Category Archives: systemic abandonment

Engaging Resistant Students in Youth Ministry


resistant teenOk, this is a lengthy post today but one we felt was needed.  Too often kids get a bad rap because they are resistant to engage in the life of our ministry.  Hear me on this…IT’S NOT ALWAYS THEIR FAULT.  There are many variable that contribute to a student becoming a part of a faith community.  I see this in counseling and I see it in “Big Church” as well.  Let’s dissect why students are resistant and what we can do about it. 

Ethan came to our youth ministry every Sunday and Wednesday.  He came only because his parents made him attend.  Ethan was an over-churched kid who went to the local Christian high school.  He grew up in church and his dad was an elder and his mom taught Sunday school for as long as he could remember.

Whitney did not grow up in church.  She was only coming because of our “evangelism daters” had convinced her to go with him.  She was uninterested but came because she really liked Jake.  She was emotionally distant and often snickered when another student would share openly about something they wanted prayer for.

Carissa was a wild child.  She was ADHD and ran on caffeine from the minute she woke up until the moment of the inevitable crash later into the night.  She was disruptive and impulsive.  Carissa loved to show up late so she could make an entrance and equally loved getting attention from the boys in the youth group.

These three students have something in common; they were all very difficult to engage in the spiritual life and practices of our youth community.  In spite of many attempts to get these kids under control or to peak their interest they remained stagnant and distance with their heels dug in.

It seems so obvious years later, but we learned that spiritual growth can’t occur unless a student is first engaged in a spiritual community.  Most students show up at youth group or church for the first time with a combination of issues and often are on the defensive and initially resistance to change.  Every student we encounter is a product of a process that has been going on in their lives that impacts how they connect and open up to others.  Let’s look at some of the reason why a student might be resistant to our efforts to engage them:

They are forced to go: Many students are only there because their parents are making them go.  This is not the kind of “soil” in which growth can occur.  If we’re honest we’d say there are quite a few kids that fit into this category.  This mandate automatically sets up resistance.

Lack of motivation to change: The great majority of young people who come to youth ministries are ambivalent about whether or not the want to stop their “sin”.  Most aren’t even sure what sin really is, let alone whether they are prepared to surrender it to a God they know very little or nothing about.

Discomfort opening up in front of peers/strangers: From the perspective of the student, youth ministry can be a strange experience.  It is so different than anything else they experience in their world.  Often the youth leader knows something about them (because of their friends) but they know very little about the youth leader and the world of youth ministry.  In addition, youth ministry thrives when its members are vulnerable and transparent, both pre-requisites for change and growth.  This also creates discomfort for students to open up to a room of virtual strangers or even worse, give their closest friend ammo to use against them later.

Multiple life stressors = Spiritual growth not a priority: A combination of family stress, school commitments, relationship challenges, identity struggles, brain development, physical changes, mental health concerns and a host of other stressors can push spiritual growth down on the list of urgent needs to address.

Difficult emotions to manage: There are myriad emotions that accompany being an adolescent, including anger, rage hostility, flat affect, depression, apathy, and hopelessness as well as love, excitement, fear, exhilaration, and freedom.  Likewise, there is distorted thinking to combat, such as; the imaginary audience, grandiosity, catastrophic thinking, minimizing risk, failure to see long term consequences, desire for immediate gratification, and a sense of entitlement.  All of these make engaging a young person like walking through a minefield.

Initial ministry approaches that increase resistance: There are a number of ministry approaches that, when scrutinized, would reveal that they actually decrease a student’s engagement.  At best the drive the kids toward shallow compliance, acting and saying the right things but not actually changing hearts.  This is like cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside.  These approaches are aggressively confrontational and leave the student feeling defensive or shamed, they lack empathy, warmth, genuineness, and focuses exclusively on what students are doing wrong to the neglect of what they are doing right or have to offer.

Unresolved grief/trauma: Painful emotions connected to loss or trauma can make engagement difficult due to the anxious nature of both conditions.  Fear of abandonment or exploitation can lead to a student leaving the group and never returning (early termination).  There is fear that the community it not safe or may trigger the trauma or grief.

