Category Archives: Mental Health

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013


 

Top-10

So 2013 was an amazing year for our ministry.  Some of the highlights we increased speaking and writing opportunities, new partnerships and more importantly, new friends.  Below are the TOP 10 blog posts of 2013.  Thanks so much for support CotF.  We believe in the work we are called to do and hope to continue that work into the new year.

 1.   Engaging Resistant Students in Youth Ministry

 2.   The Importance if the Imago Dei in Youth Ministry

 3.   Sex: A Little Porn Never Hurt Anyone

 4.   Sex: Porn Zombies

 5.   Sex: There’s An App For That

 6.   Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect

 7.   Moral Disengagement: Bombers, School Shooters, and Bullies

 8.   Incarnational Ministry to LGBTQ Students

 9.   Credibility in Youth Ministry

 10. Trauma Stewardship in Youth Ministry

 Honorable Mention:   The Power of Permission in Youth Ministry

 I’ve also been given the honor of blogging on one of the most popular youth ministry blogs morethandodgeball.com on the topic of Soul Care.  This is a recent partnership with Group Publishing (SYMC and KidMin) and part of my new job is to coordinate their ministry to pastors/workers called The Shelter.  I’ll be blogging over there periodically and there are some other really great bloggers there so give it a look.

Sex (A little porn never hurt anyone, right…?)


porn-hook

As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences.    This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.

  1.  Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally.  When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire.  If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner.  Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
  2. Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced.  The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy).  Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification.  As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
  3. Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality.  It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen.  Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen.   We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen.  This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
  4. Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure.  When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
  5. In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally.  This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others.  Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
  6. Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes.  Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
  7. The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense.  One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others.  This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships.  This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness.  The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.

This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography.  In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.

Sex (There’s An App For That)


3xgalleryiphonepicIf you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.

Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.

Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.

Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.

Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.

I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.

All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.

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.

Self-Care Checklist


Just a quick reminder to take care of yourself.  Those you minister to need the you to be well over the long haul.  Self-care is important to prevent future stress to the body.  The following ideas have been found to be helpful in coping with stress:

  •  A regular daily routine: Have set times for getting up, meals, and going to bed.
  • A balanced diet: Include breads & cereals, meat, fish & dairy products, fruits & vegetables.
  • Avoid too much coffee and tea to help you sleep at night.
  • Outdoor activities, such as going for a walk or gardening, take you away from the stress, and refresh you mentally.
  • Exercise (i.e. such as swimming, walking, & team games) will produce chemicals called endorphins in the body which help to counteract depression and make you feel energized. The exercise does not need to be strenuous.  If you have doubts about your fitness, consult your doctor.
  • Relaxation: meditation, massage, music.
  • A relaxing pre-sleep routine: winding down before bed and not watching television right before going to sleep.
  • Avoid seeking relief through alcohol, smoking, medication, and other drugs.
  • Consult a doctor about physical symptoms, for a blood pressure check, for practical help, and for help with the the stress of life.

Honor God and those He calls you to serve by taking care of yourself.

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.

Being Incarnational in the Midst of Tragedy


i-love-boston-by-wamWhat is trauma and what does it mean to survive and heal from it?  This is a poignant question on the heels of another attack on our country.  The bombings at the Boston Marathon will naturally impact those in attendance differently than those who watched the events through a screen, but we will all be impacted regardless.

 Have you ever been just sailing along smoothly in life and then BAM? Trauma strikes and nothing in your life will ever be the same again…

Maybe it’s because of a talk you had with a student, maybe it was the phone call where you found out that one of your students was killed in a car accident, or worse, they died at their own hands.  Maybe it is a natural disaster that wrecks your community like a flood or tornado.  Maybe it is a senseless school shooting like Newtown.  And in that moment, nothing makes any sense.  What do you do?  Do you run away?  Do you decide you are not cut out for this kind of work?  Do you just withdraw or run to something that will anesthetize you from the hurt?  What do you do?

Before trauma occurs you and your students operate from a belief that the world is orderly, that most people are kind, and that there is meaning to life.  You believe that God is in control of all things but prior to trauma that is a shallow belief because it has never been tested.  Post-trauma you are awakened to the awareness that you are not in control of anything and that you are vulnerable.  You begin to realize that you are no longer safe and secure.  Often, what gave you meaning before the event leave in a smoke cloud and we are left grasping at straws.  Life no longer feels fair or just.

