with us when I was in college. He wanted us to make sure that we had the right tools in ministry and I can tell you from experience he was right! You never want to jump right into a job, especially one of leadership and make changes too quickly. This tends to make those you are working with and leading to resent you. They had a set way of doing things that were working out pretty well before you got there. Sure, it may not be your style of doing things, but if you are in it for the long haul you’ll have time to make the changes you need to suit your way of doing things. Besides you may even find out that those other ways of doing things suit you just fine. Adaptability is key in the first few months to a year in a new position. Once you understand the people you are working with, and when they trust you enough, then and only then should you begin to make changes that you see fit.
I realize you’ve already done some things so far, it’s been a busy two and a half weeks, but you can still delay on all the other things you want to change. Don’t worry if it truly is a good and needed change you’ll still have time to make it.
Don’t bad mouth the last leader
You may be following the worst leader ever when you come into a new position, but it still doesn’t justify bad things being said. This goes for everything he/she did and all the recruits he/she put into place. Trust me, that person was facing some of the worst things in their own lives and careers just like you are going to. It is helpful to seek their advice and to praise what they accomplished. This goes hand in hand with not making changes too quickly. Even if they were the worst leader, they gained the trust of the people they were working with and were able to accomplish what they did for a reason. I have followed some amazing leaders and some not so amazing leaders. I’ve been called the devil by some of those former leaders (long story, ask me about it sometime). I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of belittling the last person to make yourself look better.
Okay, you have done some of this as well. It’s never too late to apologize. A little humility goes a long way!
Never stop growing
The moment that you feel you have it all figured out is the moment you fail. I can’t tell you the number of roadblocks I’ve faced because I felt that things were going along just fine and then… Even if you think you have the job completely figured out, you still have more to learn. One of the greatest things I learned in ministry was how to say “I don’t know, but let me try to figure it out.” I probably could have said that a lot more, but sometimes pride gets in the way. Never be too proud to say those words. Chances are people will help you figure it out! We are never the same person we were the day before. Oh here is another cliche you may hear a lot too, The only easy day was yesterday.
Listen to your haters
Sometimes your critics have important things to tell you. Granted, they come in pretty hurtful packages, but they are still important nonetheless. I have an example for this one. Okay, so you know how if you just read a word but never say it out loud your pronunciation of it can be way off what it should be? Well, I was performing in a show once and I had only ever read the word “respite”. I thought it was pronounced re-spite instead of res-pit. Lordy, did I hear it from a critic in the paper the next day about my pronunciation! I went and found the words that I mispronounced and made those changes. I think it was an excellent show after that. Remember that sometimes you got to take those things with a grain of salt, but try to find the truth in the things they are saying.
I realize you have many, many haters right now. But they have some important things to say. Many of them just want to make sure they are heard. Some of them are a bit hateful and don’t have much to say, but there are still those who have important things to say.
Love your neighbor as yourself
You are going to come up against things you don’t understand. You are going to meet people who are going to change your whole perspective on life. But that won’t happen unless you are open to it. Love, so often, is being able to see the small things in someone else that make them unique and valuable. Everyone has that thing, even you. I call that the spark of the Divine. Even the worst students I’ve encountered had the spark of the Divine in them. I can’t call any one human being evil or not of God because I’ve discovered that everyone, all life for that matter, has the spark of the Divine in it. When we work together, when we are all able to let that spark shine through that is when the world will be truly great again. So it means that sometimes we have to get out of the way, or not stand in the way of someone else letting their spark shine. That means allowing someone else the freedom to be who they are. I understand that is scary. I understand that it puts you at risk sometimes, but I know from experience that it is worth it.
I think you know where this applies, and I’m not going to tread on ground that so many others are treading right now.
Although I’m almost positive this would never get around to you. I still think this is advice that could be helpful. I am praying for you. I do have a little hope that you will finally figure out how to be a good leader. I’m not sure that I myself hold out a lot of hope for that, but I like to be surprised in good ways. These are just some of the issues that I think can be helpful to you.
A Former Youth Minister