When Silence is Golden

SilenceThis post originally appears on the Canadian Youth Worker website.

During a scripted prayer before a meeting this morning, there was a period of silence much longer than we were expecting or accustomed to.  It was actually quite nice and I had no problem resting in the spirit and offering up the meeting and entire day.  However, I could tell that others weren’t as comfortable as I was as I heard fidgeting and I sensed unease.  Finally someone comically said “So are we going to meet or just pray all day?”

Not that there’s anything wrong with prayer; but we did have many things to accomplish.  It turns out that a small miscommunication led to the prolonged silence.  The person who was supposed to recite the next section didn’t know she supposed to.

It got me thinking about small group discussions in youth ministry, and in particular, the silence that sometimes comes with them.  We all know that small groups – when done well – can be an invaluable part of youth ministry.  It gives the more quiet or shy youth a chance to express themselves and it helps youth workers break down topics in a more intimate environment.

However, many youth workers do not handle silence well.  Often, a youth worker will “jump in” to break the silence and therefore “save” the discussion from failing – because they perceive the quiet to be a condemnation of their leadership skills.

Or that the question was too specific.  Or too difficult.

Many times, this is not the case at all.  The youth may need time to think about and formulate their answers.  They may be recalling a memory or trying to figure out how to articulate a response.  We can’t rush these moments.  We need to let them wrestle with the question.

Of course, you need to use your judgement.  If every question you pose is met with silence, then perhaps you need to change your technique, change your questions, or both.

However, a bit of silence is just fine.  So don’t rush to end it.  Embrace it instead.

After all, it might be the only quiet time you get all day.

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