Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders The Danger of Relational Youth Ministry

The Danger of Relational Youth Ministry

The Danger of Relational Youth Ministry

A focus on relational youth ministry…

1. Gives students access to a non-parental, committed adult who cares for and loves them.

Moses realized (in Deut. 6) that God chose the family and the faith community as the two entities through which He would tell His story to the next generation.

2. Gives students a place to share but gives leaders a more realistic picture of the mindset of today’s students.

Relational youth ministry makes leaders aware of the day-to-day life of a teen; things like: suffering caused by deep emotional wounds, neglectful parenting, faith questions, broken friendships and poor self-identity. Bottom line, today’s student bears a lot of pain and brokenness.

When relational youth ministry is done right, students will begin to share their deep dark secrets they haven’t told anyone else.

The beauty about relational youth ministry

is that it gives student a place to share. The danger is not having a procedure-plan-policy in place when a student shares some dark stuff and needs professional help. What do we do with the pain, abuse, sufferings and hurt that students share? It is problematic when a student shares hurt to a youth worker, and the youth worker neglects to get the help the student may need. One of the aims of youth ministry is to help kids become healthy, Jesus-following adults.

Are our youth ministries prepared when a student shares their deep dark secret? When does a youth worker refer to a licensed counselor? How does a youth worker not destroy the relationship with the student but get the student the help he/she needs?

I had to learn my “procedure” on the fly. For some odd reason, the students I talked with always went deep real fast. They told me about rape, stealing, assault, sexual abuse, death, physical abuse, suicide, disease, doubt, drug addictions, drug selling, abortions and pregnancies. It was almost like they were testing me by saying: OK…if I tell you this heavy dark stuff, what will you do about it? Will you be like every other adult and just say it is OK and to deal with it or will you actually get me help?

I am convinced that when we do relational youth ministry we have to be prepared to help the hurting student. We just cannot get sloppy.

Based off of my experience, here are some things to think about when a student shares a hurt:


In the assessment period, you have to discern the seriousness of the hurt. There are two ways to discern the hurt:

(1)  Look for anger. If there is anger and a fairly serious situation, refer the student/family to a licensed Christian therapist. Referring them to a “licensed” professional is really important. Be intentional to network with profession Christian counselors that you can trust so you can refer students and families to them. If the situation is more drama and no one is getting hurt, give them some tools and book to read, aka the Bible!

(2)  Look for The 3 HURTS: When a student shares their emotional stuff be on the lookout for the 3 HURTS. If any of these three hurts show up, refer to a counselor.

(a)  ”I am hurting myself” i.e., Cutting, suicide attempts

(b)  ”I have been hurt.” i.e., any type of abuse (emotional, sexual or physical)

(c)  ”I am hurting someone else.” i.e., violent rages and anger manifestations

Tell the parents ASAP:  

It is wise to get the parents involved as soon as possible. When mom and dad get involved, they can help support and love their student while getting them the help they need. Typically this is where the student gets really mad at you. They will cuss you out, call you a liar and they will say they will never telling you anything ever again. Remember…the goal is to get hurting students healthy. I would always give the student the opportunity to tell their parents first—with a clear deadline. If they didn’t tell by the deadline, then I would tell. This way you give an opportunity for the student to first confess to the parents so the parents wouldn’t have to hear the “news” from the youth pastor.

No confidentially policy:

The best fit for today’s students is clearly stating up front that if they tell you they are hurting themselves, others, or if someone is hurting them, then you have to tell someone, aka their parents, and refer them to a professional. Try to say this message from the stage when you are speaking and when you are meeting with students. They need to know your NO CONFIDENTIALITY POLICY before they start telling you their dark secrets.

Youth workers are NOT trained to do professional counseling like Dr. Phil.

Not only are youth pastors not qualified, but the role of the youth pastor is not to be the resident professional counselor. My policy was never to see a family or student more than two times. Leave that for the professionals. Students are not looking for adults to have all the answers, rather they are looking for an adult with a caring ear as they navigate their adolescent journey. I always sought out great Christian counselors in the community whom I respected and trusted, so when I referred I knew who exactly I was referring to. Plus the church always paid for the first two counseling visits. The key is to pay for the first few visits so the family or student doesn’t have any reason not to get the help they need. Don’t waste your time doing all the counseling.


The Holy Spirit is the counselor, not you. When meeting with students always point them back to Jesus. God is qualified to transform and clean hearts so give Him room to do what He does best.

Books that can help:

Two of my favorite books that have greatly helped me in my youth ministry counseling are:

The Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry Counseling

The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teens in Crisis

What is your youth ministry procedure when a student shares their deep dark secret? How do you deal with the deep-hurting pain that students confess?

Do you have a list of trusted licensed Christian counselors?

What else would you suggest to do or think about when a student shares a hurt?