One of the most common complaints about ministries to children and teens is that leaders don’t listen. What volunteers, parents and young people mean is not that they aren’t allowed to tell leaders something (although in extreme cases that is also true). What they are expressing is that if they notice a problem or have an idea for something new, it is as if leaders pat them on the head and send them on their way without ever really considering what is being shared.
Not every criticism is valid and not every idea will improve your ministry, but every person who comes to you deserves to be listened to actively and to have what they said prayerfully considered by leaders with open minds. When we refuse to listen – really listen – to others, we put our ministries in jeopardy. It seems like weekly a youth or children’s ministry worker or volunteer is arrested for molesting young people. How many of those cases could have been prevented if leaders had listened to concerned volunteers, parents and young people?
Often people involved with your ministry having training and experiences you don’t. By refusing to consider any idea that isn’t generated by you, your ministry isn’t as effective as it could be. God created the church and its ministries to be team sports. When you refuse to seriously consider the ideas of others, you are like the basketball player who refuses to pass to the guy with an open shot.
So what two words can transform your ministry? “Yes, and”. If you’ve ever watched an improv performance you will see that the players aren’t allowed to reject any suggestion given. If they don’t like it, they still must address it, but can then tweak it by saying (in their minds or aloud) “Yes, and”. Those words need to be your first response to anyone who comes to you about anything regarding your ministry.
What does this look like in a ministry setting? When someone comes to you with a complaint, instead of brushing it off or becoming defensive, try “Yes, and can you tell me more?” Often people will only make a surface level complaint as a sort of trial balloon. If they sense you are truly listening, there is often additional information they have that you need to make a better decision about what is being shared.
When someone comes to you with an idea, instead of metaphorically patting them on the head and sending them on their way, why not try “Yes, and can you give me ideas for the best way to implement that if we decide to do it?” or “Yes, and can you share with me how you believe our Bible students will benefit from that idea” or even “Yes, and can you tell me more?”
“Yes, and” makes people feel heard because it forces you to listen to them express themselves fully. It gives you more information to help you make a better decision. It helps you give appropriate feedback, instead of feedback based on assumptions you might be tempted to make without a full understanding of what the person is trying to communicate.
“Yes, and” takes a little more time, but leaves volunteers, parents and students feeling less frustrated. It encourages people to give you information you need to know to protect the young people in your care. It allows you to tap into the knowledge, training and experiences of others to enhance your ministry. “Yes, and” may truly be the key to transforming your ministry.