Cross-cultural tension: All ministries are cross-cultural because of issues related to race, gender, religious backgrounds, sexual orientation, age, and so forth.  Tension can exist in the context of ministry and can be barriers to establishing a relationship between the ministry (people) and student (people).

Negative prior YM/Church experiences: Students who have previously attend church or youth ministry will bring with them preconceived notions about what they can expect.  If they had negative experiences they will likely filter your ministry through that lens, potentially tainting the new experience.

Adolescence: Adolescence by its very nature is a journey to autonomy, making young people resistant to engaging adults.  In addition, many adolescents do not believe that sin is problematic.  Many simply think they are behaving normally and that it is normal to drink, party, have sex, etc.

Evan eventually began to engage and share his gifts and strengths with the group.  He entered into a mentoring relationship with Art and discovered he had leadership skills.  When Ethan went off to college he became a leader at his campus ministry and now leads dozens of other students as they seek to grow in their faith.

Tiffany, as it turns out had a recent suicide attempt and regularly engaged in self-injury.  She had difficulties trusting others due to trauma she experienced as a child.  She found hope and healing through a mentoring relationship with Jillian who taught her how to love and be loved.  She is married today and lives a whole life.

Candice has settled down, SOME.  She was able to discover her heart bled for orphans after the youth group went through the 30 Hour Famine.  Her heart was wrecked by the overwhelming need she saw in the kids.  She finished high school and became involved in the organization International Justice Mission that her mentor Trudy told her about.  She is currently in school working on a degree in International Law and intends to devote he life work to freeing captives in the sex trade and bringing justice to the oppressors.

Engaging students in an important skill youth workers must have if they are to be effective in impacting the world through the students they are called to reach.  Before we can invite them into the redemptive kingdom work God has for them they first need to be engaged in a community that will equip them for such work.

So what are some strategies for engaging resistant students…

Hospitality has to be a high priority: We must invest our resources in creating a culture of hospitality.  Students are more likely to let their guard down when they enter a warm, friendly environment.  This includes everything from how we train our volunteers and student leaders to the décor of our meeting spaces.  We lose a lot of kids within the first few minutes after they walk through our doors.

Focus on what the students have to offer: Many students feel like they are failing at life.  Many reel like this faith thing is simply too complicated for them to engage.  If they feel they serve a purpose and that the community is incomplete without them, they are more likely to feel valued.

Explore and validate past ministry experiences: Admittedly, the church wounds people.  There is a chance that some of your students have been hurt by the body of Christ.  If this is the case we increase the likelihood that those students will engage in our ministries if we validate their experiences and feel like someone takes them serious.  You do not have to run down the other youth ministry but a simple acknowledgement of pain or betrayal is often more than enough.

Match levels of spiritual interest with appropriate ministry expectations: Like we mentioned earlier, most student are ambivalent about changing.  When we put them directly into intense discipleship situations we end up with a mismatch of motivation and expectations.  Having various points of entry for all students regardless of where they are in their walk will allow the students to experience your ministry without adding more pressure to a young person who is already overwhelmed with the rest of their life.

Minimize confrontation: There is a time and a place to share the truth about someone’s choices and the consequences.  That is a right that is earned first and timing is important.  A student is more likely to listen to hard truth when you have invested the necessary time for them to know you care.  It may be wise to tolerate certain behaviors until a healthy and appropriate trust is established.  Once this occurs the relationship will be more likely to withstand the tension of confrontation because love and trust has already been established.

Engage the student in their spiritual growth plan: Another reason students are resistant is because they typically have very little input into their spiritual growth.  Each student is created uniquely by God to connect with him in a unique way.  There are multiple pathways to encounter God, such as; intellectual study, worship, community gatherings, being in nature, enjoying fellowship and relationships, and acts of service.  Too often we create experiences that are born out of the youth leaders natural way of connecting but don’t necessarily lead to connection for the student.  Individualized feedback from the student provides a personal investment and more buy-in.

