One Church Crisis

One Church Crisis

Mary-Jane Konings

One Church Crisis

by Mary-Jane Konings

When Jo started his first full time job as a paid youth worker, he walked into a seething mass of discontent.

The youth group thought the minister was a heretic, the caretaker blamed the youth for every cleaning disaster and the minister hated the loud music. The youth worker copped the blame from all sides.

“I’ve always tried really hard to respect the minister, ” says Jo. “But that situation was really hard. The youth leaders were resentful and rebellious. They had no respect for the minister and they did not trust him one little bit. There was a huge gulf between them.”

The caretaker was not happy with the young people either. “He didn’t know any of them personally” says Jo. “So, whatever the mess was, it was the young people’s fault.”

The first step was building relationships.

“I listened a lot” says Jo. “I got on well with the minister. He was supportive and we enjoyed many fruitful discussions. And I spent lots of time listening to the hurt of the youth leaders. Then I went to all the meetings I could. I met the Woman’s Fellowship, the Friendship Club, the Op Shop helpers, the lawn mowers, anyone and everyone who had something to do with the church.”

It turned out there were some genuine concerns.

Part of the problem was that the minister loved to preach thought provoking, sometimes controversial sermons. Often he would mention something quite outrageous to shake people up. The trouble was, some of the youth leaders would get so upset by this they could think of nothing else for the rest of the service. They completely missed the point which would balance the message. Of course, they never came to another service or if they did, they made sure they didn’t listen.Being a doctor, the minister peppered his talks with theological terms which was fine if you had a solid background of study in the area but was completely lost on most of the young people. They simply didn’t understand what he was going on about. His language style made the content inaccessible.

Another problem were the occasions where the minister lost his temper. “I understood where the youth leaders were coming from much better once I had experienced that first hand,” explains Jo. “They were shocked that a minister could get so angry, understandably so. But then none of them were perfect and neither was I! “”The big problem for me was that the youth leaders were passing on their bad attitude to the kids. There was a whole culture developing, based on lack of respect for authority. I mean, kids push the boundaries all the time, but there are limits. I spent a lot of time modelling better behaviour and a more tolerant attitude. It became easier as we got to know each other, and they realised that perhaps their expectations had been unrealistic.”

“My wife challenged the minister on his use of language. I think that helped him remind him that he didn’t have an audience of eager beaver theological students but rather a bunch of high schoolers who just wanted to be told the truth. They didn’t want to think through things, they just wanted to get on. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but that’s the way it was.”

Later, the minister at the centre of this particular crisis moved on.

“You’d think that would be the end of it but actually the new minister’s arrival raised a lot of those old issues. He expected respect and they assumed he was untrustworthy. Those young adults still find it really hard to trust a minister. While it was difficult at times, I think we are in a much healthier place than we were. The current group of young people don’t have the same baggage.”

And now …

Six years on from his initial appointment, Jo is pragmatic about the progress the group has made. “Those experiences are part of the story of this youth group. There are still some residual effects, although nowhere near as strong as when we started. But the crisis will always be a part of their history. I just hope that we can all learn from the experience and move on.”Names and situations have been altered to protect privacy.