Category Archives: Drug Abuse

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Returning Home After Incarceration


A juvenile offender’s home environment is often not helpful for encouraging adherence to pro-social behaviors. Ministry partners would benefit greatly by seeking to understand the family dynamics of the individual you are trying to impact. Negative family dynamics take many forms. The juvenile offender may be the scapegoat for family problems, making his or her return to the home counterproductive. Also, other family members may be actively using drugs or involved in criminal activities.

Domestic violence and child abuse situations present additional issues, including the personal safety of family members. Training on handling abuse situations, including sign of abuse and mandated reporting laws in each state should be required of all who serve in ministry to youth.

Other areas of support that will require attention are basic needs such as education/vocational support, housing, substance abuse treatment, identity development, financial concerns, and peer social networks.

Youth ministries and the church as a whole are equipped to address all these concerns and more when they are connected to the community, invested in families, and are willing to take Spirit led risks to do ministry outside the box.

What ways have your ministries been creative in meeting the needs of juvenile offenders who are trying to turn their lives around?

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Evaluating Risk-Factors for Juvenile Offenders


Evaluating your ministries role in addressing recidivism among juvenile offenders is of critical importance to those attempting to reintegrate into the community. Characteristics and environmental factors used to estimate the likelihood of future criminal behavior are called “risk factors”.

Once these risk factors are identified, research leads us to believe that structured and concentrated strategies can help individuals who have offended previously. Researchers have identified several potential interventions based on these following risk factors:

  • Developing and nurturing life management, problem solving, and self-leadership skills
  • Developing networks with or relationships and bonding with pro-social and anti-criminal peers and with pro-social and anti-criminal mentors
  • Enhancing closer family feelings and communication
  • Improving and strengthening positive family systems to promote accountability
  • Managing and changing anti-social thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.

What a tremendous opportunity for the church to step up and be the incarnate Christ to a population of people who are largely discarded as useless and of no value, irredeemable.

What ministries exist in your church that addresses the needs above?

What ministries need to be created to address the above needs?

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Reintegrating Juvenile Offenders


Youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers are undergoing significant stress related to arrest, the uncertainties of their legal issues, and the potential loss of freedom, trust, respect of family and community, and future dreams. Effective ministry to these individuals should be based on the expected duration of the sentence (30 days vs. 1 year) but should also be focused more on the transition out of incarceration and reintegration back into the community. The better this transition is the greater the likelihood that the youth will not recidivate back into illegal behaviors.

SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment for Individuals in the Criminal Justice System identifies the following key factors to consider when helping an individual coming out of incarceration:

 Substance Use

  • Substance use history
  • Motivation for change
  • Treatment history

 Criminal Involvement

  • Criminal thinking tendencies
  • Current offenses
  • Prior charges/convictions
  • Age of first offense
  • Type of offenses (violent vs. non-violent, sexual, etc.)
  • Number of offenses
  • Prior successful completion of probation/parole
  • History of personality disorders (unlikely if under 18 years of age)

 Health

  • Infectious disease (TB, hepatitis, STD, HIV, etc.)
  • Pregnancy
  • General health
  • Acute conditions

 Mental Health

  • Suicidality/History of suicidal behavior
  • Any diagnosis of MH
  • Prior treatment/counseling and outcomes
  • Current/Past medication
  • Symptoms
  • Trauma

 Special Considerations

  • Education level
  • Reading level/Literacy
  • Language/Cultural barriers
  • Disabilities (physical, intellectual, learning, etc.)
  • Housing
  • Family issues
  • History of abuse (victim and/or perpetrator)
  • Other service providers (counselor, probation officer, social worker, etc.)

 This is a long list of issues that require attention. Remember, you are not alone in service this youth. Partner with others that are investing as well. Establish open communication between you and the others so you do not unintentionally work against each other. Have the other providers come do trainings for you and your staff so that you can better understand the complexities involved in serving juvenile offenders. The more you can work together with the community the greater the odds are that your youth will overcome the obstacles they are facing.

 What are ways you have partnered with individuals attempting to reintegrate after returning from incarceration?

 Are there special considerations for juvenile offenders vs. young adults?

 How have you been successful in engaging resistant families?

Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect


Cory MonteithThis past Saturday my wife I and I were anxiously awaiting the verdict of the trail for George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  While this “trial of the century” was capturing America’s attention another story was unfolding in a Canadian hotel.  Glee superstar and main man Finn, played by Cory Monteith, was found dead in his hotel room.

We won’t know the cause of his death for several days but speculation abounds regarding substance use and suicide, a history of depression, etc.  The horrible irony is that the writers for Glee have attempted to bring light to these and other issues that youth face on a daily basis.

Update: Autopsy reports say the a combination of heroin and alcohol contributed to Cory’s death.

No one can deny the impact Glee has had on youth culture over the last several years.  At the very least it has provided a soundtrack for the lives of countless youth.  More importantly Glee has given our youth a voice in a world where very few believe anyone is listening.  I heard from countless teens who expressed a form of solidarity with the characters from the show.  It had every stereotype one could imagine and they all found common ground singing for the lovable Mr. Schuester in Glee Club.  It was here that they all found meaning and a sense of belonging.  Glee Club became their refuge from a crazy world of bullies, expectations, pressure, stress, and the myriad of difficulties of being a teenager.  They often spoke of Glee Club in transcendent language.

I came to see Glee Club, as portrayed on the show, as a desire for a safer world in which youth can navigate the journey to adulthood, ripe with mentors willing to walk alongside them regardless of the personal cost.  Glee changed the expectations young people had for their schools, homes, and relationships with each other.  I’m wondering if, with Cory’s death, it will leave many of the show’s Gleeks feeling a sense of hopelessness that nothing they had come to believe in will actually make a difference.  This could be soil for fruitful conversations about what is worth putting our hope and trust in.

I have said to my wife during more than one viewing of Glee that I felt like these kids could be the kids from our community or youth group.  Hearing about Cory’s untimely death impacted me emotionally and I wept upon receiving the news.  Finn, Cory’s character, was the arch-type male student, popular, pretty girlfriend, football quarterback, and could rock some Journey like no one else.  I’m concerned about the level of celebrity worship in our culture.  I’m concerned about its impact on our youth, who take their cues for living life from their idols, whether they’re conscious of it or not.  This misplaced investment is fruitless and leads to despair.  When a celebrity of Cory’s stature can’t escape the pull of destructive choices then what are the kids in our communities supposed to do?

Cue the church…

Glee struck a chord with young people like I’ve never seen before.  It spoke of the things that no one else would speak about and they did it creatively and honestly.  Many in the camp of Christianity wrote off Glee as obviously secular with an agenda but many failed to hear the messages of our youth that were reflected in the show’s storytelling.  Weekly, the show masterfully addressed the deepest longing of our kids and one could hear it only they would listen.

What if our youth ministries, what if our churches, what if our faith communities had the magnetic pull that Glee had for so many?  I really believe that kids vote with their presence, meaning, if our ministries even remotely smell like the shallow offerings the world has to offer they will not partake of it.  I believe in my core that youth will choose that which is most compelling.  We love to blame the youth for being apathetic regarding their spiritual growth and commitment to their faith but what if it wasn’t them?  What if it was our ministries?  What if we created deep ministries, like Glee, where students who felt they weren’t wanted anywhere could find a place to belong?  What if they were safe communities where they could let down their guard and be real and honest about the things in their lives that are important and troubling to them, issues like depression, stress, sexuality, self-injury, self-image, or their futures?  What if they felt they mattered because we loved them in spite of what they do and not just because they jump through our hoops and fit our mold of what we think they should be?  What if there were a number of adults who would commit to walking alongside them, regardless of how difficult it became?  What if our ministries were places of real hope that pointed to the Source of all hope? How is it that Glee has been kicking our butts when it comes to influencing and reaching our kids?  And I don’t buy the line, “Because it appeals to their fleshly desires” or what ever version of that sentiment might be.  I think it is because it speaks to the longings that are most important to youth and it does so in a meaningful way.

