If I could sum up most of what I preach to teenagers in one word it would be the word: grow. Grow towards God. Grow in your faith. Grow in love and grace. Grow by reading your bible, praying, serving others, attending church and youth events. The way I am told to grow professionally is by reading, listening to podcasts, studying the bible, praying, attending conferences, and networking with other youth pastors. Yes, these are all ways to grow. However, in all my years of youth ministry, I experienced the most growth by embracing conflict. Conflict is a pain, but it’s also the fire that refines and sharpens my skills when I take time to learn something from it.
I will never forget one fire that I went through with a parent who was always on my case about everything. This parent criticized me constantly, and nothing I ever did was good enough. They even wrote a six-page letter of everything they thought I did wrong and presented it to the staff committee. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t enjoy the joys at youth group, I couldn’t focus on my job, and I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. I almost took a new job because it was that bad.
Eventually the fire passed. I found out this parent had some personal problems that were coming out in unhealthy ways. I was grateful I didn’t quit. After the conflict, a mentor took me out to lunch. She asked me a question I will never forget. “I know what you went through was ridiculous, and I am sorry for the pain it caused you. But is there anything you can take away from it all that will help you grow?”
I thought long and hard…“I suppose I could try to communicate more details to help parents who are super planners.”
“Great! Now take all of the other criticisms swirling around in your head and just let them go. You can’t win over everyone and you don’t need to.” She said.
I asked God to help me let go and forgive. Then I chose to focus on my job and all the other amazing ways God was at work. Taking a moment to learn something, and then letting the rest go cleared a path for new growth to happen. The conflict was the fire that refined me to be a better Youth Pastor. I learned to stop living for the approval of others. It taught me a posture of openness and endurance. I learned to look for something beautiful out of the ugly. This was one of the first big conflicts in my early years of youth ministry. Yet, it was the fire that refined me in preparation for the many years of ministry that followed this. Now, whenever conflict raises it’s head, I know the flames will not consume me as long as I learn something and let go of the rest. Give it time, and eventually something beautiful always rises from the ashes.