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Youth Ministry Leadership Quick Tip: Ask and Listen

The following is part of the on the go training that I’ve begun to give our adult leaders in our youth ministry. The principles should be transferrable to other youth ministries with small group programs.

Broken Interwebs

“The Internet is not working.” Five words that strike fear into the core of my existence. I heard these words often during my time in college as a systems administrator. Almost invariably, a client would be calling from a remote office where he couldn’t get to the documents that he had saved to our network.

Unfortunately, the initial diagnosis, “the internet is not working,” was usually inaccurate. For such a large, distributed system as the internet, it works rather consistently. Usually, the problem was more localized. And so, I would begin asking questions.

“Is your computer on? Ok. Is the computer plugged into the router? Ok. Is your router on?” And so the interrogation would go, until I found the one or more breaks in the line between the internet and the person’s computer. Usually it was a modem. Sometimes it was a loose plug. But the only way to figure it out was to ask the right questions and listen attentively.

More Questions Lead to Better Answers

I’m thankful that I’ve moved away from those weekend support calls. Nevertheless, the art of listening has been invaluable in youth ministry. Although no one is coming to me about their internet woes, I am faced with variations of the five words, “my life is not working.” But often times when teens come to me and say this, I can’t just take things at face value. I have to do some digging through thoughtful questions and active listening to get to the root issues.

“My life is a mess!”

“How so?”

“Well, my parents are angry at me because I’m doing bad at school. And my friend has been talking behind my back, and my grandfather just died and…”

Dr. Rod Mays, an instructor of pastoral counseling at RTS, describes this process asking questions to dig deeper as “peeling the onion.” When we are patient enough to ask good questions, it helps get beyond the surface of the “onion” and get to the deeper challenges and motivations of the heart. Instead of immediately launching into a solution or a prescription for “more Bible or prayer time” (though they may be needed), it’s important to seek to address the deeper issues of the heart. And this only happens when you slow down enough to ask good questions and then listen, without seeking to immediately give an answer. And unlike the tech industry, it is at this point that empathy is as important as having a “solution.”

Ask good questions, and intend to listen to the person’s response.