A couple of days ago I was reading Randy Elrod’s blog. Though I am a new reader, I have found his thoughts to be little sparks for creativity. In his post about how compliments don’t mean much, he throws out an idea that stuck with me.
Empathy as he describes it:
“Empaths are so extremely sensitive that they will often feel what is happening to other people more so than they will feel it if it were happening to them. Because of this they will ignore their own needs. They will often find it hard to process when someone thanks them or gives them a compliment. They don’t understand gratitude because they don’t understand any other way of thinking and they are much more likely to pay someone else a compliment than to take one themselves.”
I immediately starting thinking about youth ministry. I have seen pastors super-impose their own situations on the people the minister to without giving a second thought to its relevance. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen pastors who can’t share anything personal with their congregants. Both of these are signs of emotional immaturity.
There is a certain need for empathy in youth ministry. It seems obvious that youth workers need to put their needs aside and be sensitive to the needs of their youth. Here’s where I have gotten it wrong:
1. Program Driven – I am a recovering task master. Nothing makes me feel like seeing a great program executed. I can’t tell you how many times I have let a teens needs take second place to the execution of a (my) program.
2. Self-Worth – When I feel insecure about what I am doing, I look for affirmation in all the long places (sounds like a punk rock rip off of the country song). This never works. If I get affirmation, I discount it. If I don’t, I feel like I am not appreciated.
3. Performance – If neither of the previous techniques works, I often turn to how well I do my job. The only measurables that matter at this point are bodies and signs of change. So I take out the magnifying glass and start to pat myself on the back. While I’m doing this, I miss what is going on around me.
The thing about these three ways I go wrong (there are more than three, trust me) is that they all focus on me instead of the needs of my charges. Easily I can go a season without falling into one of these patterns, but I find that a little introspection shows little signs of lack my of empathy.