Dealing with Conflict in Youth Ministry

BY: Jason Sansbury


by Jason Sansbury

When you’ve been in ministry long enough (and sometimes when you’re just starting out), there are certain “moments” that you’ll experience. One of those moments is when the “haters” come for you. I wish I could tell you that being in the church world and in ministry meant that you wouldn’t have to deal with opposition, negativity, back-stabbing, name-calling, or any of the other attitudes that Jesus dealt with in his ministry. But I can’t in good conscience say that. Because the reality is that at some point, one of several scenarios is going to happen:

You are going to lead into some difficult changes.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “The only thing that likes change is a wet baby.” It’s true. And when you are guiding your ministry through changes, you are likely going to step on someone’s “favorite” part. For example, two years ago in my ministry we made the needed and desired change of splitting our youth group into separate middle school and high school Wednesday night programs. People were upset, frustrated, and convinced I was wrong. But two years later, our ministry is stronger because of that change. Part of leading through change and having vision means that you have to have the high up, helicopter view of the ministry, when the people involved (rightfully so) only have the view of what they are experiencing. In these moments, you need to communicate well, listen to what people are saying, and, if you are sure about the changes you are making, lead on.

You will experience miscommunication.

No matter how much and how often you say things, people always hear it through the filter of their experiences. So while you think you have been clear, someone else will remember or think something else, so be patient with them. Try and communicate well. If they are willing to sit down and talk to you, work through the situation as best you can.

You are going to be attacked.

This situation is the most difficult because there is nothing you can do to stop someone from attacking you. One of the things I say over and over again at the church I serve is that my door is always open and I am always willing to listen, to talk, and to try and understand. And while I realize that sometimes I am not a cuddly, teddy-bear kind of guy, you would think that most people would take me up on that invitation to come talk. And I thought that, too. But unfortunately, in the church environments I have worked and served in, that has rarely been the case. Instead what tends to happen is the following:

You have to choose. Think of ministry as a “choose your own adventure” book at this point. You have choices. You have control over how you react. That is it. So here are some of the things I have done, good and bad.

So, I am sorry if and when the “haters” come after you. And I am sorry when they come after me. Hopefully, you are working in an environment that really values the way Jesus talks about handling conflict (Matthew 18: 15-17) and you are able to work through the concerns and get to a healthier place. At a minimum, do what you can to try to bring peace to the relationships involved; at the heart of most conflicts are relational issues that you can hopefully resolve.

And if you can’t resolve the issues at hand, heed the words of Jesus in Luke 9:5, dust your sandals off, and move on. But do that with a clear conscience because you tried your best!


Jason Sansbury is the youth minister at Belle Meade United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.  Previously, Jason has served churches in Franklin, Tenn. and Georgia and has been on staff with YoungLife.  Additionally, Jason was one of the founding partners of Crossed-Up Ministries, a ministry specializing in putting together large worship events for youth groups.  He has a heart for helping young people find their call into ministry and succeeding early in their ministry and careers. For fun, Jason loves movies, music, and television. He is a fount of useless pop culture trivia and dreams of being a winner on the TV show Jeopardy.



Related Articles

Why are parents the way they are?


Why are parents the way they are? These two things will help you better understand parents By:  Rev. Dietrich Kirk   When I was a youth […]

“The Kid Who Questions Everything”


“The Kid Who Questions Everything” by Cory Peacock   There’s an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, written and drawn by the comic genius Bill Watterson, […]

8 Tips for Keeping Youth Involved and Listening


8 Tips for Keeping Youth Involved and Listening Let’s just be honest with the fact that not every lesson is going to be a success, and […]