Avoid power struggles: This will lead to an immediate decrease in student engagement if they come to believe that you are a power hungry, control freak.  Remember each student has a right to chose or reject God and that right comes directly from God Himself.  View the power struggle as a sign that maybe you need to take another approach with the student to try and engage him or her.  Pay attention to non-verbal body language.  Folded arms across the chest are often a sign of disinterest.  Re-evaluate your strategy with this student and try again.

Avoid labeling student: Students are constantly in development.  What you see before you is not what they will be some day.  Be careful to avoid labeling them with title slike: He doesn’t care, she just wants attention, and they’ll never change.  Grace will and should cover a multitude of sins.

Be aware of countertransference: By definition, countertransference involves negative reactions that youth workers have towards their students.  Youth workers who have negative reactions to the students can contribute to those students’ resistance to youth ministry outreach.  It is during these moments when we must search our hearts for the barriers that stands in the way of our being able to love this specific student.  It may be as simple as a personality conflict or it may be deeper, this student may be unintentionally triggering a memory of a bad experience or relationship the youth worker has had in their past.  Either way, these situations should be discussed with your supervisors and consulted with other volunteers to see who can step in and reach out to this particular student.

Maintain a sense of humor: It’s been said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter.  Humor can reduce resistance in the most obstinate youth.  When one individual is perceived to have the most power in a situation, humor can be the great equalizer, leaving both parties on equal footing.  Humor can also make the leader more human in the eyes of the student.  This requires some discernment as we can be too flip or crass or even hurtful if humor is not used appropriately.  When used properly a well placed comment can make all the difference in the world.

How have you engaged those students that appear to be resistant?  What strategies do you have built into your ministry that directly addresses this posture in students?

A Mind For God (A Youth Ministry Perspective)


Moral RelativismI recently finished reading a small yet powerful book titled, A Mind for God by James Emery WhiteAs I thought through the personal implication of this book on my own spiritual life I couldn’t help but think about the following regarding youth growing up in today’s culture.

 Emery White starts his book off with the idea that the god of this world assaults those living within it and is not without intellectual forces, which he arrays against the kingdom.  Within this assault are four major ideas of which are critical to understand.   I believe these to be of ultimate importance to those of us in youth ministry as well.

 Moral Relativism

 The basic idea of relativism is:  What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.  What is moral is dictated by a particular situation in light of a particular or social location. Moral values become a matter of personal opinion or private judgment rather than something grounded in objective truth.

 Autonomous Individualism

 To be autonomous is to be independent.  Autonomous individualism maintains that each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability.  Ultimate moral authority is self-generated.  In the end, we answer to no one but ourselves, for we are truly on our own.  Our choices are ours alone, determined by our personal pleasure, and not by any higher moral authority.

 Narcissistic Hedonism

 The value of narcissistic hedonism is the classic “I, me, mine” mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of concerns.  The “Culture of Narcissism” is concerned with a current taste for individual therapy instead of religion.  The quest for personal well-being, health and psychic security has replaced the older hunger for personal salvation.

 Reductive Naturalism

 Reductive naturalism states that all that can be known within nature is that which can be empirically verified.  What is real is only that which can be seen, tasted, heard, smelled or touched and then verified, meaning able to be replicated through experimentation.  Knowledge is “reduced” to this level of knowing.  If it cannot be examined in a tangible, scientific manner, it is not simply unknowable but meaningless.

  •  Which of the above do you struggle with the most in your own personal journey? 
  •  Which of the above do you see most in the kids in your youth ministry?
  •  How do we collectively address these issues in our own lives and the lives of our youth?

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…

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.

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?

 

Credibility in Youth Ministry


honestyWe all know youthworkers who have lost credibility with their students.  We often pass judgment on them and know personally what we would have done differently.  However, what makes a youthworker credible in an teenager’s eyes may be different from what a youthworker thinks will make them credible.  Credibility is often confused with trustworthiness and likeability, with the youthworker more concerned with with being liked than respected.  But teens are smart consumers, and they know the difference between authentic adults and those just trying to sell a product.

