This post is the very first in a blog series we did at VolunteerYouthMinistry.com. We originally planned to only write this post, but then it evolved into a 10-week commitment. After 10 weeks we realized we had way too much to say, so we ended up writing posts every week for about 6 months. The original post can be found here.
Steven: Something that seems so simple, yet so many leaders struggle to demonstrate, is in the area of language and speech. What a lot of us don’t remember is that we’re constantly being watched. Students soak up everything we do like sponges, so it is extremely important that we remind ourselves to be on the lookout for inappropriate language. We have to remember that leadership isn’t just about preaching and telling people what to do; it’s about leading by example. We can’t expect students to learn anything we teach if we’re not living out those concepts in our own lives. So many people follow the “do as I say, not as I do” principle, but as leaders in youth ministry, we should really be doing the opposite. If one of the guys in my junior high small group sees me with my buddies talking exactly like they hear at school on a daily basis, they’re not going to see a leader, and they’re definitely not going to learn anything about how they should be living their lives as Christ followers. We should be committed to being the ultimate example.
Matt: Little pictures have big ears. Teens today have been shown in school and in the media that offensive language is okay, comedians can’t do a stand up comedy act without dropping the “F” bomb throughout their act. TV shows and websites that teens are exposed to on a daily basis regularly use foul and offensive language to the point we have almost become immune to the words. Students need to have a leader who stands above that, and uses language that lifts people up, is not demeaning and makes fun of them and tears them down. They need leaders who set the example. You may think how you talk in front of your friends, when students are not around won’t affect how you talk in front of teens…but it does. You can’t compartmentalize your language and talk one way in front of students and one way in front of others. The filter will fail when you least expect it, and you just became a very poor example to your students. Some leaders try to “fit in” with the students and use offensive language because they hear teens talk that way. That just further shows your students that foul language is okay. They need a leader that takes the high ground in this area.
So what do I do if I slip up and say something I shouldn’t have in front of students?
STEVEN: Sometimes foul language doesn’t just mean “bad words.” Last year in my junior high small group, I had a student with a mentally handicapped brother. We’ll call this student Johnny. Before small group one night, we were all hanging out, playing a few games, and someone slipped up and said an inappropriate word. Unfortunately the person who said the word didn’t realize that Johnny had a mentally handicapped brother, and Johnny overheard him. Johnny was very upset and explained to the group what his brother’s situation was. The word that was said that night wasn’t necessarily a word that people know as one of the “bad words,” but it does cause a lot of conflict. My co-leader and I made it a point to make sure we weren’t saying that word outside of group, and explained to the group that it wasn’t something that anyone should be saying. My co-leader and I wanted to be the ones to set the example of not using that kind of language, regardless of how accepted it has become in common language.
MATT: When it happened to me, my first thought was to just pretend it didn’t happen, maybe they didn’t notice. However, when you do that, you condone that kind of language because it is guaranteed that they heard it (I’m not exactly a person who can be described as quiet). So I stopped and apologized to my guys and made it a point to them that the word I used was something that has no place in my vocabulary and shouldn’t be in theirs either. I used that night as a learning experience. I want to be the example to them, not the guy that has to use expletives to get his point across. I also challenged them to look at how they talk with their friends outside of church. Common is talking like your friends do. Uncommon is daring to step out there and say I’m not going to use that kind of language, and I’m going to be the example in my group.