My heart is broken for Cory Monteith.  It’s broken because in spite of the Glee’s efforts to create the world described above, it still falls short.  Cory’s death is a reminder to us all that this world is broken and God’s children, apart from Him, are broken.  It reminds me that when we seek the satisfaction of those deep longings apart from Christ the world will always come up short.  I pray that our ministries are a place where the deepest longings of our hearts are fully satisfied through our ever growing relationship with Christ and His body.  It is there and only there we might experience the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Don’t stop believing…

Overview of Stress (Soul Care Series)


stress-cartoonUnderstanding Stress 

Stress is our response to thinking or judging that the demand of an event or situation goes beyond our being able to cope with the situation.  Coping is the key word.  Stress is based on our automatic thoughts about inside or outside events.  Our ability to manage stress well depends on many factors, factors such as; Personality Traits, Health Habits, Coping Skills, Social Support, Material Resources, Genetics and Early Family Experiences, Demographic Variables, and Pre-existing Stressors.  We will focus on the four following underlying causes of stress in this post:

  • Expectations: You expect (worry about) something bad will happen to you because of the outside events.
  • Appraisals:  You judge that the demands of the event go beyond your abilities or resources to meet those demands.
  • Attribution: You blame the causes of your stress on the outside events or to on upsetting memories of past events.
  • Decisions:  You decide you cannot handle the demands of the outside world.

The Roots and Sources of Stress

Your inside world:  We call these “internal stressors”: the memory of past experiences/events that are negative of difficult, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or childhood trauma.  These are now “internal” but are “triggered” by on-going life experiences.

  • The stressor event may be inside you if you cannot tie the mental, physical or emotional responses to something outside.
  • Such “internal events” could be a memory of a past trauma or losses, high need to be successful, having failed at something you deemed important.
  • Internal stressors will be based on outside events that have happened sometime in the past.

Your outside world:  There are three major outside root causes of stress.

  • Major negative events such as death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or major illness.
  • Daily negative or difficult life events such as demands of family and work.  Theses are “external”.
  • Major and minor positive happenings such as a new job, getting married, having a baby or a salary raise.

Stages and Effects of Stress on the Body

Long periods of exposure to stress can hurt the body.  It can cause us to become physically ill.  Research has shown that we go through three steps when faced with stress:

  • Alarm:  The body steps up its inside resources to fight the stressor or cause of stress.
  • Revolt:  The body resists and fights the stressors.  Body chemicals are released to help us cope.  For awhile, these chemicals help keep the body in balance.
  • Exhaustion:  The body gets tired.  We might collapse.  We are more likely to get sick or emotionally upset.  Now, because of ongoing stress, the chemicals that once helped us now make us weaker.

Signs of Stress and Efforts to Cope

Stress can throw us out of balance.  We call this homeostasis.  The body and mind work at keeping balance through coping responses.  These are the efforts to control or cope with the stress reactions inside of you.  But they are also signs of stress.

  • Mental:  Mental worry is a major cause of stress.  Worries are thoughts and views of what might happen.  Your thoughts are the key.  When we manage stress this comes first.  If our thoughts fail to give us self-control we lose control over the body, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Physical:  Our body becomes upset.  Our hearts beat fast, we get sweaty, feel weak.  We breathe hard and lose control of our breathing.  We hunger for air or oxygen.  Being in control of breathing helps us to be in control of our stress response.
  • Emotional:  These are your efforts to cope with stress.  They are signs of stress.
    • Anxiety:  We feel uneasy, anxious.  We can’t pin down why.
    • Panic:  A sudden intense fear or anxiety with body symptoms – hard to breathe, tight chest, heart beats fast.
    • Emotional stress syndrome:  Guilty, angry, or depressed.  Managing anger, guilt, and depression helps us manage our stress.
  • Behavioral:  You may drink, go running, distract with a movie, gamble, view pornography, masturbate, smoke, talk with a friend, etc.

Jesus vs. Schemas (pt. 1 of 2)


Schemas — What They Are

A schema is an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas.  When one does not learn a healthy theology and understanding of who they are in Christ, these schemas take root where theology should live.

Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating, and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.

It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation. Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood. For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships while seeking maladaptive ways (often sinful but functional) to satisfy his or her longings.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.

There are eighteen specific schemas. Most individuals have at least two or three of these schemas, and often more. A brief description of each of these schemas is provided below.