 We want to look at the ways adults in youth ministry often lose credibility with the students in their ministry.  Usually the intentions are good, but sometimes the outcomes of our ministry efforts are not.  Adults in general can try to hard, control too much, or pretend something is working when it clearly in not, and this is typically because they don’t know what else to do. 

Craving the Teen’s Approval

For some of us the validation we receive from the teens we serve can be a powerful experience.  Many of us involved in youth work are there because we had a particular experience in our own adolescence.  For some of us, it is an opportunity to return the favor and investment made on our behalf.  It is a chance to make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community and we have a sense of calling and/or obligation to do this. 

For others though, it may be a more pathological motivation.  I have met, on more than one occasion, the youth worker who is trying to re-live their teenage years vicariously through the students they minister to.  This is an insidious and often beneath the surface drive but is none-the-less real.  It plays out like this; I didn’t get validation from my peers during my formative years so now I am living that out in ministry and trying to gain their approval today, as if my intrinsic worth is tied up in their opinion of me. 

This typically results in shallow ministry fruit because the goal, intended or unintended, is not spiritual growth but personal validation from the students to the adult.  This does not mean that God won’t use an person’s past hurts in ministry today but if these hurts cloud your ability to see things clearly then the individual may do more harm than good.

Being too Cautious

As a result of seeking the student’s approval the youth worker must then measure everything that said to the youth.  This is much like a couple’s first date.  The individual does not want to say or do anything that would reflect poorly on them and end the chances of future endeavors. 

This can occur in ministry as well.  During the early stages of rapport building this is quite understandable but as time goes on trust and trustworthiness should develop.  These two things cannot develop is one party has an ulterior motive.  Also, once the relationship does develop it is difficult for the youth worker to speak challenging truth into the lives of their students for fear of losing their affirmation.  A wise man told me once that I should “love people enough to tell them the truth”.  This can’t be done if one can not remain objective.

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Rainbows, Pixies, Jelly Beans, and the Warm Fuzzies are not the substance of (most) teenagers lives.  Often, we sell them a fantasy world that says, “If you just accept Jesus then everything magically gets better!”  Ta-Da!  The quickest way to lose credibility, and therefore your influence, is to pull a bait-and-switch regarding what it means to follow Jesus.

Trying too Hard

Sometimes we can try way too hard to convince the students that they need Jesus.  I know that sounds antithetical to what we’re trying to do but kids can tell when the experiences they have with us are more about us meeting an objective that genuinely loving them.  Sometimes we need them to believe because we are the ones that doubt.  It’s like them coming to believe in Jesus validates our own faith.  This can be dangerous to both the students and us.  A faith that is built on “sand” is shakey at best and the damage it can do to the budding, young faith of a student is very real.  We must get this in check.

I’m Stumped

Lastly, we lose credibility when we try to be the expert on all things.  There is nothing so apparent to teens than a know-it-all youth worker.  We mask the fact that we don’t know the answers and kids can pick it up in our voice, our choice of words, body language, eye contact, and the stammer in our speech.  Our attempts to cover this unknowing only reduces our credibility and makes the situation worse.

This list in not even close to being exhaustive.  We should constantly be aware of those practices that erode our influence over our students.  It is our belief that students are looking for credible adult guides to lead them out of the wilderness of adolescence.  Teens will usually follow those worth following and their loyalty remains for many years after they leave our ministries.  Are you leading in such a way that you keep up a strong level of credibility?  Are you leading and serving in a way that young people know you are trustworthy of following?  And if you are, who is it you are pointing them toward?

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.

The Three R’s of Bullying Interventions


The issue of bullying just doesn’t seem to be going away so today let’s talk about strategies to fix what bullying does.  The following would be a great resource to put in the hands of parents of your students.  It is also good kindling for discussion on reconciliation.