In the PSTD Workbook (2002) Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula inform us that many factors impact how an individual reacts to a traumatic event.  Age, time preparing for the event, amount of damage done to you, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), the amount of damage witnessed, and the degree of responsibility one feels for causing or not preventing the event (pg. 5).

The authors go on to say that there are three major types of factors that influence the development of PTSD.  They are pre-event factors, event factors, and post-event factors

Pre-Event Factors

  •  Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
  • Hx. Of clinical depression
  • Poor coping skills
  • Unstable family system
  • Early substance abuse
  • Family hx. of anti-social / current anti-social behavior
  • Poor social support
  • Multiple early losses of people, places, or things
  • Gender (women 2x as likely to develop PTSD)

Event Factors

  •  Geographic nearness to event
  • Level of exposure to event
  • The event’s meaning to the individual
  • Age: being young at the time of the event
  • Being victim of multiple traumatic events
  • Duration of trauma
  • The existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue (e.g., war)
  • Participation in an atrocity, as a perpetrator or witness

Post-Event Factors

  •  The absence of good social support
  • Not being able to do something about what happened
  • Indulging in self-pity while neglecting oneself
  • Being passive rather than active – letting things happen to you (disempowered)
  • Inability to find meaning in the suffering (Viktor FranklLogotherapy)

The PSTD Workbook by Williams and Poiluja, New Harbor Publications, Inc. 2002

As I read through these lists I can’t help but think that our ministries could play a central role of addressing many of the present factors surrounding traumatic events. 

Spend some time this week talking with your staff or volunteers and discuss the factors on these lists and ask, “How can we be incarnational in the midst of trauma and tragedy?”   I’d love to hear your ideas on this…

Being Good News to LGBTQ Students


Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychosocial development.  As youth develop, they are typically informed by and supported by their peers.  Experimentation, exploration, and risk characterize adolescence, and many engage in high-risk behaviors during this time.  Beyond the impulsive, risk-taking nature of adolescents their budding identity is being shaped as well.  This is often a difficult and exciting time of exploration but can be even more difficult for a self-identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) adolescent.  While all teens are at risk to some degree, LGBTQ students are at a higher risk by the very nature of their orientation. 

The following are just some of the reasons that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk than the average student:

Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBTQ Youth

LGBTQ youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert their independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of self-esteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders.  However, LGBTQ youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation.  As a result, they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex attraction/feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule and antigay violence.

Stigma, Identity, and Risk

LGBTQ students have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning how to manage a stigmatized identity.  This extra burden puts LGBTQ youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide.  This is even more true when there are compounding intersections such as; being a minority, having a disability, etc.

Abuse and Homelessness

LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for antigay violence such as bullying (which is really peer assault and harassment), verbal, emotional, and social abuse.  Antigay attacks heighten an adolesent’s feelings of vulnerability, intensifies their inner conflict, and typically drives them further into isolation, reinforcing their sexual identity.

Homelessness is a particular concern for LGBTQ youth, because many teens may run away as a result of harassment and abuse from family members or peers who disapprove of the sexual orientation.  Still others may be thrown out of the home when their parents learn they are gay.  Like their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth have many health and social problems, including mental health problems, high risk for suicide, and STDs (including being at high risk for HIV/AIDS).

*excerpts taken from SAMHSA: A Providers Instruction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals

So my question is this…How can the church (and our youth ministries) be Good News to these precious kids that are at such a high risk?

 

Handling Stress in Ministry and Life


You’ve heard it said that hungry stomachs have no ears, implying that the Gospel is neutered if it doesn’t take into account the here and now and not just the here after.  The same can be said about stressed out teens don’t give a rip about Jesus if He can’t impact their lives immediately.  In a culture that moves as fast as ours stress is just the name of the game.  Those of us living with high levels of stress seem to think this is an acceptable consequence of preparing for a pursuit of the American Dream (one that no longer exists by the way). We, as a culture, are flaming out in alarming numbers and it’s largely due to the perception that Jesus doesn’t really make a difference in helping me manage my increasingly burdened life. 

