Teens & Faith: Hard questions about youth ministry

It's not easy to work with youth in the church, but some are gifted for it. We all need to share our experience and work together for the success of the Church.

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Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Seeking to follow where God leads, and thankful that grace covers my multitude of errors.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A change of season brings new challenges

Youth ministry can be done in so many ways! I have moved from working in a church setting to being a counselor/teacher at a small private school that works with students that have fallen through the cracks of the public school system.

I'm only three weeks into the school year and I am really glad God has led me to this school. I only left the youth director position because God was making it clear that something else was on the way. I resigned and this job came to me.

Today I had a brief conversation with a student that nearly broke my heart. Our students often feel as though they are at the bottom of the heap. They come to us because they often haven't succeeded anywhere else. After classes, this student asked me if I was going to be like all the other counselors he had known, only lasting a year. He said (feigning pride) that he had personally driven 3 counselors out of his public schools. He then said that he had learned counselor "lingo" in order to aid him in driving counselors crazy. He noted that one counselor had professed that he/she was glad to be able to remove the student from his/her case load. I tried not to appear stunned as I realized the implication of the statement. This student - a bright, energetic, outgoing, sometimes very irritating young man - believed that he had driven off counselors because of who he is, not because he had actually tried to do it. My response was simple. "Keep in mind that I wasn't trained as a counselor. You're not part of a case load to me, your one of my students."

How many students in the education system are berated and shamed by people who use thoughtless language in their presence? I am blessed to work with 25 students, many of whom have faced similar circumstances. They have been bullied by students or made to feel inferior by instructional staff in their previous schools. I wish I could make it better for all the students given to my care, but I must settle for working one lesson at a time, one conversation at a time, one student at a time. I pray that they can at least come to understand that the faculty of our school are here for them. We care deeply that they succeed in life, not just in school. Most of us on the staff are people of faith, although not all of the same religion. Yet all of us have faith that these students are capable of far more than they, or the world in general will give them credit for.

Who in your ministry are begging for positive attention? It is easy to focus on the brightest and most socially well-adjusted students. Consider the spiritual cost/benefit in refocusing on the shy, the poorly adjusted, the mentally challenged students in your midst. Remember that what we do for the least of these, we do for the Lord.