Restitution, Resolution, and Reconciliation 

If student was a follower/supporter of the bully: 

  1. Intervene immediately
  2. Provide a system of graceful accountability while allow natural consequences to occur
  3. Create opportunities to “do good”
  4. Nurture empathy
  5. Teach friendship skills – assertive, respectful, and peaceful ways to relate to others
  6. Monitor/Criticize/Converse about TV shows, movies, music, and video games that reinforce violence against others
  7. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, and energizing activities 

If your student hurt others through gossip: 

  1. apologize to the child who was harmed by the rumor
  2. go to everyone she told it to and tell them it wasn’t true
  3. ask them to stop spreading it
  4. ask them to let everyone they told that she was a part of spreading the rumor and that she wants to correct it
  5. to the best of her ability, repair any damage done to the target by the act of spreading the rumor
  6. take the next step of building a new and healthier relationship 

Three principles that foster moral independence: 

  1. Teach your student that he and only he is responsible for the consequences of his actions (kids who accept responsibility for their own actions are more likely to live up to their own moral code) 
  2. Build your student’s confidence in his or her ability to make good decisions (Kids who have confidence in their own judgments are not easily manipulated by others) 
  3. Teach your student how to evaluate reasons on his or her own (Kids who have confidence in their own ability to reason are more questioning and more resistant to passive acceptance of orders.)

reference: Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanders by Barbara Coloroso

Youth Ministry 101 (Communication)


Efficient and clear communication is essential in the youth ministry world, whether it be between the Sr. Pastor and the Youth Pastor, student and volunteer, or between parents and youth workers.  Yet too often, we are not as aware as we coupld be of the skills of good communication.  Yes, we were trained in the art of speaking, preaching, and teaching but rarely are we taught how to listen well.

Good communication requires first of all quieting the the internal dialogue which often prevents us from listening clearly to others.  Particularly if we have a lot of negative or destructive ruminations swimming in our minds, we need to learn to still these internal voices.  When our internal world is quiet and calm, a balanced emotional awareness can develop and we are more able to see and hear others clearly.  We are also more likely to hear that small, still voice that guides us.

Next, we need to be able to listen.  Listening is a developed skill which requires practice and attention.  One of the keys to good listening is to avoid formulating a response until the person speaking is completely finished.  This is hard for us because we are training in the art of arguing our agenda.  If we are busy thinking of what we’re going to say next, we are probably not absorbing what the speaker is saying.  The next time you speak with a student or the Sr. Pastor, make a point of listening without reacting until they are finished speaking.  Then pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and let the other person know you have heard what they said before you proceed with your own feelings or opinions.  Repeating another person’s main messages for clarification is also useful.  You’ll be surprised sometimes at the difference between what you heard and what the speaker thought they said.  Discussing this can be very helpful.  In ministry, mistaken communication can come back to haunt you, so taking the time for clarification is very important.

Paying attention to nonverbal communication is just as important as listening carefully to verbal messages.  We communicate through our body language – gestures, eye movement, facial expressions, posture – just as much as through our words.  Good communicators know how to listen and respond to this nonverbal communication.  For instance, if a student assures you that things are going fine at home, but fidgets and looks nervously towards the door as they speak, you may want to gently inquire further about some of the specifics of the situation.  Make eye contact and use a gentle tone of voice when responding to these nonverbal clues.  Often a person expresses things through their body when they are uncomfortable articulating them openly.  If we remain calm and show respect for the student’s feeling, the student is more likely to feel that they can express their thoughts more directly.  Everyone benefits when communication is open and clear.

One final thought…when talking with others, as far as it’s possible by you, suspend immediate judgement whenever you can.  For example, a young teenage girl takes a huge risk by sharing with you that she cuts herself when she’s upset.  If you’re immediate response is to overreact and shame her or express disgust, you have effectively closed the door on the discussion.  She has just interpreted that as you cannot be trusted with sensitive information.  There will be a time to challenge certain beliefs and behaviors but keep the conversational door open long enough to establish trust and earn the opportunity to be heard.  The other person will be much more likely to hear what you have to say then.