Conversations on the Fringe

healing begins with understanding…


Youth Ministry

New Trainings for 2016

We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.


Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth

October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day set aside for LGBTQ youth and adults to draw strength and courage from each other as they come out to family, friends, and the general public. Coming out is a complex experience that occurs not just once but over and over again for LGBTQ individuals. With each new person that is encountered the process starts over.

Coming out to oneself is a different experience and a process that can best be understood through the different stages one goes through until they reach total identity synthesis. The more we understand this process the we can provide a stable and consistent presence in the life of a vulnerable individual. The most common model is the Cass model of sexual identity development.

Most models of identity development do not take into account sociological variables that can impact the process. With that being said, our culture has become more accepting of LGBTQ orientations/gender definitions so the process of formation would naturally be impacted by that. And lastly, when considering developmental processes it is very unlikely that there is a linear path, from one stage directly to the next. Often stages are resolved quicker or slower or jumped altogether. One might also revisit stages more than once.

However this occurs, a coming theme that continues to emerge in our research is that of isolation during this process. Many of the youth interviewed report an increase in unhealthy, maladaptive behaviors as an attempt to cope with stressors related to their emerging identity/gender affiliation and sense of being socially invisible.

From Wikipedia

The six stages of Cass’ model

Identity Confusion

In the first stage, Identity Confusion, the person is amazed to think of themselves as a gay person. “Could I be gay?” This stage begins with the person’s first awareness of gay or lesbian thoughts, feelings, and attractions. The people typically feel confused and experience turmoil.

To the question “Who am I?”, the answers can be acceptance, denial, or rejection.

Possible responses can be: to avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibited behavior; denial of homosexuality (“experimenting”, “an accident”, “just drunk”, “just looking”). Males may keep emotional involvement separated from sexual contact; females may have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.

The possible needs can be: the person may explore internal positive and negative judgments. Will be allowed to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing thatsexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity and social identity).

Identity Comparison

The second stage is called Identity Comparison. In this stage, the person accepts the possibility of being gay or lesbian and examines the wider implications of that tentative commitment. “Maybe this does apply to me.” The self-alienation becomes isolation. The task is to deal with the social alienation.

Possible responses can be: the person may begin to grieve for losses and the things they give up by embracing their sexual orientation (marriage, children). They may compartmentalize their own sexuality—accept lesbian/gay definition of behavior but maintain “heterosexual” identity. Tells oneself, “It’s only temporary”; “I’m just in love with this particular woman/man”; etc.

The possible needs can be: will be very important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep some “heterosexual” identity (as “not an all or none” issue).

Identity Tolerance

In the third stage, Identity Tolerance: the person comes to the understanding they are “not the only one”.

The person acknowledges they are likely gay or lesbian and seeks out other gay and lesbian people to combat feelings of isolation. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay. The task is to decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.

Possible responses can be: beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not preclude other options. Accentuate difference between self and heterosexuals. Seek out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). The person may try out variety of stereotypical roles.

The possible needs can be: to be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as internalized homophobia. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is particularly important for the person to know community resources.

Identity Acceptance

The Identity Acceptance stage means the person accepts themselves. “I will be okay.” The person attaches a positive connotation to their gay or lesbian identity and accepts rather than tolerates it. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture. The task is to deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society’s norm, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.

Possible responses can be: accepts gay or lesbian self-identification. May compartmentalize “gay life”. Maintain less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempt to “fit in” and “not make waves” within the gay and lesbian community. Begin some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as “gay”. More realistic evaluation of situation.

The possible needs can be: continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectation, continue exploring internalized homophobia (learned shame from heterosexist society). Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom to disclose.

Identity Pride

In the identity pride stage, while sometimes the coming out of the closet arrives, and the main thinking is “I’ve got to let people know who I am!”. The person divides the world into heterosexuals and homosexuals, and is immersed in gay and lesbian culture while minimizing contact with heterosexuals. Us-them quality to political/social viewpoint. The task is to deal with the incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Possible responses include: splits world into “gay” (good) and “straight” (bad)—experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as they are less willing to “blend in”—identify gay culture as sole source of support, acquiring all gay friends, business connections, social connections.

The possible needs can be: to receive support for exploring anger issues, to find support for exploring issues of heterosexism, to develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure to sexual identity, and to resist being defensive.

