Youth Ministry and Hurting Teens: Being Present

Youth ministry is a fast-paced, unscheduled, high-energy profession. To do the job well, you are juggling volunteers, parents, church staff, programs, budgets, meetings, training, being up-to-date on youth culture, and going to all the teen activities you can. The problem is that crises happen in a teenage life and we need to be fully present in their lives. There is no doubt that teens are hurting, but sometimes it is more apparent than normal. Here are three things to do so that you can be as present as possible with teens.

  1. Let Them Know You Are Present To Listen To Them Talk.
    This may be as simple as letting them know when your office hours are, but you need to put it out there. So many adults in teenagers lives are too busy to be bothered with having to listen to their problems. As youth workers, we are hear for them, but they may not know that this means taking an hour or two out of our time and sitting down to listen to their heart. We can and will be present with them, but that needs to be presented to them. When you do sit down to listen, turn off the cell phone right in front of them and let them know you are ready to listen with your full attention.For us at USAFA Club Beyond, this means that every three weeks we make a verbal comment up front that we want to know what they have to say and are willing to buy them coffee or lunch and chat about their lives. The promotion is frequent and constant, they simply need to know we are available.
  2. Let Them Know That No Subject Is Off Topics
    With a variety of situations and emotions, we are bound to end up talking about some tough stuff in life. But we need to communicate through our sermons and sideline conversations that we are here to listen to anything they need to get off their chest. This means that we will not judge them for what they say, no matter how terrible. Be it cutting, bullying, or anger at parents, we are hear to listen. When they open up their heart and unload the months of repressed fear, hopelessness, and pain, their hearts will be lightened and you can offer them the support they need. But it takes knowing that they can go there with you to make all that relief happen.
  3. Do Not Make Promises You Can’t Keep
    I love listening to teens and hearing what they have to say and would never intentionally do anything to change that. That being said, as a youth worker, you are legally required to report certain things to the authorities, including harm to self or others. So when a teen begins a conversation with, “Can you keep a secret?” you must communicate what you can and cannot promise. The unfortunate side of this is that they may not want to talk…. yet. But when a fear or problem becomes too much, they will come to talk. To hold something secret like thoughts of suicide can literally kill them, so don’t do it!

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