Stress is simply the experience of environmental problems and the lack of resources (internal and/or external) to do anything about them.  The many stressors one might encounter on any given day and the stress they induce is directly related to the individual’s perception and their capabilities to cope with the stressors.  This is often referred to as the Stress Response of fight or flight.  Causes of stress or potential stressors have been commonly and straightforwardly defined as experiencing negative events.  These events have a cumulative effect so an increased number of stressful events experienced in a relatively short period of time compounds the effects of stress and makes coping with them more difficult.  Now add to it the pressure to commit to youth ministry expectations, demands, and beliefs.  Jesus = more stress!

Our reality is that while the gospel never changes, nor does God, how they intersect with someone’s life does.  For one individual it is simply an academic exercise of reading and understanding the written Word in order to bring about change in their heart.  Yet, for another it may be the friendship of a gospel messenger that communicates the love of the God to an otherwise marginalized individual.  Still yet, there is the one that brings immediate relief to a hopeless and helpless person in the form of much needed resources, such as; food, water, or shelter.  It can also be the concerned youth worker that engages a young person in a mentoring relationship and in the context of that relationship equips them with very practical coping skills that allow them to manage the stressors in their life.  That’s the beauty and mystery of the gospel; it is whatever the individual needs it to be.  God meets us at our need!  That is Good News!

Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Yoke of Oppression vs. the Yoke of Christ

Stress is oppressive.  Stress smothers us until we cannot breathe anymore.  It holds one captive and can control them when there is a lack of coping skills available.  It forces one to rely on the “stress response” system of “fight or flight” and creates an ongoing sense of anxiety and/or anger in the individual.  The yoke of Christ is easy.  It is freeing in its call to submission.  It says to the one yoked, “I will gently guide you through whatever you are facing.”  It is protective by its very nature and contributes to an underlying sense of peace.  This is due to the idea that one does not have to carry their burden alone.

We youth workers can reduce to potential for burnout by developing coping skills endorsed in the Scriptures.  Coping can be defined as a set of responses, cognitive or behavioral, that people use to deal with problematic events and to avoid being harmed by life’s stressors.  Coping refers to a set of purposeful individual reactions to those stressors.  It is a reaction to stressors that resolves, reduces or replaces the unhelpful stressful state.  It is the process by which one manages the demands of the environment that are stressful and the accompanying emotions of stress. 

Professionals have identified six major areas from which people draw from in order to cope:

1.)  Health and Energy:  Important resources because an individual who is sick or tired has less energy than a healthy person to expend on coping.  We have a limited, but replenishable supply of energy.  This energy is fueled by glucose.  What we eat and how we treat our bodies has a lot to do with how we manage life’s difficulties.  1 Corinthians 6:19 - Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.

2.)  Positive Beliefs:  Viewing oneself positively and believing that life outcomes are controllable and will be positive.  Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

3.)  Problem-Solving Skills:  The ability to search for information, generate alternative courses of action, weigh alternatives with respect to outcome, and select and implement an appropriate plan of action.  Proverbs 2

4.)  Social Skills:  The ability to communicate and behave in ways that are socially appropriate and effective.  Romans 14:13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

5.)  Social Support:  Emotional, informational, spiritual and/or tangible support from others.  Ecclesiastes 4:12Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

6.)  Material Resources:  Money and goods and services money can buy.  James 2:15-16 – If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

People use internal and external assets (psychological and social) and specific coping skills to manage stress.  Resources are what are available to people to develop coping repertoires.  External assets found through social networks such as youth ministry, small groups, counseling, family members, etc., that are potential sources of support.  Internal assets are the personality characteristics that people draw on from within such as conviction, courage, stress tolerance, and skills to help them withstand potential stressors.  It goes without saying that people with limited assets will struggle more and will have a higher likelihood of being overwhelmed with stress. 

 So…what impact should this have on us as youth workers?

Here are 5 practical suggestions aimed at helping one prevent stress or manage stressors real time:

1.)     Express yourself:  The Scriptures are full of God’s people calling out to Him who are frustrated, afraid, deeply saddened, overjoyed, excited and passionate.  Somewhere along the way we were taught that as Christians we can’t emote because feelings aren’t trustworthy.  While that may be true their expression is often essential in relieving the stress they are causing.   Ps. 31:21 – In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!”  Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.