Identity Synthesis

The last stage in Cass’ model is identity synthesis: the person integrates their sexual identity with all other aspects of self, and sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of self rather than the entire identity.

The task is to integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is an aspect of self.

Possible responses can be: continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity, or allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of “self”. The person feels “all right” to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.

Building Bridges (Definitions): Part 1

This is a long post but a necessary one. If two people are trying to communicate and don’t speak the same language they will never fully understand each other. Spend some time studying this list of definitions before you enter the conversation. It will serve you well if you do

LGBPTTQQIIAA+: any combination of letters attempting to represent all the identities in the queer community, this near-exhaustive one (but not exhaustive) represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally

Advocate: a person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a group

Ally: a straight person who supports queer people

Androgyny: (1) a gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity; (2) occasionally used in place of “intersex” to describe a person with both female and male anatomy

Androsexual/Androphilic: attracted to males, men, and/or masculinity

Asexual: a person who generally does not experience sexual attraction (or very little) to any group of people

Bigender: a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (and sometimes a third gender)

Binary Gender: a traditional and outdated view of gender, limiting possibilities to “man” and “woman”

Binary Sex: a traditional and outdated view of sex, limiting possibilities to “female” or “male”

Biological sex: the physical anatomy and gendered hormones one is born with, generally described as male, female, or intersex, and often confused with gender

Bisexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction to people of their own gender as well as another gender; often confused for and used in place of “pansexual”

Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex all align (e.g., man, masculine, and male)

Cis-man: a person who identifies as a man, presents himself masculinely, and has male biological sex, often referred to as simply “man”

Cis-woman: a person who identifies as a woman, presents herself femininely, and has female biological sex, often referred to as simply “woman”

Closeted: a person who is keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret from many (or any) people, and has yet to “come out of the closet”

Coming Out: the process of revealing your sexuality or gender identity to individuals in your life; often incorrectly thought to be a one-time event, this is a lifelong and sometimes daily process; not to be confused with “outing”

Cross-dressing: wearing clothing that conflicts with the traditional gender expression of your sex and gender identity (e.g., a man wearing a dress) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often conflated with transsexuality

Drag King: a person who consciously performs “masculinity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of masculine expression, often times done by a woman; often confused with “transsexual” or “transvestite”

Drag Queen: a person who consciously performs “femininity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of feminine expression, often times done by a man; often confused with “transsexual” or “transvestite”

Dyke: a derogatory slang term used for lesbian women; reclaimed by many lesbian women as a symbol of pride and used as an in-group term

Faggot: a derogatory slang term used for gay men; reclaimed by many gay men as a symbol of pride and used as an in-group term

Female: a person with a specific set of sexual anatomy (e.g.,  46,XX phenotype, vagina, ovaries, uterus, breasts, higher levels of estrogen, fine body hair) pursuant to this label

Fluid(ity): generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, gay and straight); not to be confused with “transitioning”

FTM/MTF: a person who has undergone medical treatments to change their biological sex (Female TMale, or Male TFemale), often times to align it with their gender identity; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Gay: a term used to describe a man who is attracted to men, but often used and embraced by women to describe their same-sex relationships as well

Gender Expression: the external display of gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on a scale of masculinity and femininity

Gender Identity: the internal perception of an individual’s gender, and how they label themselves

Genderless: a person who does not identify with any gender

Genderqueer: (1) a blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with “transgender”

Gynesexual/Gynephilic: attracted to females, women, and/or femininity

Hermaphrodite: an outdated medical term used to describe someone who is intersex; not used today as it is considered to be medically stigmatizing, and also misleading as it means a person who is 100% male and female, a biological impossibility for humans

Heterosexism: behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness, or ignores/doesn’t address queerness as existing

Heterosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the other gender (or, literally, biological sex) than they have; often referred to as “straight”

Homophobia: fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, or discomfort with queer people, often focused inwardly as one begins to question their own sexuality

Homosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the same gender (or, literally, biological sex) they have, this is considered an offensive/stigmatizing term by many members of the queer community; often used incorrectly in place of “lesbian” or “gay”

Hypersex(ual/-ity): a sexual attraction with intensity bordering on insatiability or addiction; recently dismissed as a non-medical condition by the American Psychiatric Association when it was proposed to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5.

