If you work with middle school or high school students for any length of time, you have probably had “that” conversation. You know what I’m talking about. The conversation usually happens at a time that wouldn’t normally make sense to talk and starts like this… “Hey can I talk to you about something”. You immediately say, “yeah sure.” They respond with, “Can we go somewhere not around anyone else?” At that moment you know they are about to unleash the aftermath of brokenness on your heart. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in youth ministry, that conversation is never fun. If you truly care about the students you shepherd, this conversation will break your heart. Each conversation is handled in a slightly different manor and there is no cookie cutter response that you can regurgitate. Each conversation has different responses and sometimes there is no response and its just listening and caring. Most of the time, it means following up with that student consistently for the next number of weeks and months to check in and encourage.
So what do you do when a student tells you too much? Where the line between being the caring youth pastor that is just there as a listening ear, there to encourage, there to hold them accountable and being the discerning adult that gets mom and dad involved, getting the authorities involved, getting professional help involved? What happens when the student tells you that they don’t want anyone to get in trouble or that they are adamant about not telling their parents or involving the proper authorities?
These are the situations that have to be handled correctly for the student’s sake and sometimes even when they are against the action step that needs to happen. As that students youth pastor, you have to make the best decision possible for the student. You have a responsibility to make the decision that keeps that student safe. You have a responsibility to make the decision that honors the parents. You have a responsibility to help them see the bigger picture and how God is walking right next to them through whatever comes next. All of these responsibilities are easy to write down or say but often times much harder to put into practice. There are emotions involved, there are hurt people involved and there is the relationship you have with that student that you are desperately trying to maintain and protect.
It may be helpful to remember 3 things when you are talking to a student who is sharing too much:
1. When it comes to self-harm, abuse, or anything that may put your student in harms way you MUST say something to someone. This goes without saying, but needs to be said. Your response to harm is always compassion towards the student. Let the proper authorities know immediately and help them get the help they need even if they don’t seem to want it at the time. Make sure you are aware of your states guidelines for mandatory reporting.
2. You are their pastor not their friend. You are not out to seek the approval of your students but to shepherd them towards a perfect father, a risen savior and ultimately the one who will give them what they need when they need it. You are the adult in every situation, especially situations like these. Do the right thing no matter what that student may say about you or to you.
3. Have a plan (be prepared for situations that land outside of said plan). Think through possible scenarios and situations before they happen so you can’t be blindsided and be unsure of what to do. With that said, its impossible to know and think through every possible circumstance. Handle each instance with grace, compassion and intentionality. Your plan should be making your overseeing supervisor/elders/lead pastor in your church aware of what’s going on so you have people in your corner that you can go to for advice and wisdom.
There are so many other nuances about these conversations and what to do/what not to do but those 3 things will get you started in the right direction.
Lets be honest, this part of ministry is not fun. Often times it means seeing families at their worst, students at their lowest point and looking this cruel world right in the eyes. It would be easy to wallow in the gloom that is left by these conversations with student you care about. However, God is using you as someone they trust to bring light into the darkest place in their lives. You are playing a pivotal role in their spiritual formation. Be there to walk them through it, point them to their Savior in the midst of it and celebrate with them when they are on the other side of it.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
Ministry hasn’t stopped happening since the Coronavirus came onto the scene and churches closed physical buildings. If anything ministry has ramped up. By this time, you have settled into some type of rhythm with your ministry programming, utilizing social media, Zoom, Google Hangouts or the House Party app. The last few months have made some of you weary, some of you frustrated, some of you ready for life to get back to “normal” (when I say some of you… I mean all of you), and some not sure what to do if things don’t open back up soon.
There is no doubt that you have been praying hard during these uncertain times. You have an opportunity to make it personal even though this you are currently living in a very impersonal world. Right now, a personal phone call means way more than a zoom call with 30 people. Right now, a hand written note to encourage someone means way more than saying it in the comments section of your instagram live feed. Right now, pulling up a lawn chair in the front yard of a student who has parents on the front lines fighting this pandemic means way more than an online scavenger hunt.
