I love the kids my husband has had the privilege of pastoring, no matter their ages, and many a child has gone through one of my Wednesday night classes. Some of the children who gave me grief in their elementary school years have grown to be sweet, loving teenagers. But not all of them. Sometimes they remain, or become, a behavioral challenge for the youth department. I have a friend who is also a seasoned youth pastor, and he shared with me some of his insights on how he deals with tough young people.
- With the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-4) in mind, realize some teenagers need shepherding because they have wandered away from the rest of the flock. Sometimes that lost lamb has grown up in the church, or he may be a teenager who has been sent to the church by parents who are exhausted and hope the church can help. Whatever the case, remember God cares about the wandering, lost sheep just as much as the ones who obey the rules.
- Try to determine why the teen acts the way he or she does. For instance, what causes her to act the way she does? Are there problems in the family relationship, or is there some underlying issue that is physical, chemical, or psychological? Does the teen exhibit behavior problems at school when he is with his peers, or just when he is around adults? My friend says, “You can’t fix something until you know what’s broken.”
- At some point, you may be forced into making a choice. As much as you want to invest time in the misbehaving teenager, you don’t want other teens who do obey the rules to get lost due to inadequate shepherding while you deal with the one lost sheep. The church alone won’t be able fix every teenager; nor should a parent expect the church or youth ministry to fix what may have been going on a long time in a teen’s life. Don’t feel guilty about that. Do the best you can and pray hard!
- Have a serious talk with the teenager. Affirm your love for her, but make sure she knows you are concerned about her choices and the way she is behaving. Stress to her that only she can choose her path and what kind of adult she will become.
- My friend has a three strike policy:
- Strike One—In a one-on-one discussion with the teen, talk about the problem and what must change. Affirm the good things about the teen, and tell him how you want to help through your youth ministry. At this point, you would also explain the other two strikes.
- Strike Two—This is when you meet with the parent and child together. Express your desire for change and your desire to be able to continue ministering to the teenager. Explain that you need parental involvement to make that happen.
- Strike Three—If the teenager continues to be disruptive to the youth ministry, then you have no choice but to ask them to attend and participate in activities only when their parent or guardian is present.
My friend says he has used his three-strike policy many times, but he has never had to enforce the third strike. Love and concern by youth workers can many times soften tough hearts. Sometimes even Christian peers can help.Should the time arise when you are no longer able to minister to the tough teenager, never give up on that young heart. As long as there is life, there is hope for a change of direction. Continue to pray for him or her, and trust God to do His work.
Should the time arise when you are no longer able to minister to the tough teenager, never give up on that young heart. As long as there is life, there is hope for a change of direction. Continue to pray for him or her, and trust God to do His work.