Text messages of “I can’t come tonight” or “I need to study” the day of your discipleship meeting is incredibly frustrating. You have invested significant time in preparing and have set aside more time to teach them. So how do you protect your time as a leader? What do you do when girls begin to flake out?
3 Tips for Troubleshooting Problems
1. Make expectations clear.
I have my girls sign a discipleship contract. I also try to go over it with their moms to make sure everyone is on the same page. It lays out my goals, expectations, materials needed and the plan for the year. When setting expectations, there are a few things I keep in mind.
•Be realistic. Girls are often balancing school, work and often 1-2 extracurricular activities. Discipleship is demanding, but should not be a burden.
•What you expect, you also must be willing to inspect. For this reason, I keep things simple. I require three things from my girls: 75% attendance at small group and church, 75% attendance at discipleship group and serving in some capacity bi-weekly. This is easy for me to track – all I need to do is check in with a couple Sunday School teachers and build in time during small group to share how serving is going in their various roles.
Click here to look at my discipleship contract for 2016!
2. Give lots of grace.
Choose carefully what hills you want to die on. I personally don’t die on the hill of punctuality. We start at “7:00pm,” but I know they will drift in until 7:15pm. It doesn’t bother me and I’ve actually found it can give me one-on-one time with each of them depending on who arrives when each week.
Whatever the issue, my goal is to respond instead of react. Balancing life is a challenge regardless of whether you are an adult or a teenager and I want discipleship group to be a safe place for them to fail. Personally I know some of my most life-changing moments with mentors happened when I knew I messed up and they loved me anyway.
3. Have the conversation.
When problems become patterns though, it’s time for a conversation. These conversations are almost always uncomfortable and if you are like me – I hate conflict. Looking back, I often handled it the wrong way.
One year I had a sweet girl who had been consistent at first, but later cancelled repeatedly the day of our meeting. One week became two which became three. I said nothing and frustratingly concluded that she didn’t value my time or the time we spent together (can you tell I’m a quality time girl?). Our meetings just faded out.
Instead of having an uncomfortable yet constructive conversation as a leader, I let frustration build up and checked out instead of addressing the behavior. It was a poor decision and an experience I learned a few things from.
Principles for Having the Conversation
- Look for underlying reasons. – You may have gotten a lame excuse, but there may be more to the story. It can be a simple question like “Jane, I’ve noticed that you have been gone a lot recently. Is everything okay?” There may not be a good reason, but asking is better than assuming and finding out the hard way that you were wrong.
- Specifically address the behavior. – “Jane, we agreed to meet every other Monday. The past three Mondays, however, you cancelled the day we were supposed to meet.”
- Give options or explain next steps. – “I am willing to plan to meet with you again next Monday. If, however, you are needing to cancel regularly – we will stop meeting.” Or “With all your other commitments, I don’t think it’s wise to continue trying to meet. If you want, we can revisit the possibility in six months.”
- Affirm her. – This is a long-term effort that can’t be conveyed in words. I may say something like “Still keep me in the loop – I want to hear how soccer is going!” but my words and actions are going to convey in the next few weeks whether I am upset or angry with her.
There is always a tension that comes with girls’ discipleship (and really student ministry as a whole). As student leaders we want to lead, but we also want students to like us. The good news is that we can often have both! Our priority to lead well, however, must always trump our desire to be liked. When the two conflict, we fix our eyes on Jesus – the friend of sinners – and prayerfully seek wisdom on how to imitate His example of being full of grace and truth.