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.
When We Disappoint Our Students
As I was thinking about the experiences I’ve had with students, I found myself also thinking about the times when I disappointed some of my students. Yeah, it’s happened.
Like I shared in the earlier article, disappointment happens, and not just with our students. We can be just as disappointing. After all, at times we’re just adult versions of our teenagers. We make mistake just like they do. Thus, we can fall victim of disappointment.
I know we try our very hardest to keep every promise, grant every wish, and be all things to all students, but the reality is, at some point we’re going to slip up and someone is going to be disappointed by what we do or do not do. So what can you do when you find yourself in a situation where you have disappointed a student (or two, or three…)
1. OWN IT.
I have found it most helpful when I know that I’ve made a mistake to simply own it. Admit. Make it yours. acknowledge it. You messed up. But so does everyone else. The difference comes when you ‘fess up and deal with it. Nothing good ever comes from ignoring it or blaming someone else. In fact, I think it actually helps to build a strong idea of integrity when we humble ourselves and own our mistakes.
I can be stubborn when it comes to somethings. But when I know I am the one at fault, I know it’s my responsibility to say I’m sorry. When you know that you have let a student or even a parent down, for one reason or another, apologize to them. Let them know that you are aware from what happen, and that you are truly sorry for disappointing them.
3. NO EXCUSES.
Be honest with them. If you forgot to do something, then say that you forgot. Sure it’s lame and maybe you shouldn’t have forgotten, but you did. So don’t make up some crazy excuse that you were busy rescuing some neighbors cat from a tree and it slipped your mind. No, you forgot. Be honest with them and let them know the truth.
4. AVOID PROMISED THAT YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T KEEP.
Have you ever been in that situation where a student asks you to do something, and you know you can’t, but you don’t want to disappoint them by saying no? Warning!! Don’t make the promises or say yes to things that you know you probably can’t fulfill. Doing so only sets you up for failure and a great disappointment. It would be better to be honest from the beginning instead of creating false hope.
5. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES.
Okay, disappointment happens. Students disappoint their youth leaders. Youth leaders will disappoint their students. But if we learn from our mistakes and disappointments, it might help us to avoid those mistakes and disappointments in the future. Whether it was a promise or an oversight, recognize what it was that you did or didn’t do and make a note to be aware of that same thing in the future.
There is no magic formula to prevent disappointment. Disappointment is usually linked to the expectations that either we create or others project upon us. When those expectations aren’t met, disappoint ensues. It happens. But I do think that if we are aware of how we deal with disappointment, we will learn how to handle it better in the future.
As you think about disappointment as it relates to you as a youth worker, realize that at some point you too will let someone down. But how you conduct yourself in the moment will have a great impact on both the situation and the relationship.