This year’s theme is “The People.” Today we are exploring…

The People who push back

andrew s

Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.

Personal confession: I’m that guy. The one who, when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” pipes up with, “What if you’re totally wrong?” or “I see where you’re coming from, and what if we did the complete opposite?” I push back. I am a dissenter.

Now that I have a position in charge of things I’m not a huge fan of people like me. I don’t appreciate being questioned at every turn. I like to pretend I have things under control, and I don’t like my plan being second-guessed.

How much easier would our jobs be if everyone agreed and went along with the plan? If everyone shared our vision, if all those involved snapped into formation and understood our process like we do then our ministries would go swimmingly. You have your ideas and plans, and everyone around jumps in and makes it happen. What’s that? You want to change a few calendar items because a different time might work better? Hooray! All the parents are on board! Your support staff supports you! Your volunteers are at your beck and call! Are you laughing yet?

I don’t like having myself in groups. One of me is enough. Several of me is a nightmare, or it was until I realized how great it could be. Not me specifically, just people who are ok with dissent. Emphasis on could, because it’s all about perspective. There was a time when I had all the answers, but thankfully I’ve learned quite a bit since then. Honestly, if everyone I work with, youth and adults, fell in line every time I had a plan I would be terrified. I think that’s when I would start fearing for my job, or my life, or both.

I don’t like to compare myself to Jesus, but I do enjoy trying to emulate Him. I’ve learned from the Gospels that those who push back aren’t always your enemy. Usually, the one’s who question you are almost always on your side, trying to get there, or even attempting to help you.

People who push back challenge us. They make us second-guess and evaluate the choices we make. They can be a source of inspiration or a source of panic; it’s your choice.

I’m sure there are leadership books that will advise you to rule with an iron fist because you’re the minister and you are in charge. I hope not, I don’t read leadership books because that’s the perception I have of them. When you get push back take the opportunity to discover why, because more often than not the people pushing back have a vested interest in your ministry and valid opinions. If you lift weights you know that no one gets stronger without increased resistance. If you’re a gamer you know that you can’t level up without facing a challenge. I do both, neither well, but when people push back I say, “Game on.”

“Hey can we talk?” a variant of “We need to talk.” Either way you read them, arguably among the most anxiety inducing four words in the English language.

I received this text message a few months ago. I wasn’t dating anyone and the parent of a 7th grader was responsible, so I was more intrigued than terrified. The parent that sent this particular text had in recent months also become of my go-to volunteers, one of my heavy-hitters, and I already knew she was invested in our ministry, so with a mild apprehension I replied, “absolutely!” She came with backup, they had constructive criticism, questions, multiple suggestions, and most importantly they were on board with all of it.

The people who push back make us stronger.

My conversation with these parents revealed no less than three opportunities to increase participation for our students, nothing major, but opportunities to plug in outside our regularly schedule programming. Opportunities that they were not only willing to take on themselves, but that I either hadn’t thought of or simply hadn’t been able to enact on my own.

I had only been in my current position two weeks when I broke the cardinal rule of youth ministry. I killed the sacred cow. I put the kibosh on a long-standing, budget sucking, poorly attended event and replaced it with another. I know, cringe. I had multiple parents approach me to warn me how upset “some people” would be. Internally, I panicked. Who the heck was I to change everything? I’m just a kid!

The people who push back make us question our motives.

(Wait, I’m not a kid, I’m the Youth Minister. I’ve evaluated every angle from budget to participation to leadership to effort and planning and I can say that I’m 100% confident this is the right decision.)

I pored over the details of that particular event, doubled check my reasoning, and asked for backup. I walked into each situation confident that I was doing the right thing. It forced some difficult conversations, but evaluating my process ensured that I made a healthy decision.

Of course there are people who tiptoe across the line from push back to full-blown pain in the back door, some pole vault. These people are the worst. We can all commiserate over those who exist only to whine about perceived slights. But even those dufuses invite us to question, re-evaluate, and re-examine, more often than not the desire they create is to re-evaluate them right in the face but hopefully in your life they’re the rare exception.

I’ve learned, more often than not, if people take the time to push back in any way in your ministry, it’s because they care and they’re invested. People understand the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the cart pusher isn’t allowed to strangle the squeaky wheel. As those pushing the cart we’re required to be understanding, we’re asked to question, and we’re called to be gracious.