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.
Father God, I come to you right now with so many different emotions going on inside of me. I look at what is happening in this world right now and it feels like a bad dream. I don’t know what’s true, what’s actual reality and what isn’t. I find myself going to worst case scenario in my head and it leaves me with this weighty uncertainty.
My heart hurts for my kids who don’t get to go back to school and be with their friends and amazing teachers
My heart hurts for the seniors in our ministry who were robbed of their final months together as a class
My heart hurts for senior athletes in high school and college who don’t get to play their last year at school
My heart hurts for my grandparents who have to be away from people right now to stay safe
My heart hurts for elderly people who already feel overlooked that they must stay even more in the shadows right now
My heart hurts for people who are experiencing anxiety and depression because of the isolation
My heart hurts because there are so many people that lost their job
My heart hurts because there are a lot of people sick and hurting
My heart hurts most because there are so many people who are losing hope!
God would you be with those people right now, would you draw near to them, would you reveal who you are to them so that they can experience what true hope looks like.
In this season God would you do a good work in me. There are so many blessings and ways to be thankful right now Father.
I am thankful for a wife who I adore
I am thankful for more time with my 4 kids
I am thankful for a roof over our heads and food to eat and the basic things we take for granted
I am thankful for the weather changing and the warmth of the sun
I am thankful for our health
I am thankful for bikes, baseball, pop a shot and other games we can play right now
I am thankful for technology to still stay in touch with friends and family during this time
I am thankful for the encouraging people in my life that keep me going
I am thankful for my church and the way we are trying to do whatever we can to help people with this season of life
I am thankful for a lot of the distractions that were in my life not being around right now
God I am so thankful for the cross, I am so thankful for the empty tomb and I am so thankful for the grace, mercy and love you pour out over me!
God, this week I am reminded of the purpose this life has, the call you have placed on my life and the reason I live.
Help me be gracious, patient and kind to those I interact with. God give me wisdom and discernment to help however I can with any situation that comes up.
God most of all during this season help me be more like you. Help me see things in my life that need to change and give me the courage and strength to make those changes. God continue to prune the things in my life that need to be pruned.
God maybe most of all help me, during this time, to spend time WITH you. Help me grasp how wide and long and high and deep is your amazing, unfathomable love.
Do immeasurably more right now than I can even imagine. You get the glory for everything God.