When Students Attack

I had dinner with a student tonight to talk about a Christian club he started at his school. I’m very proud of this student and gave him a lot of encouragement and ideas. I also made sure I expressed to others in front of him how proud I was.

Tonight, however, we’ve exchanged a few messages on Facebook about how mad he is that I didn’t hear some things he didn’t say and how much I let him down. Seventeen years ago, when I started in youth ministry, that would have really thrown me for a loop. I would probably have been devastated and tried to appease his every point of discouragement. Fortunately, experience has me taking a different approach.

SOME WISDOM ON THE TOPIC…
This might be helpful for others, so I thought I’d jot down some reality checks in case you come across this:

– Beware of projectiles: He’s projecting inner insecurities and frustration onto me, I did everything I could with the information I had to give him what he needed. I must not internalize those misplaced negative feelings. He had them long before he met me and will deal with them in the way he chooses. I’ll give guidance, but the decision to make healthy choices is up to him.

– Speak truth to misplaced frustration/rage: Many (possibly all) of his frustrations stem from inner doubt and insecurity. My response to his Facebook email attacks were to show how I communicated my support tonight, that I believe in him, and that he had my full attention, and I gave him as much time as he wanted. Much of tonight’s attacks were about how he’s hurt that, in his opinion, I didn’t allow him to address the issues (the ones he didn’t tell me he wanted to discuss).

– Allow the message time to take hold: He’s still angry and hurt at me (really a reflection of his longtime inner torment). However, I imagine when he cools down, and has time for my words to sink in and take hold, he’ll begin to understand what I had to say. If I tried to get him to see that before I went to bed tonight, it would be futile. Experience tells me to speak the truth and give it time to sink in.

– End a conversation, even if it’s not over: We have not resolved these issues, but the conversation was not moving in a healthy direction. I told him I was done for the night, but invited him to spend time with me again soon to hash this out. A mark of maturity in working with students is realizing effective relational ministry happens over a season and through effective conflict resolution.

This student is awesome and will be fine. This is, however, our first conflict. While conflict isn’t fun or attractive, it has amazing power to deepen a relationship if handled well. For that, I’m thankful and press on in this ugliness. To read more about dealing effectively with conflict, click here.

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dennisbeckner@churchleaders.com'
Dennis Beckner has served in youth ministry leadership for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA since 1999. Dennis is a contributor and speaker to youth training events, writing projects and other engagements. Contact him at his blog, VolunteerYouthMinistry.com.