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?
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.
Evaluating your ministries role in addressing recidivism among juvenile offenders is of critical importance to those attempting to reintegrate into the community. Characteristics and environmental factors used to estimate the likelihood of future criminal behavior are called “risk factors”.
Once these risk factors are identified, research leads us to believe that structured and concentrated strategies can help individuals who have offended previously. Researchers have identified several potential interventions based on these following risk factors:
- Developing and nurturing life management, problem solving, and self-leadership skills
- Developing networks with or relationships and bonding with pro-social and anti-criminal peers and with pro-social and anti-criminal mentors
- Enhancing closer family feelings and communication
- Improving and strengthening positive family systems to promote accountability
- Managing and changing anti-social thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.
What a tremendous opportunity for the church to step up and be the incarnate Christ to a population of people who are largely discarded as useless and of no value, irredeemable.
What ministries exist in your church that addresses the needs above?
What ministries need to be created to address the above needs?
I’m looking forward to heading out west to join thousands of other youth workers for a time of rest and training. These are some of the best people I’ve ever met in ministry. Working under hard conditions, with a lack of resources and support, in the trenches every day. Their work is tireless and often thankless. But they press on, believing that the Jesus they serve will show up in the lives of the kids and ministries.
I’m privileged to be facilitating a workshop on working with juvenile criminal offenders. Here’s a quick look at what we will cover during this workshop:
- We will explore how God has wired us and what He wired us for as well as the intrinsic longings He placed in us to direct our behaviors.
- We will learn about the pro-social vs. pro-criminal spectrum and how one becomes a criminal and disengages morally.
- We will also discuss the criminogenic needs individuals have and how recidivism occurs when those needs aren’t addressed.
- We will explore what developmental assets are and how they are related to criminality and how we as a church can participate in increasing the numbers of assets young people have.
- We will explore how to develop a community network to address the various needs an individual has, such as; employment, housing, mental health, etc.
- We will discuss mentoring and family ministry strategies that are proven to reduce recidivism and provide hope for individuals coming out of a criminal lifestyle and moving into a Kingdom lifestyle.
If you’re unable to attend the conference you can purchase MP3s from the website on any of the sessions offered. I’ll post a link to this workshop here after the conference.
Been having a lot of discussion about class, race, and religious privilege recently. Remembered this post written a couple years ago and was struck by it’s relevance to these conversations.
Originally posted on Conversations on the Fringe:
There’s no denying that there are a handful of Evangelical churches that largely shape and control the American Christian culture. You can probably think of a handful of them right off the top of your head. Those churches have contributed much to the Kingdom and this post is not an attempt to argue whether their success is God-driven or marketing-driven. Regardless, many necessary issues/concerns have been addressed by churches like this and they honored and glorified God in the process.
The focus of this post is the danger of having too much dominance over a culture and how the systems that govern many of these churches may be contributing to a larger problem that will impact our faith for a long time to come.
When any group rises to the top it is often accompanied by a sense of privilege. It’s the “Good Ol’ Boys Club” mentality. And, it often happens without its…
View original 784 more words
This song has embedded itself in my mind over the last few weeks and I can’t seem to shake it out of my head. So, I thought I’d just share it with everyone else. My simple wish is that this song gives you hope when the road seems long.
Flashback Friday – The Functionality of Sin
Originally posted on Conversations on the Fringe:
Traditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started…
View original 622 more words
I’ve noticed a recent disturbing trend of gangs or the threat of gang formation in suburban and rural areas? After talking to others about this, and verifying this is not just a local problem, specific variables have emerged and are occurring as we move further into the new millennium that makes gang formation a profitable enterprise in these areas.
Changing demographics: The development of diverse, multicultural communities in the United States will proceed at an accelerated rate in the twenty-first century, particularly in historically white farming communities in the Midwest (Goldstein & Kodluhoy, 1998, pg. 63-91)
Electronic Media: Cable television, the Internet, Mobile Technology, and other electronic information systems make the most pristine and rustic rural part of the global community. Glorification of violence and gangs through electronic media sends children who feel powerless against the world, messages about how they can be powerful (Goldstein & Kodluhoy, 1998, pg. 7). A brief search of the internet today will show that organized gangs have established their own web sites. Social media, web sites, and mobile communication devices will provide gangs plenty of opportunity to talk to Beaver and Wally. If the Beav is feeling alone and powerless out on Rural Route Two, he is likely to talk back.
Dysfunctional Families: One-parent poverty-line families, drug and alcohol addiction, two wage-earner parents (both of who work two jobs), child abuse, battering, vicious custody battles, and all the other ills that assail dysfunctional families are as characteristic of suburban and rural families as they are of urban ones. Gang leaders are highly sensitive to these parent-less, throwaway kids, and intentionally recruit because they potentially open up new markets to exploit. The gang becomes a surrogate family.
Desensitization to Violence: There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that watching gratuitous violence with few or no consequences to the victimizer desensitizes the viewer and allows the individual the freedom to act violently. Video game players are often rewarded for accumulating multiple kills during one melee. We have become so inured to drive-by shootings and other gang-initiated violence in the big cities that we give little consideration to them. Besides, they don’t affect us because they’re in the big cities. We are shocked by the unfathomable shootings in Paducha, Pearl, Jonesboro, Stockton, Springfield, Littleton, and Newtown because of their senselessness and that they happened in hometown America. Those are the places we live, and they are supposed to be the places we are safe. The bottom line, though, is that whether children are killed by crazed adult armed with assault rifles at an elementary school such as Newtown or drive-by shooting in West Chicago, they are just as dead, and their survivors suffer equally.
Increased Lethality: The homicide rate for juveniles has leveled off after a steady climb over the last three decades. However, there should be little consolation in that statistic. In the last three decades, the rise of violent crime has been somewhere on the order of 600 to 0ver 1000 percent, depending on how one looks at the statistics and whose statistics are used. One in approximately every three murders is now committed by an adolescent or preadolescent. Murder of adolescents is now second only to automobiles in cause of death. Girls are becoming more involved as participants of violence, and their means of attack are becoming more lethal. Teenagers in the United States are at an absolute minimum four times more likely to be murdered as their counterparts in 21 other industrialized countries (Center for Prevention of Handgun Violence).
So, if the world really is getting smaller and youth are increasingly looking for surrogate families, and the church wants to continue to fulfill its kingdom call, how are we to respond to these problems? What needs to happen for the church to be a potent antidote to the ills of modern adolescence?
Ok, 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?