When Your Students Don't Like You
I can’t say that I’ve ever had a student tell me that they don’t like me to my face.
Although I have witnessed them say it with an eye roll, a heavy sigh, or to another student.
I can honestly admit that I have had my feelings hurt several times in youth ministry. While I haven’t been in this field as long as others, I truly believe that hurtful actions or words from a student will always have a negative effect on you. However, even though what they say and do might hurt your feelings, I also believe that we have to come to a point where we realize that student ministry is not necessarily a field where our sole desire is to be liked.
Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way saying that you need to set out to be your students’ worst enemy. It’s important to establish rapport, as well as relationships among them; but we must never let that completely override our calling of ministry. Let me elaborate with an example:
Not too long ago, I realized I had some students in my youth group that just seemed to want to do their own thing. Church wasn’t a big deal to them and they never failed to remind me of that. They would fall asleep in Bible Study, fail to participate in events, and when I asked them why they came to church, all I got in return was, “My parents force me.” For awhile I was nice. A little too nice. I let their poopy attitudes slide. I ignored their rudeness. Yet there came a time where I began to notice that their behavior was not only setting a poor example for others, but it was also bad for them spiritually. Finally, I decided to approach them about it. I did my best to speak the truth in love, but unfortunately, all I got in return were rolled eyes and angry looks. Not just once, but constantly. I would venture to say that these kids hated me. Their dislike for me hurt my feelings and there were so many times I thought it would be easier to just cave and let them do what they wanted. Nevertheless, I didn’t.
Here’s why you shouldn’t either:
1. We are Called to Be Their Youth Minister, Not Their Friend. As much as I would have loved giving in to allowing these students to behave however they wanted just to be liked by them, I knew that this was not what God would want me to do as their youth leader. I had been called to point them toward the Lord. Not just with a Bible Study lesson, but though holding them accountable for their actions, as well. How could I preach to them to live for Jesus and not redirect them when I saw that they were doing the complete opposite?
Yes, calling your students out on their actions might make them hate you—and that’s okay. You are doing what God has put you there for: to minister, to hold your group accountable, and to encourage them to live a life that honors God.
2. They Might Hate Us Now, but Redirecting their Actions Will be Helpful in the Long Run: Those eye rolls, heavy sighs, and whispers behind your back? Yeah, they’re not that fun. But they’re worth it. This is what I had to tell myself when I had yet another encounter with those students that seemingly despised me. I would always remind myself that even though they might not realize it, this will help them in their spiritual growth. It will also set an example for other students in the group.
If that’s the case, then you, too, can put up with a little eye rolling for a while.
3. We are Pulling Them Out of Their Comfort Zones: God does not call us to live in a place of comfort. Luke 9:23 tells us that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily as we follow Jesus. My students might be disgusted with me for asking them to participate or to put their phone up during service, but that’s fine. I am showing them that sometimes, you’ve got to go beyond that place that’s comfortable in order to experience the Lord in an incredible way.
Keep this in mind the next time a high schooler gets angry with you for asking them to spend time with a middle schooler, or when you get the stank face from that kid you told to put their phone away. You are pulling them out of that place of ease that they long to stay in, and it’s not comfortable for them. One day, though, they will realize that there’s so much more on the other side of that comfort zone.
Wouldn’t it be nice if youth ministry were just one big, happy, get-together? If every student trusted your guidance and stank faces were non-existent? LOL. We can only dream. Since they’re not, my hope is that we will all stay reminded that what God is doing in our youth groups is so much bigger than the bad attitudes our students give us at times. I’m reminded of what the Bible says in Hebrews 12:11:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (NIV)
On those days where you think you just can’t handle another heavy sigh of irritation, know that you are doing what’s right. And if that doesn’t help you stay encouraged, know that teenagers are often very fickle—they might hate you one day and then like your Instagram picture the next.
Hang in there ;)