Two Powerful People – Cleaning up your messes

Ben Serpell

I have spent over ten years involved in youth ministry and have had the privilege of working with hundreds of teenagers and young adults. This has provided great opportunities to help them solve life problems and work through their mistakes. One story I would like to tell goes as follows:

The lead youth pastor had taken 25+ youth to England and left me in charge of the leadership team. Not only was I in charge of the team but it was also my first time speaking at this our youth ministry. As the service begun to wrap up, a security guard who had a problem with someone in our group approached me. At some point during the meeting, a young man from our group was in the lobby and found himself very upset with the security guard, to the point of using foul language and yelling to make his point. When tempers subsided, I took this boy aside and asked if he was ready to “clean his mess up” with the security guard? He responded with a firm, “NO!” I told this young man, he was free to return to our youth ministry, as soon as his mess was cleaned up.  I had enough relationship with this young man to put this strong requirement in front of him while maintaining that connection. The last thing I told him was, “take your time.”  This was not my problem, nor my mess, I did however tell him if he needed help in anyway to let me know, but kept the boundary in tact. The week went on with no contact from this young man.

As youth group night approached the following week, I received a distress call from the young man. He hadn’t yet cleaned his mess up, but really wanted to be at the next service. I reminded him, “You are more than welcome to return, as soon as your mess is cleaned up.” I reminded him how much I loved him, and to take as long as he needed. I saw him that next Sunday, wearing a proud smile on his face. He found the security guard, and apologized for the way he acted, and assured him he would protect others from his anger. With great joy I hugged him and said well done! The best person to work on a problem is the owner of that problem. By letting him be powerful and teaching him how to tell himself what to do created ownership. I knew it was important not to distract him with my own anger or emotions but to let him go to work on the cleaning up the mess himself.

As a leader or parent, I can only control myself, and to believe I can control anyone else is a lie. I do however control resources, permission and opportunity. This young man learned a powerful lesson, in personal responsibility and cleaning up his mistakes… something we can all learn, as we ALL make mistakes.

Ben Serpell

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