Managing Favoritism

By Syler Thomas | High School Pastor, Christ Church Lake Forest, Chicago, Ill.; | December 21 2009

"It seems like our ministry team meetings are just when you have fun with all of your favorites. I don't want to be a part of it anymore."

It was like I'd just gotten socked in the stomach. Stephanie had joined our newly formed ministry team the summer before her senior year. This was now the end of her senior year, and she'd soured on the group. Until I read her evaluation, I hadn't realized why. Stephanie felt like I'd chosen favorites, and she wasn't one of them. Stephanie refused to speak with me after that, despite several attempts to contact her; she truly was done with our ministry.

I was a relatively new youth pastor and hadn't meant to choose favorites; but the reality was that my preference for certain students over others was obvious, and she felt left out.

Looking back, I realize I wasn't being strategic with how I used my time and was not aware of the fact that others took notice. I tended to spend much of my time with just those students whose company I most enjoyed, though I had a nagging feeling I should be reaching out more. Though I felt compelled to call every student on our list because I hated thinking about a student who felt excluded, I didn't call the entire youth group every time I wanted to invite some to my home. That meant I gravitated mostly to those students I thought of first. I never intended to ignore Stephanie. In fact, I really liked her and was excited she was a part of our ministry; but because I hadn't addressed the fact that she was looking for my attention, she felt ignored.

This episode with Stephanie shook me and caused me to evaluate how I spent my time with students. Does this sound at all familiar? The reality is, we're all naturally drawn to people we like and to people like us; but as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to do better.

The Allure of the Popular Kids

It's sad to say, but some of us are still as drawn to the popular crowd as we were when we were in school. It's still an honor to be considered cool by the cool kids. If we're not careful, we can find ourselves bending over backwards to impress them. Jesus' model in this regard is illuminating.

Take a look at how he responds to the rich, young ruler. As a young, rich man, chances are he was well-known in the community. You almost can imagine the disciples whispering to each other as he approaches Jesus, inquiring about becoming a disciple. "Are you kidding me?" Peter mutters to Bartholomew. "If we can get this guy onboard, not only will we be staying in swanky hotels, he'll bring in others by the thousands!"

Don't we do the same? A popular kid—maybe he's a star athlete or in student government—starts attending your ministry, and you begin dreaming about how he could make an impact on others; but Jesus doesn't lower the bar for the cool guy, does He? In fact, He raises it—and the man leaves saddened.

I can imagine Peter barely able to contain himself; I mean, talk about a wasted opportunity. "Jesus! That was a key seeker! Why couldn't You have been more sensitive?" Clearly, Jesus' goals were greater than strategically attracting the rich and famous for greater ministry impact. He was looking for people to take up their crosses and follow Him.

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