Nothing is harder in youth ministry than serving hurting teens. Growing up, I was one of them during my parents’ divorce. I hit some dark moments that were hard to navigate through. Fortunately, the associate pastor from our church got out ahead of my pain when he saw some early signs of it and invited me to just hang with him for the day. It was a life saving moment.
If you are in youth ministry, you have hurting teens. You might not see it or it might be obvious. Pain is a part of growing up, and, for these teens, much of what they experience is going to be personal. Whether it’s being rejected by a crush or being the victim of abuse, their pain can be the center of their world. The question you need to answer is:
HOW AM I HELPING HURTING TEENS?
It’s not simple or easy. In fact, it’s what makes youth ministry messy. The best action you can take is through proactive steps, such as:
PREACHING ABOUT IT
When you talk to your teens about hurting, you give them an opening to step forward. If you share your experience, it lets them know that they aren’t alone. Use your platform as an opportunity to address their options for healing, and to let them know that God is with them every step of the way.
When you have adults building relationships with teens, you are creating scenarios where pain will be revealed. Prepare your leaders before messages that might provoke difficult conversations (i.e. messages on forgiveness). Let them know they need to:
Affirm their feelings
Walk with them through the situation
If professional intervention is needed, make sure leaders know the protocol. Make sure they know that they can count on you and work with you to find the help that is needed.
HAVING A CRISIS PLAN
There will be times when you need to talk with professionals. That means working with the police when dealing with abuse, and grievance counselors for death. Planning for tragedy is so difficult because each situation is unique. That’s why you need a basic plan. Work with your pastor, leadership in your denomination, and professionals to make sure you have a clear and concrete protocol.
Parents are never really prepared to deal with their own kid in crisis. As youth workers, you need to equip parents to be proactive. That means educating them on early signs of hurting, situations that might lead a teen down the wrong path, and giving them resources in times of need. Letting them know that you care builds trust and reminds them that they are not alone.
Helping hurting teens is not easy; however, being on the front end of the situation will help everyone. In times of darkness, people need hope, and you as the youth minister can provide that. By being proactive, you are committing to leaning into the problems and that’s what the church is for.
What resources, and/or tips, would you recommend for helping hurting teens?
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