Photo Credit: Ethan Lofton via Flickr
1. Conflict: Mr. Neverhappy storms into the church office, slamming the door behind him and digging his pointer finger into the surface of the desk as he shouts, "I have been in this church for 38 years and I have NEVER seen the annual potluck handled this way!"
I have a choice in this moment. I can argue the finer details with this gentleman, trying to prove to him the correctness of the committee's reasoning for the minor changes, or I can ease tension by playing stupid. I respond, "Talk to me. What have you enjoyed most about the annual potluck over the years? Help me understand."
Stupidity works here because I'm not ignoring his feelings. I am showing respect to his expertise. And once he knows he has been heard, as the conversation develops, I'll have the chance to help him see things from a new point of view.
2. Gossip: Mrs. Chatter lowers her voice and takes a step closer, "Did you hear the latest about Miss Soandso?" Hmm, obvious gossip. Or how about the sneakier version when Mrs. Chatter walks up and asks, "I would really like to pray for Miss Soandso. What's the latest?" Oh my. What to do?
If I know for a fact that information can be shared with the congregation then I will go ahead and share, encouraging Mrs. Chatter to pray for God's activity in Miss Soandso's life. But what if I'm unsure what information is meant for the public? I never lie; instead, I play stupid, "Oh, hmm, good question. Well here's what I know: she would feel really encouraged to know someone is praying for her. You should give her a call today to let her know you're thinking about her."
That's not a sidestep; it's a genuine attempt to put the focus where it belongs.
3. Humor: This is my favorite use of the stupid persona. A middle schooler pulls out their cell phone and I suddenly become an 80 year old man confused by the most basic technology, "Wait, cell phones can take pictures now!?" I'll make any stupid joke if it makes a member of the youth group laugh -- I have no shame.
Why does this work? Because people let their guard down when they know you don't take yourself too seriously. Those who understand the joke are invited to participate and when it's done in a good-natured way, everyone wins.
But I can't stress this enough -- if you're in youth ministry, never, NEVER, make the student the butt of a joke. Even if you think it's just some friendly sarcasm. Even if the student uses sarcasm themselves. Try your best to avoid it because you're the authority figure and you never know how your words are shaping the emotional lives of those who hear them.
Of course we all know there are times playing stupid can backfire. Tomorrow I'll share some events from my own life when playing stupid was definitely the wrong choice.