For a small group leader, one of the most fluent languages is sarcasm. As I recently transitioned roles within our church, one of our leaders asked students what they like about me. Most of the responses included something about how I pick on the students. I pick on them because I know they will laugh. They know I care about them and I tell them that all of the time, but I also love joking around with our students.

One night, after our middle school program, we were cleaning up and hanging out. There were just a few students and a handful of leaders left. As we were laughing and joking around, one of our middle school girls said that something we were doing was stupid. Not missing a beat, I quipped my normal comeback and turned her comment back at her saying, “You’re stupid.” She could have said, “There is a brick wall,” and my response would have been “You’re a brick wall.” I never gave it a second thought.

As I got home, turned the game on, and drank some sweet tea, I got a text. It was from one of my key leaders—a solid junior in high school with a promising career in ministry.

“You probably didn’t think about it, but the girl you called stupid tonight is actually pretty sensitive about how smart she is,” she said.


I may have just crushed one of our middle school girls—one of the most fragile species on the planet. I did it without even thinking about it. And because of it, one of my high school leaders called me out for being a big jerk.

But you know what? I absolutely love that.

A team should be able to push each other without feelings getting hurt.

As the leader, I should welcome constructive criticism—even if that criticism is about how I did or handled something. Constructive criticism and your response to it is a huge opportunity to grow as a leader.

As a leader, your response to criticism effects the whole team. I once heard that a leader who can’t be questioned does questionable things. Do you know anyone that can’t be questioned? What about yourself? Can your team question your actions without an explosion or a reprimand?

As leaders, let’s encourage our teams to help us get better just as we’ve committed to helping them get better. Create a culture where your team can come to you not only with ideas but with concerns too. And be open to being called out once in a while.

Written by Johnathan Baldwin
Student Ministries Pastor

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Johnathan Baldwin

Johnathan is a student ministries pastor from Indiana who loves youth ministry, sports, summertime, great coffee (depending on the situation, not so great coffee works too), my dog (Marcie), and as of lately a good book. Over the past couple years, Johnathan has felt a growing passion for guiding and empowering leaders to lead students. He believes that if we call people to greatness, they will achieve greatness.

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