Intersex: a person with a set of sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit within the labels of female or male (e.g., 47,XXY phenotype, uterus, and penis)

Male: a person with a specific set of sexual anatomy (e.g.,  46,XY phenotype, penis, testis, higher levels of testosterone, coarse body hair, facial hair) pursuant to this label

Outing [someone]: when someone reveals another person’s sexuality or gender identity to an individual or group, often without the person’s consent or approval; not to be confused with “coming out”

Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions

Queer: (1) historically, this was a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ+ people; (2) a term that has been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, representing all individuals who fall out of the gender and sexuality “norms”

Questioning: the process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations

Same Gender Loving (SGL): a phrase coined by the African American/Black queer communities used as an alternative for “gay” and “lesbian” by people who may see those as terms of the White queer community

Sexual Orientation: the type of sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to; often mistakenly referred to as “sexual preference”

Sexual Preference: (1) generally when this term is used, it is being mistakenly interchanged with “sexual orientation,” creating an illusion that one has a choice (or “preference”) in who they are attracted to; (2) the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in

Skoliosexual: attracted to genderqueer and transsexual people and expressions (people who aren’t identified as cisgender)

Straight: a man or woman who is attracted to people of the other binary gender than themselves; often referred to as “heterosexual”

Third Gender: (1) a person who does not identify with the traditional genders of “man” or “woman,” but identifies with another gender; (2) the gender category available in societies that recognize three or more genders

Transgender: a blanket term used to describe all people who are not cisgender; occasionally used as “transgendered” but the “ed” is misleading, as it implies something happened to the person to make them transgender, which is not the case

Transitioning: a term used to describe the process of moving from one sex/gender to another, sometimes this is done by hormone or surgical treatments

Transsexual: a person whose gender identity is the binary opposite of their biological sex, who may undergo medical treatments to change their biological sex, often times to align it with their gender identity, or they may live their lives as the opposite sex; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Transvestite: a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often called a “cross-dresser,” and often confused with “transsexual”

Trans-man: a person who was assigned a female sex at birth, but identifies as a man; often confused with “transsexual man” or “FTM”

Trans-woman: a person who was assigned a male sex at birth, but identifies as a woman; often confused with “transsexual woman” or “MTF”

Two-Spirit: a term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders

– See more at:

Building Bridges (overview)

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and faith communities, we are hosting a blog series aimed at helping faith communities grow in their understanding of an often misunderstood people group. The series will consist of 6 posts, many of which are informed by actual conversations with individuals within the LGBTQ community. Here’s what you can expect from this series:

Part 1: Definitions: If you’re anything like me you’re lost in LGBTQ lexicon. Let’s start by clarifying what is meant when certain words are used.

Part 2: Major Themes Among LGBTQ Students: We will hear from LGBTQ students on theme such as Family Rejection/Acceptance, Coming Out, LGBTQ-Related Stress, Intersections with other Identities, Trauma/Bullying, Suicide, Social Invisibility, and Substance Use.

Part 3: Personal Factors Related to Health/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 4: Systemic Factors Related to Heath/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 5: Strategic Recommendations: We will begin a dialogue among readers with the intention to problem solve strategic ideas for closing the gap between our LGBTQ brothers/sisters and the local faith communities.

Part 6: A Story of Bridge Building: A first-hand account of the impact of effective bridge building.

Online discourse is encouraged and we want to create space for a variety of perspectives to be communicated here. We will not tolerate hate speech or trolling. Comments are moderated for this reason. We wish this to be a safe place for all to join the conversation.

Suicide: Risk Factors vs. Protective Factors

As a professional who works with a high risk population (individuals with an opiate use disorder) I am faced with the reality of suicide ideation/thoughts on a daily basis. As a community member that works with youth at risk I regularly hear suicidal talk. As a father of a young man with a mental illness I have been impacted by suicidal threat. I cannot seem to escape the dark subject of death by self murder. As a result I have made it a part of my life work to educate the public as much as I can and to build networks of communities to come alongside those who struggle with their dark passengers of hopelessness and helplessness.

Researchers have spent many years studying specific factors related those who are vulnerable to the allure of suicide, risk factors as well as protective factors. If the church is to come alongside those who suffer so much that they are considering taking their own lives, we must understand the complexities that lead an individual to those crossroads.

