Dodging Bullets: Defiant Dan
Dan is a fresh out of college where he studied youth ministry. He is full of ideas and energy, which makes him a very attractive candidate for most churches. Dan lands his first job at a small church near where he grew up. Dan sees loads of opportunity for growth and can’t believe how the material they use is so outdated.
Dan quickly becomes popular among the students. He listens to their stories and can’t believe how harsh all his students’ parents are to them. He is shocked to hear how little influence they have in their lives. Dan works to engage the students further, giving them fun options and outlets for them to express themselves.
Dan quickly moves to implement ideas that he learned in college and issues edicts on how he believes the youth ministry should proceed and tells the pastor he should get parents to lighten up. Dan sees the elders as a bunch of slackers, he feels that they aren’t visionary enough and lack true leadership because they refuse to make strong stands on about anything. Dan has an assigned Elder, Jake, but rarely ever follows up with him or approaches him because he’s ancient and many of his ideas remind him of flannel graph ministry.
Dan’s makes changes and imposes his agenda on his services, Sunday school and the children’s ministry. While he hasn’t said ‘my way or the highway,’ the volunteers at the church quickly sense this and start backing away from working with Dan. When offered advice or insight, Dan becomes dismissive because his plans have worked in big churches like Saddleback, Mars Hill and Willowcreek. Dan then decides to cancel his Wednesday night services and start small groups with no notice.
The Elders call him into a meeting where they quickly tell him he can’t change meetings without their approval. They state that small groups can’t be implemented the way he wants because many families in the community have to drive decent distances to get their kids to different locations. Dan becomes increasingly frustrated with the Elders and their ‘micromanaging.’ He gets indignant at the Elders’ mandating him to keep his Wednesday night service and cuts his entire ministry down to bear bones reactively at the rebuke of the Elders.
Seeking support and voices to be heard, he starts talking to the teens about how harsh the elders are. Effectively swapping war stories about how the authority figures in their lives are idiots. Dan grows increasingly bitter and chooses to move on to a new church where this cycle mysteriously repeats itself. Dan quickly gets dismissed from that job and works now at a local grocery store. He can’t believe how he’s been rejected by the church and sees this as a sign of suffering for Christ.
Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.
Many plans are in a man’s heart,
But the counsel of the LORD will stand
Dan is relegated to riding the bench. Once riding high and full of ideas, now he’s frustrated and just wants a church that will release him to do ministry.
Questions for Reflection?
– What assumptions did Dan make that set him up to fail?
– How could Dan have responded differently when his authority was challenged?
– How do you discern between critical people and helpful correction?
Dan has quite a few “spills on aisle 5” to clean before he learns the lesson that the problem was his pride. Dan automatically assumed that he was the smartest one in the room (always assume otherwise), he never sought input from the parents of his group, pastors and elders and used his students as a tool to make himself feel righteous rather than seeking wisdom to do so. Here’s a few more ways to avoid being Defiant Dan:
– It’s okay to have knowledge, but earn the right to be heard.
– Earn the right to change. If people don’t trust you they will have a hard time accepting change.
– Learn the culture of the church and its community. This includes finding out what has and has not worked before and what problems and barriers your families have (financial, transportation, scheduling multiple kids, etc.). Find solutions to your ministry addressing these barriers.
- Cultural Questions include: What is the work ethic of the community? (Tells you how hard and long you need to work.) How polished do my lessons need to appear? What is the educational level of the congregation? (may tell you what the goals parents have for their kids and what you need to focus on in terms of lessons.) What is the economic status of my church? (Tells you how to budget for events.) What are the biggest needs of my community? (Tells you how to serve and train your teens to serve the community.)
– While you shouldn’t pander to Elders, you should work to understand them and where they are coming from. They may have some ideas that would work. You can also play with those ideas to find other workable solutions.
– Get a mentor outside of your church so you can get honest and unbiased feedback.
– Be willing to accept that sometimes the problem lies with you. Repent when that happens and work towards restoration.
– Elder’s and Parents are like horses, they don’t do well when startled. The more feedback and lead into a change they get, the better this change might go. If you do face strong pushback then you have a chance to find middle ground to live on.
– Never pull students into conflicts with other adults and other leaders. It’s just not Biblical. You can get your ego stroked by your students, but it will destroy your standing with the church.