Emotional Deprivation

This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance—needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy—needs to be listened to and understood; Protection—needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents are cold or removed and don’t adequately care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.

Abandonment/Instability

This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end eminently. As children, these individuals may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.

Mistrust/Abuse

This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these individuals were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.

Social Isolation/Alienation

This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.

Defectiveness/Shame

This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.

Failure

This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These individuals may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.

Dependence/Incompetence

This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage these children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.

Vulnerability to Harm and Illness

This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.

Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self

This schema refers to a pattern in which you experience too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or so overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.

Subjugation

This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these individuals fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. Individuals who subjugate ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.

Self-Sacrifice

This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these individuals pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often individuals who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.

Emotional Inhibition

This schema refers to the belief that you must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. You may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.

Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness

This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these individuals’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.

Entitlement/Grandiosity

This schema refers to the belief that you should be able to do, say, or have whatever you want immediately regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. You are not interested in what other people need, nor are you aware of the long-term costs to you of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.

Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline

This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior rule your life. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.

Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking

This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. individuals with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.

Negativity/Pessimism

This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Individuals with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these individuals had a parent who worried excessively.

Punitiveness

This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these individuals usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.

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There are two primary schema operations: Schema healing and schema perpetuation. All thoughts, behaviors and feelings may be seen as being part of one of these operations. Either they perpetuate the schema or they heal the schema. We will explore both in part 2.

Criminal Youth and Injuries Unseen


criminalCriminality is often the result of a consistent pattern of distorted thinking errors (forgetting the Imago Dei in everyone and listening to the lies of the enemy) that results in irresponsible and hurtful behavior. One of the most common errors in thinking is the failure to consider injury to others.

As a general rule, young people (and many adults) do not consider the effect of their actions on others. Brief moments of guilt or remorse are quickly replaced with feelings of being a victim themselves or self-righteousness for the harm they have caused. When offenders express what appears as sincere regret, careful examination will show that these overtures are typically used to tell others what they want to hear.  They are often more sorry they were caught than remorseful for harm they have caused by their actions. 

Congruent with failing to consider injury to others, youth involved in criminal behaviors also don’t consider themselves bad people. The drug dealer will argue he isn’t forcing anyone to buy drugs. The drug addict will claim she isn’t hurting anyone but herself. The violent or aggressive individual will say he didn’t mean to hurt anyone and the thief will say she has to make a living somehow.  When adolescents with criminal thinking heed the advice of scripture and can honestly think about the injury they have caused, they begin to change their distorted sense of self worth and align it with the Imago Dei. They can then more accurately conclude that they are a victimizer more than a victim and have deeply harmed others.  They can do so because the faith community lives and dies by grace and mercy, seeking to restore people with their God and those around them.

Replacing the thinking error of failing to consider injury to others involves becoming aware of the full impact of abusive and criminal behavior.  It is important that one not only look at legally defined criminal behavior, but also examine irresponsible actions such as lying, deceit, conning, game playing, vindictiveness, and other tactics. For lasting change to occur it is essential that these students go beyond immediate injury and consider the “ripple effect.”  For example, in the case of property theft, consideration should be made regarding the crime’s affect on the business owner’s attitude, feelings, friends and family.

The effect on the offender’s attitude, friends and family should also be explored along with the ripple effect of the crime in relation to property values, feelings of safety, insurance rates, and a host of other consequences. The purpose of this activity is to aid the young person in developing, expanding and sustaining a moral conscience by aligning it with the Holy Spirit. God gives us the gift of guilt but it is only of value if it is used to break our heart of undesirable behavior and develop a sensitive, well formed conscience that is in sync with the Father’s. Criminally-minded youth do have a conscience but render it inoperative through repeated patterns of corrosion and dissociation. Feelings of guilt and remorse are corroded and thoughts about the impact of their behavior are cut off.

Regularly and thoughtfully contemplating injury to others helps redevelop the criminal conscience and strengthens it for deterring insensitive and criminal acts in the future.  This is only effective if there is an abundance of grace awaiting them when they are ready to let go of their criminal behaviors and they are only likely to do this if there is an open and loving community expressing the love and restorative mission of the Father.