Risk Factors

Mental Health/Substance Abuse

One national survey reports that 82% of people with suicidal thoughts had a mental health disorder. The same survey reports that 94% of individuals had made a plan to commit suicide, and 88% had a previous suicide attempt in the last year.

There are five mental health disorders that increase the risk of suicide; Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenic, and anorexia with major depressive disorder being the most common among those who attempt suicide.

Stressful Life Events

  • Sexual orientation
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Social isolation
  • Owning weapons (particularly firearms)
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Lower class
  • Economic recession
  • Chronic pain
  • PTSD (combat trauma)
  • Immigration

Protective Factors

  • Strong social support
  • Engagement in faith communities
  • Spiritual disciplines
  • Moral conflict about suicide
  • Having a sense of purpose/meaning
  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Coping skills/problem solving skills
  • Having people who will miss us
  • Internal perseverance
  • A sense of responsibility

Talking about suicide will not “plant” the idea in someone’s head.  The idea is likely already there and speaking about it validates the struggle of the individual suffering.  It removes the shame and stigma surrounding it.

  1. Can you identify any of the risk factors in the young people you love?
  2. How can our ministries, families, and communities upon the basic understanding of risk and protective factors to support those in our care?
  3. What is the next step for your ministry, family, or community towards increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors? How will you go about doing this?  Who will you ask for help?  What barriers stand in your way?  What resources/assets do you already have available?

Developmental Relationships and Youth

1626473042009youth_summit_flyer_photoI came across this article from the Search Institute that is an update on their research of developmental relationships. The Search Institute adopted the term developmental relationships to describe the broader conception of relationships that are defined by the close connection between a young person and an adult or peer that powerfully and positively shapes the young person’s identity and helps the young person develop a thriving mindset. A thriving mindset is one that is focused on more than just surviving and is flourishing, thriving.

The Search Institute has created a Developmental Relationship Framework that is based on qualitative and quantitative research regarding developmental assets and focuses on making a positive impact in young people’s lives. I can’t help but think of the possible impact this research has on how we build relationships with youth in our homes, ministries, and communities as it relates to spiritual formation. There are 20 identified actions that make a relationship developmental. They are organized into the framework listed below:

Express CARE: Show that you like me and want the best for me.

  • Be present – pay attention when you are with me.
  • Be warm – let me know that you like being with me and express positive feelings toward me.
  • Invest – Commit time and energy to doing things for and with me.
  • Show interest – Make it a priority to understand who I am and what I care about.
  • Be dependable – Be someone I can count on and trust.

CHALLENGE Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve.

  • Inspire – Help me see future possibilities for myself.
  • Expect – Make it clear that you want me to live up to my potential.
  • Stretch – Recognize my thoughts and abilities while also pushing me to strengthen them.
  • Limit – Hold me accountable for appropriate boundaries and rules.

Provide SUPPORT: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

  • Encourage – Praise my efforts and achievements
  • Guide – Provide practical assistance and feedback to help me learn.
  • Model – Be an example I can learn from and admire.
  • Advocate – Stand up for me when I need it.

Share POWER: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.

  • Respect – Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
  • Give voice – Ask for and listen to my opinions and consider them when you make decisions.
  • Respond – Understand and adjust to my needs, interests, and abilities.
  • Collaborate – Work with me to accomplish goals and solve problems.

Expand POSSIBILITIES: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.

  • Explore – Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
  • Connect – Introduce me to people who can help me grow,
  • Navigate – Help me work through barriers that could stop me from achieving my goals.

Spend some time with other adults and youth to flesh out these ideas. Here are some questions to get you started. Hopefully they will lead to other questions and solutions.

Beyond just understanding the concepts of developmental relationships how can we create space for and strengthen these necessary relationships in our homes, ministries, and communities?

How can we identify systems that support or stand in the way of the building of developmental relationships?

What methods and activities can we create the help new or existing relationships move towards a developmental relationship?

How can we collaboratively work with other youth oriented entities to build developmental relationships?

Visit for more information on developmental assets and developmental relationships.

