I am constantly surprised at how mature and foolish teenagers can sometimes be within the very same youth group meeting. I know I need to remind myself that the teenagers I work with are, well, teenagers. There are times when my expectations just don’t line up to reality because teenagers are, by their very nature, impulsive. That means that activities that I would never dream of doing because they are foolish, can come more naturally to them. That is really frustrating because, as I said, just 30 minutes prior they were really showing maturity. What are we to do with that? Well, I have a few ideas.
1- Look at every impulsive act as an opportunity to have input in their lives. I know how hard it is to watch one of the students that I have spent countless hours with do something that just makes me scratch my head. At the same time, because I have had relationship with them before hand, it was that much easier to speak into that when the time came. As much as I dislike those phone calls or meetings, I find that they always move that person down the road as a stronger follower of Jesus Christ. The teens that get themselves into trouble generally know what they did was wrong. I have had teens look at me and just express frustration because they want to do the right things, but just can’t. Hmmm…where have we heard that before? (Romans 7:21) Seems to me they are in good company and need to know that there is hope. (Romans 7:24-8:1)
2- Respond to actions in a measured way. Taking on a highly militant stance, or an anything goes stance, will both undermine the ministry in negative ways. There have been teens that have come to youth group and have been very disruptive from the moment they walked in the door. Most of the time it is because they are just not used to the environment or structure. So, it is our job to help them figure out what is acceptable and what isn’t. Just how do we do this youth group thing anyways? When they figure it out, they often become valuable , engaged members of the group. A few years back we had a boy who was rebellious and looking for something in his life. When he signed up for winter retreat, I was not entirely sure what we were getting into. As it turns out, it was at that retreat that he asked me how he could know Jesus! He came along on retreat and as a result, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ for the first time. If we had been militant in our approach right away, he might have left and never returned. At the same time, if we had no boundaries and looked the other way on everything, than we would have discouraged the core church teens from coming. I believe it is about finding the right balance and sticking to that.
Bottom line. As hard as some of these things are to navigate, we can make the most of them with some real concerted effort. God can take any life and make something meaningful out of it. He can do it to any of the students in our ministries! (yes, even that one) Might we just open our eyes to the people right in front of us and take on a greater measure of grace in how we approach them all.