We’ve all been there … that “we need to talk” moment when a student approaches you with serious business in mind. And the confession comes … “I’ve been sleeping with my girlfriend.” “I stole something from my parents.” “I’ve been getting drunk with my friends.” “I lied about a speeding ticket.” “I’m pregnant.” One of the greatest privileges we have as youth workers, yet an equally great challenge, is helping students deal with their sin. Because of the role you play in their lives, you will be the one to whom many turn with a specific sin they are burdened with.
When a student confesses a sin and asks for your help in working through it, how do you respond?
How we respond to students in this situation may very well play a major role in their ability and/or willingness to put the sin behind them and move on in their life as a Christ-follower. Here are a few thoughts on how to help teenagers deal with their sin, and work through it:
Listen With Compassion, Not Judgment.
All people sin (Rom. 3:23). And like Paul expressed so effectively in Romans 7, the struggle with sin burdens Christ-followers who, in their hearts, long to live right lives. Resist the urge to be self-righteous. See the student as a Christ-follower who desires to do right, but has given in to his or her sin nature. Engage with empathy and compassion, not judgment.
Place the Sin in Context With God’s Word.
There is a reason Paul urged Timothy to use Scripture to “rebuke and correct” (2 Tim. 3:16). Sin is a deviation from God’s standard of holiness. When a student confesses a sin, and you have listened with compassion as they spell it out, your first move should be to basically affirm that they have indeed “fallen short” by showing them in Scripture where their actions come in conflict with God’s ways. This is important. If we don’t establish God’s Word as the authority for our lives, then we are really only teaching students a generic brand of nebulous morality. Show students exactly how their actions have gone against God’s Word.
Remind students that God desires for them to confess their sins to Him (Matt. 6:12), and that God has forgiven their sins (1 John 1:19). Encourage them to see this forgiveness for what it is: an all encompassing grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross. Explain that the debt their sin earned has literally been paid by Christ, wiped away, never to be thought of again by God. Do not miss the opportunity to lead them in a prayer where they confess to God their shortcomings. But then to close a prayer like this assuring the student of God’s grace, love and mercy, and that our righteousness is found in Christ. Reaffirming these truths can help cut off feelings of shame that might emerge later.
This is key, and seemingly gets passed over sometimes. Repentance is a HUGE aspect of our relationship with Christ. When Matthew denotes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he reveals the powerful simplicity of Jesus’ message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17). Repentance is the willful decision to stop sinning. It is the Spirit-empowered act of turning in the opposite direction of our sinful ways. It is not enough for students to confess their sin and be assured of God’s grace. You must impart to them the importance of turning from the sin in their life. And you must be willing to play a part of the equation, helping them wherever necessary.
Deal With Consequences, Relationally.
Once you have dealt with the spiritual issues surrounding the student’s sin, you must shepherd them through any consequences of their sin. Students may need help understanding the consequences of their actions. And based on their sin, you may need to help walk with them through this time. If it is an issue that necessitates a follow-up meeting with the student’s parents, take the lead in making it happen, and, based on your relationship with the family, possibly be present at the meeting. (It’s a good idea to make an appointment to talk with the student’s parents at some point. And tell the student that this is something you are going to do.) As painful as it might be, encourage the student to immediately begin to deal with the consequences. Waiting will only lessen the urgency of the situation. Help students move to working through the consequences as soon as possible.
We all know the painful reality of sin in our lives. But by shepherding students through this process, you may actually be facilitating a time of tremendous spiritual growth, where students grow closer to God through the paring away of sin in their lives.