Screamers, Gossip-Spreaders and Complainers

Sometimes you find yourself learning interesting things about your own life from total strangers, don’t you?

I recently flew across the country and sat next to a veteran labor and delivery nurse for several hours. As we chatted, I asked her what the most frustrating thing about her role in bringing new life into the world was.

She thought for a moment, and responded, “You know, with the rise of the internet and smart phones, everyone thinks they can just look up answers online and know more than any of the nurses or doctors. I constantly have people telling me that I’m not doing my job right–it’s so frustrating!”

Oh boy. I can sure relate to that.

In my experience, one of the most difficult parts of youth ministry is dealing with negativity. Our jobs are so public, our decisions and actions affect so many people, and our ministry “success” is often so hidden, that it’s a ripe target for others to speak negatively about us.

Before I served in the ministry, I assumed all people would be kind and caring in a church setting. I expected friendly smiles, cheerful hugs and positive appreciation for the low-pay, high-demand, never-actually-get-a-holiday job I do.

Instead, I found parents who would call me and scream at me over the phone, adults who would lie to my face and deny it, teenagers who would try to publicly embarrass me in front of their friends and individuals who would try to stir up trouble by spreading nasty gossip about all sorts of untrue things.

Those who haven’t served in ministry are absolutely shocked to hear just how often we church workers are attacked with negativity.

I won’t recount how many needlessly negative emails and conversations I’ve experienced in my years in ministry. On one occasion, I even had a parent walk into my office and ask if I was “the devil” and question whether or not I should be involved in leading youth…just because she didn’t agree with a simple curriculum choice I made.

I’m not saying my ministry is perfect, or that I’m a flawless human being. But anyone who’s served in the ministry knows just how much criticism is dished out, over nearly every decision made. And while occasionally a helpful change can be gleaned from a negative person’s criticism, it’s most often hurtful and harmful toxicity that isn’t beneficial for anyone.

People have their own issues to work through, and sometimes they attack others because of a lack of control in their own lives. Often, their demeaning or angry behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you–you’re just an easy target because of your position. Other times, they have no idea just how hurtful they are and think without speaking. Still others are truly lethal people and are intentionally trying to destroy the church and its workers however they can.

What I’ve realized is that negative behavior is a reflection of those who are giving in to it–it gives me a true glimpse of what kind of a person they are, and what’s going on in their lives. It’s not a reflection of me, despite what they want me to feel.

Often, negative people just want to “push buttons” and get a reaction out of you. Although it’s not easy to be objective when you’re under attack, it is helpful to assess what sort of negativity affects you the most, because this helps you learn about yourself.

Ask yourself–is it feeling like you’re not good enough? Or feeling guilty? Or feeling out of control? Or doubting your decisions? Why are you having those reactions to their comments, and what can you do to change those feelings? Learning how to manage these feelings will help you develop into a stronger, well rounded and aware leader…and it will strip those negative people of any power they have over you.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to identify those negative people in your life who drain you of energy, bring your happy spirit crashing to the ground, and who constantly criticize or complain to you and about you, so you’re aware of them when they come waltzing into your life. Relationship experts advise staying away from these people in one-on-one situations, and avoiding hot-button issues if you have to talk to them.

I have been blessed by having incredible friends as a support system–people in my church who regularly lift me up in prayer, who speak positively about my ministry, and who shower me with encouragement constantly. They’ve been a lifeline for me. If you don’t have a support network like this, ask the Holy Spirit to bring specific people to mind and broach the subject of support to them.

As adults setting an example for youth, our primary focus in the face of negativity should be to remember who we belong to–we belong to a God of endless love and forgiveness. As Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Keep yourself grounded in Scripture, and allow God’s Word to soak through your heart. Be saturated in the knowledge that you are loved by your Savior and are working as a result of thankfulness for the incredible sacrifice He made, and those arrows of negativity won’t pierce through your armor so easily to wound your spirit.

And hopefully the next time you’re seated on a plane and talking about the most frustrating part of your job, you’ll be able to smile and respond honestly–without unleashing about the negative people in your life.