The name of the hideous creature?
We could also call him: hurt, suffering, hopelessness or even depression.
In the last couple of weeks I have heard a youth pastor almost daily announce that they are connected to a suicide in their youth programming. There have been parents, teens, brothers, sisters and even one attempt among them while the youth group was away on a retreat.
Others are talking to adolescents who mask their problems with alcohol. Some kids are covering with drugs, perfectionism, anger, or acting out in a multitude of ways. We are finding that filling space in these student’s lives with “something to do,” is simply not enough. They are searching for more. Hope. Truth. Love. Acceptance.
Instilling life into the heart of a youth takes, time, energy and focus. There are days when the lives of our students just seem so heavy. I believe that we turn to what we know. I mean when we lead a great evening or event there are ways to know that as a youth person we have “done a good job.” In the midst of all the weight we are left feeling helpless. What do we do?
1. Build relationships: I heard it said once that a “touch is worth a 1000 words.” In a world of facebook and twitter we can easily hide and pretend to be anything we want to be. HOWEVER, all of us, especially teens are hungering for deep, authentic relationships. You will only be able to have time really going deep with maybe 3-5 students. Set up systems that create relationships among students and the adults on your team.
2. Include and Involve the Parents: One of the first things we as the youth worker want to do is to “save children from their bad home life.” However, getting to know a family and their situation just may save a life. I recently, got to observe a youth pastor friend of mine at dinner with a family and their teen son. The love and comfort he showed, created an open dialogue in sharing life, problems, help and solutions. This goes beyond offering “classes or meetings” for parents. Genuinely get to know the families.
3. Train and Equip: Bring your team together to talk about all of the “sidebar” issues in the lives of your youth. Let’s face it, we can find a book on programming or how to run a Bible Study. All the “hard stuff” our teens are going through is intimidating. Find videos to watch, books to read together and experts to bring in. The more involved you are as a unit, the more the paid “staff” will not feel alone in handling the “tough stuff.”
4. Know when to ask for professional help: We are called to walk life with students. However, some problems simply are too big for us. There may need to be a counselor or agency brought in to aid in the situation. This does not mean they take over. We still need to stick around, yet, there are spaces where the professionals know how to take the monsters down fully.
The beasts of burden seem to be growing in our youth programs. Let’s face it the sword of the truth is the only thing that can bring freedom once and for all. Sometimes we need to look a youth in the face and simply let them know the truth: “They are loved with an everlasting love.” Not just once. Over and over. Together I think we can slay this dragon.
For more help knowing how to handle these situations check out the Life Hurts, God Heals deeper learning track at the upcoming Simply Youth Ministry Conference.
Leneita Fix is the founder and lead consultant for Blue Sky/Green Sky Consulting whose heart is : ”Passionate about developing and training youth-oriented programs that are looking to take a generation from surviving to thriving in Christ. In 2012 she will reach the 20 year mark of experience in youth ministry, suburban, urban and rural. Most of her time has been spent in the urban community, living as a neighbor to those around her. http://www.blueskygreensky.com/