New Training Opportunities For 2015/2016

trainingFringe workshops equip youth workers, parents, and students to understand the unique problems facing adolescents in today’s culture. These workshops will help the participants better understand the many issues related to the adolescent journey and enable them to provide the best care possible. Ultimately, we desire to provide a customized learning experience for those in attendance, based on your unique context.  We have four NEW training opportunities for 2015/2016.  Our schedule is filling up quickly so email us to nail down the training of your choice.

See our complete training list here.

new Helping Hurting Kids

Rates of depression and self injury continue to climb among adolescents every year.  Abuse and trauma seem to be standard experiences for many youth today.  As a youth worker it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pain and suffering your students face.  This workshop will help you understand the best practices for walking alongside the teens in your community and how to be a catalyst for healing in their lives.

new Help, My Child Is Hurting

This parenting workshop is similar to the Helping Hurting Kids workshop but it aims to help the parents trying to navigate the complexity of their kids struggles.  The goal of this program is to give parents information on subjects like adolescent depression, self-injury, suicide, anxiety, eating disorder, abuse, and other challenging issues.  Parents will also walk away with a plan for getting the help their family needs as they begin the journey towards freedom and healing.

new The Art of Listening

The workshop focuses on developing the habit of Active Listening.  Listening well can be one of the most effective things you can do for a teen struggling to figure out life.  How well you listen will have a major impact on the quality of your relationships with those you serve and care about.  Listening well will also have an impact on how you manage conflict among your team/organization and provide you with a concrete tool to push through barriers and achieve your goals.

new Reimagining Adolescence

Kids growing up today are living in a world that is fundamentally different than the one their parents grew up in.  This poses challenges to even the most adept adult.  In this workshop you will discover the systemic cultural changes that are creating a whole new developmental experience for our kids as they attempt to find out their true identity and place of belonging.  Join us as we explore the developmental and spiritual challenges of raising adolescents in contemporary society.  This is a one day workshop for parents and/or youth workers.

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Returning Home After Incarceration

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

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

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

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

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

Juvenile Justice Ministry: Meeting Them Where They Are

Anyone who has worked with you learned very quickly that unless the young person wants to change they very likely won’t change. At best you might get some shallow compliance with whatever expectations we have for them but the change is not real and is short lived. This awareness is a key factor when working and ministering to juvenile offenders. Our efforts are likely to be ineffective until the individual accepts the need for real transformation to occur.

A juvenile offender’s motivation to participate in programs perceived to be trying to “change” the individual will be seen as not trustworthy and they will be skeptical that our intentions are good. Too often this population is motivated by fear of consequences (i.e., jail, sanction, threats, loss, etc.) and not compelled by grace and love. In reality, both are needed to bring about transformation. It was God’s wrath and subsequent grace that compels us in our own transformation, empowered by the indwelling Spirit.

Motivation for help changes over time, and offenders can often cycle through predictable stages of change during their engagement with our programs. The Stages of Change was developed by Prochaska to describe the various stages of motivation, and includes the following:

  • Precontemplation (unaware of problems – denial)
  • Contemplation (awareness of problems)
  • Preparation (decision point)
  • Action (active behavior change)
  • Maintenance (ongoing preventative behaviors)

Juvenile offenders who are in the precontemplative stage of change have little awareness of the problems they are facing and have little intention of changing their behavior. Awareness of problems grow in later stages often leading to intrinsic motivation to change, However, due to the high rate of recidivism and environmental and pro-criminal influence the young person may not move in a linear manner through the various stages, often returning to an earlier stage before eventually seeing a more permanent change in attitude and behavior.

So what does this mean for us serving juvenile offenders in ministry settings? It means that sometimes our expectations are not realistic for the stage of change that the youth is in. If we were able to recognize there level of motivation and meet them where they’re at we may be able to influence them towards the next stage. Imagine this, on a scale from 0 – 5, zero = criminal behavior and 5 = pro-social/God-honoring behavior, do we not expect the young person to jump from 0 – 5 immediately? How realistic is that? In reality most people change like this, 0 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 3 – 2 – 4 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 5 – 5 – 4 – 5 – 5 – 5 – 5…You get the point.

Meeting a young person where they are at means having a long view. It means that for the moment, we may find ourselves tolerating certain attitudes, language, and behaviors until real change can occur. This allows grace to have its way in the heart of the offender.

Take a moment and think of the student your working with and try to determine what stage of change they might be in. Now ask yourself if you need to adjust your strategies to meet him/her where they’re at.



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