If I wrote down every mistake I have ever made in youth ministry, I wonder if I would still have a job? Ok, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but I have made my fair share of mistakes.

Once, at the end of a great night of Campus Life, I was hanging out with a high school boy that was newer to the group.  He had come several times, and we were having an engaging conversation.  He then lowered his eyes and quietly said something that made my gut drop.

“Why don’t any of the leaders here remember my name?”

I would have loved to say, “Tim, what are you talking about?” But, as you have guessed already, I had no idea what his name was.  (Rookie mistake!  Learn your kids’ names!)

I stared at him blankly as guilt washed over me.

Yep, I’m Human.

And so are you.  We mess up sometimes – that is part of the gig. Sitting there and looking this kid in the eyes, I did the only thing I could do.

I apologized.

It seems like part of being human is a natural desire to always look like you have it together. We want to appear to be in control and we like to be right. Thus, in a moment of vulnerability like I was in, we want to defend ourselves and justify our actions.  Even if we know we are wrong.

I could have said, “Well, of course some of the leaders know your name, buddy!” and ran away before he challenged me.

But our kids see through that.  They know we are people and they know we are not perfect. They can see when we are in the wrong.

If you are wrong and try to pretend otherwise, you will create a divide in that relationship. Your ministry to that kid will suffer.

Three Keys to Apologizing Well

There are lots of ways to apologize, and many of them are quite awful. Have you ever had someone apologize to you and you know it was a load of garbage?  Here’s how to not do that:

1) Own It
Even if you don’t think it was fully your fault, an apology that has justification and excuses falls flat. If you really need to feel like your reasons need to be said, save it in your head and tell God later. Seriously.

An apology is not an apology if it puts blame somewhere else.

Don’t pass the buck, just own it.

2) Say It 
An apology needs to be direct, clear, and concise.  “I’m sorry that you feel like I hurt you,” is one of the lamest apologies out there. Kids (and adults) aren’t stupid enough to miss what you are really saying. “I didn’t do anything wrong but since you are sensitive and hurt I will say this to try and make it better.”

Just say “I’m sorry.” 

Don’t add words to soften your pride.  Don’t be passive aggressive.  Kids still understand the difference between, “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt” and “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” 

Don’t try to trick them, just say it.

3) Mean It
Apologies need to be genuine.  If you don’t feel it, but the situation demands it, I understand at times why people give “fake apologies.” We have all done it.  Just know that if you aren’t genuine, is very likely that the person receiving the apology knows it.

If you can, wait until you can get your head and heart in a place where you can really mean what you are saying. Ask God to help you.

Don’t pretend to apologize, just mean it.

Get Over Yourself and Just Apologize

It takes some nerve to go and tell someone that you did something wrong.  It is painful and vulnerable.

Do it anyway.

Kids respond to that authenticity, and relationships are healed and strengthened through it.

“I’m sorry. I really want to know you and I should know your name. We messed up.  I messed up. Can you forgive me?”

Then, of course, “What is your name?”

And I better not forget it again!