Has it happened to you?
A student seems to have it all together: He or she gets good grades, is active in school clubs and sports, and regularly participates in youth group. This student even shared his or her testimony at the last retreat. This is a student who makes you proud to be a youth worker. But then it happens.
What’s it? It is some kind of mistake. It doesn’t really matter what the mistake is—suddenly, your student has disappointed you.
Disappointment doesn’t only happen when the “star” students fall—other students will disappoint you as well. I know, because it’s happened to me. Students don’t show up when they promise to. They forget about important ministry events. You find out that they lied to you about something. They change their plans at the last minute because a better invitation comes along.
So what do you do when students disappoint you?
When it comes to disappointment, I try to remember three things:
1. Disappointment is Inevitable.
At some point, you will experience disappointment. Even Jesus knew disappointment! Peter denied him, James and John wanted to call fire from heaven, and Jesus shared his final meal with the one who would betray him—he had to have felt disappointment, because he was just as much human as he was God.
Your students will disappoint you, because they’re human, just as you are. They make mistakes, just like you do. They forget, just like you do. They say things they don’t mean, just like you do. It will happen more than once. Unfortunately, it’s part of our DNA. We mess up, and that leads to disappointment.
2. Grace. Forgiveness. Love.
When students disappoint you, offer grace, forgiveness, and love.
Show them grace. As a believer, you know the benefit of the grace that has been shown to you. Grace gives you hope. Grace is the gift of reconciliation between what’s pure and what’s fallen. It’s what leads to forgiveness and love. And it’s given freely—you don’t need to earn it.
Forgive them. Regardless of what they’ve done, forgive them completely. Don’t bring it up again. I’ve always loved the scene in the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Edmund is reunited with his siblings.
Aslan comes up behind Edmund and says to Peter, Susan, and Lucy, “What’s done is done. There is no need to speak to Edmond about what has passed.” Forgiveness is choosing to let it go and never bring it up again.
Love them. That scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe continues: Aslan walks away and Edmund stands before his brother and sisters with an uncomfortable look of shame, guilt, and embarrassment on his face. It’s awkward, but only for a moment, because Lucy lunges forward and embraces her brother. Her love for him allows her to quickly move away from judgment.
3. Learn from the Disappointment
As with everything you experience in life and in ministry, there’s an opportunity to learn something from disappointment. In the moment you might feel frustration, sadness, hurt, or even anger, but in the experience there will be a lesson for you. Learn from it. Let it help you the next time you find yourself in a similar circumstance.
It would be great if we could walk through our seasons of ministry with no one ever letting us down, but that’s not realistic. Disappointment will come. But keep these three thoughts in mind, and maybe it will be a little easier to deal with disappointment the next time it happens. Reach out to the students who disappoint you. Share with them how you feel about what happened. Don’t shame them. If the offense is something significant, they may already feel the weight of their actions. Choose to be like Jesus, and love them where they are.
JAY HIGHAM is a 25 year veteran of student and family ministry; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently the Youth Director at Hickory Church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for 20 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and resourcing and training fellow youth workers. You can learn more about Jay and his ministry to students and families by visiting his blog at WWW.JAYHIGHAM.COM!