Here are some ideas as you continue ministry in these uncertain times:
1. Call Every Leader and Student
When you call the people you serve, you are letting them know they are worth your time. That may be the most important way to spend your time right now. When someone knows they are worth your time, they will decide what you have to say is worthwhile. Set a goal to call everyone that is a part of your
2. Write Every Leader and Student
Who doesn’t like to get mail? Writing an encouragement note is a lost art and needs to happen more often. When a leader gets a word of encouragement in the mail, it doesn’t just bless that leader but each family member in the home benefits from those caring words. When a student gets a note from their youth pastor, it’s a big deal and on top of that encourages that student’s parents too. Writing a note builds trust with that student and also their family.
3. More Than Content
Content is plentiful on the world wide web. Entertainment is abundant online, and there are people that are very good at it. If you are putting the majority of your time into content creation you are going to miss a golden opportunity to care for, empower and equip those involved in your ministry. The main course of your ministry should be saturated with as many personal connections, spiritual conversations and space to listen as you can handle. In a world that currently feels out of control, people need to be reminded of who they are, how much they are loved and that there is hope beyond what they see and feel. What students and leaders need can’t be found online, because its another human being that sees something in them that is special.
No matter where you find yourself today, know that you are not alone. Be encouraged, your calling isn’t through a screen but through personal relationships with those you serve. Look at this ministry landscape as a momentum builder for the future.
What continues to happen in our country HAS to change. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert or someone who really knows anything about injustice in our world. I feel uneasy every time something happens in our country that just plain SHOULDN’T. I feel uneasy because we have a media problem in this country, each side spinning things to benefit there own bottom line and loyalties. At the end of the day, truth always comes to light and regardless of the outcome, there is something to do about whats happening! This is my attempt at being honest and suggesting how to move forward from here and to not stay silent about whats going on in front of us.
As a society we are suddenly faced with, AGAIN, another act of racism and, AGAIN, it makes us all stop and think about how this can actually be something that is real. Those of us who believe life is precious no matter what the color skin you have, take to social media and cry out about the atrocity. People want to point fingers at who is to blame. It’s easier that way, to shove the blame to other people. The fact of the matter is that until everyone takes an inward look and does the hard work of rooting out the pride, the prejudice, the selfishness, the insecurity and hate, we will be stuck in a never ending cycle.
The problem with injustice is that it's easy to ride on feelings and a totally different thing for those feelings to move you to action.
What has to happen to turn feelings into positive traction?
What needs to happen before your heart breaking for injustice actually yields to fruitful movement towards change?
I am suggesting 3 things that you can start doing today to impact tomorrow. Again, I am no expert but I, like you, am tired of our brothers and sisters in all walks of life be scrutinized, ridiculed, judged and treated like they are some kind of second class citizen. It starts with me.
Start Seeing People Properly
When you look at someone and think you are better than they are in any way, you’re wrong. Seeing people as someone’s son or daughter, as someone’s brother or sister, as a friend, as someone who has worth you begin to see them how God see’s them. Every human being has worth, has value, has been created for a purpose even if they haven’t realized it yet. If you think you are better than anyone else you have a poor view of yourself. It starts with your vision, your vision informs your thoughts and your thoughts about someone else informs how you treat them. Let me be the first to say that, as much as it pains me, that I don’t always see people as God’s beloved. I will do better, by God’s grace and His power, I will take steps.
Root Out Your Pride
Pride is a misplaced sense of worth and a desire to be more important than someone else. Pride is what gets in the way of celebrating others accomplishments, of elevating someone for a promotion, of making a big deal over someone who excels at a specific trade/skill/talent, and ultimately, what makes someone treat someone poorly. Pride is actually a mask to your own short comings. Pride us ugly, it’s gross and it takes work to pursue humility in all areas of life. If you can be self aware enough to realize your pride, you will not only start seeing all people properly but start treating them with honor, respect and dignity. Let me be the first to say I need to work on my pride. I need to prayerfully ask God to reveal the parts of my life that I pride has a death grip on me.
Start a conversation and make a friend
What does your friend circle look like? What do your interactions look like at work, in your neighborhood or on the weekends? Befriend someone different than you or get to know those from different backgrounds. Take an interest in someone’s life, not because it benefits you but because everyone deserves someone to take interest in them. When you start to see life from another perspective you start to become more aware, more educated and more compassionate! Let me be the first to say that I can do better and will do better.
It’s impossible to make change all of the sudden. If everyone collectively takes a step towards unity and towards loving people the way God loves people, we will start to see the change that needs to take place.
It starts with ME, It starts with YOU… It starts with US!