2.)    Fight Resentment:  The word re-sent literally means to feel (sentiment) again (re).  One who is resentful is one who relives the offense over and over again with the same intensity as it was originally experienced.  The long-term consequences of hanging on to resentment are many and according to Scripture are toxic.  Hebrews 12:15 – See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.Cross references:

3.)    Reach Out:  A Lone-Gunman mentality goes against the very nature of God the Father, who has always existed in community with the Son and the Spirit.  We were made in Their image and therefore are made to be connected to each other.  When one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers.  We are an interdependent organism working together for God’s glory.  We cannot do this life alone, and weren’t meant to.  We are called to carry each others burdens.  Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

4.)    Adjust Priorities:  It is an unfortunate reality that when we are stressed out we don’t so much turn away from God as much as we simply forget about Him.  For many God is a last resort and when it all hits the proverbial fan we go running back to Him.  God longs for us to turn back to Him and run into His open and outstretched arms.  More importantly He wants us to know that He is Immanuel.  He is with us in the storms.  Jonah 2:7 – “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

5.)    Be Persistent:  Be persistent in your pursuit of seeking your Father.  Be persistent in seeking rest.  Be persistent in finding time to play.  Be persistent in pushing through difficult times.  But don’t do this in your own strength, do this by being persistent in your pursuit of nurturing a complete and utter dependence on the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is your Comforter, your Advocate, and your Healer.  Learn to lean on it for strength during those times when you feel overwhelmed.  Matthew 11:28-29 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Stress is a natural part of life and mostly cannot be avoided.  There are deadlines, crisis that occur, illnesses, and conflict that we will encounter along the way.  It is our profound hope though that God is everything He says He is and that we can begin living in such a way that proves it.  How we handle stress in an over-stressed world might just be one of the best ways we can demonstrate that a relationship with the God of the Bible is the only way to make it through this world and into the next.

The Power of Permission in Youth Ministry


permission grantedThe first time I learned about the validation that comes with giving someone permission to experience their reality came when I was 10 years old.  I was regularly invited to sleep over at my friend Joel’s house.  I suffered horribly from being homesick when I was younger.  It was often a source of ridicule from peers and a source of shame from within.

On this particular evening Joel had invited me to come stay the night.  I considered not even going to avoid the shame of Joel’s parents calling my mom at eleven o’clock at night to come pick me up.  But the virtual Disneyland playground in Joel’s backyard beckoned me to come and I had brought my laser weapon, for my role was always that of Han Solo.  Joel was Luke Skywalker and we would fight the clone army to save our beloved Princess Leia.  I had to go, so I mustered up the courage to try again.

I walked up to the door with my mom in tow on a Friday evening after school, and waited for what always happened.  I waited for my friend’s mom to tell me how much fun I was going to have that evening, and for the pressure of her promise to me that I’d never get homesick at their house.  I was sure I would disappoint.

But Joel’s mom did something different this time.  She brought me into the house, turned to my mother, and calmly said, “Goodbye for now, I’ll probably be seeing you later tonight.”  I stared up at this brilliant woman who had become the first person ever to give me permission to be homesick.  And because I walked around all evening thinking to myself that I could get homesick any time I wanted, and that it would be okay and even expected, I never once felt it come on.  I stayed at Joel’s for the first time and mom got to stay at home.

Permitting someone ownership of the his or her beliefs, impulses, defenses, and their consequences in your presence, without applying any pressure on the person to change, is a powerful phenomenon for encouraging the very change never asked for.  It’s a concept that Carl Roger’s coined unconditional regard.  It is an active appreciation of one’s felt need to stay as they are even when negative consequences are apparent or severe.  Never manipulative, never designed specifically for change nor offered up in the spirit of contradictory restriction, the act of respecting individuals’ control over their being and the choices they make serves naturally to liberate them from the need to defend, broadcast, or otherwise impose these choices.   In the absence of fear and threat, an individual is freer to consider what is working and what isn’t, and make changes experienced as autonomous.

When I think about many of the strategies we’ve seen in youth ministry to “win souls” or “disciple” our students, I wonder how many of them actually CHOOSE Christ versus how many are simply pressured into conformity.  It should come as no surprise when they leave our nests that they don’t return.  I’m not implying that we shouldn’t call out the best of our students but too often our means doesn’t allow for an autonomous choice driven by an awareness that the old way of doing things isn’t working and the promises of God are compelling enough to let them go.  Let’s give kids permission to be who they really are and to validate their perspectives and feelings (regardless of whether they reflect current reality).  Maybe by doing this our kids will allow us the influence we want but usually try to take by force.