10 Conversations I Wish Someone Had With Me as a Teenager

Source: Chuck Lawless at ChurchLeaders.com

 

Today I write on behalf of teenagers. Frankly, I’m glad I’m not one today for many reasons—not the least of which is I would not want to face the temptations teens face today. I do remember my teen years, though, and I still think about some of the times when I desperately wanted guidance and encouragement back then. Here are some of the conversations I wish someone had shared with me:

  1. “You’re not the only one struggling as a teenage Christian.” I was certain I was. Surely nobody was battling temptations like I was. At least, nobody was talking about it. That was part of the problem.
  2. “Let’s talk about pornography and lust.” I cannot say strongly enough how I wish a Christian man had cared for me enough to initiate that conversation. Fathers, waiting until you catch your teen in this habit is an abdication of your responsibility.
  3. “I’ll show you how to read the Bible and pray every day.” I wanted to do it because my pastor told me I needed to do it. Nobody taught me, though, so I struggled trying to be obedient. No teenager should have to learn these disciplines on his or her own.
  4. “God forgives you, but you’ll probably remember your sinful choices the rest of your life.”Had I known 40 years ago that I’d still occasionally hurt over my past sin today, I think I would’ve made some different choices then.
  5. “Be ready for God to change your plans.” As a teen, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up: teach high school English. God had other plans.
  6. “Let me help you learn your theology well because you’ll be challenged often.” High school classmates respected me, but they disputed my beliefs. College professors in a public institution questioned my faith. I’m sure the battles are worse for teens now.
  7. “Date only believers.” My experience is that more often than not, the nonbeliever influences the believer more than the other way around.
  8. “Don’t be a jerk.” I was at times, especially when I thought I was better or smarter than others. I wish someone had confronted me in my arrogance then so perhaps I wouldn’t deal as much with arrogance now.
  9. “Even teenagers die.” That’s morbid, I realize. None of us knew that fact, though, until a classmate died—and no one talked us through our questions.
  10. “The choices you make today can come back to haunt you.” That’s probably even more the case today. Facebook posts, tweets and other social media options reveal a teen’s foolishness to others, including college recruiters and future employers.

Parents and grandparents, have the conversations with your teens. Someday, they’ll be glad you did.

Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on Twitter @Clawlessjr and on at facebook.com/CLawless.More from Chuck Lawless or visit Chuck at http://www.chucklawless.com/

How Not to Lose Your Youth Ministry Job in the First Year

Source: Youth Ministry Institute
Author: Steve Schneeberger

It’s a little pessimistic sounding, isn’t it? As the Coaching Coordinator for a youth ministry training organization and someone with 20+ years of youth ministry experience, I have watched several youth ministers make the same mistakes. For all of you first-timers at a church, here are some ways for you to avoid pitfalls so that you can grow and develop into your new position as a youth minister.

So, what are some things that could help you to keep your youth ministry position?

DEVELOP A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SENIOR PASTOR.

Your pastor may have an office on the other end of the campus, but the senior pastor needs to feel secure in trusting you with one of the most important ministries in the church. He wants to know that he can safely have your back when someone comes to him with a complaint. Your pastor wants to know that you can be trusted and that you make sound decisions. He needs to be kept abreast of the workings of the ministry so that he is not blind-sided when someone else shares his/her discontent regarding the youth ministry. Your senior pastor can be a resource to you in many ways, and you may develop a valuable life-long relationship. Make an appointment with your pastor today and weekly!

DESPITE HOW BUSY YOU ARE, RESPOND TO PHONE CALLS, EMAILS, OR TEXTS WITHIN A REASONABLE TIME.

Church staff, parents, youth, and volunteers are all busy too! They also need to feel valued. Create a habit by responding within 24 hours. If you cannot get back to someone within 24 hours, at least text or message the individual explaining that you received his/her message and you will respond within a realistic, designated period of time. Open communication in youth ministry is often perceived as an oxymoron. Let’s change that perception!

SPEND THE FIRST YEAR GATHERING INFORMATION AND THEN MAKE CHANGES WITH INPUT FROM OTHERS AFTER THE FIRST YEAR.

From the name of the youth ministry to the meeting nights, the whole set-up may not be palatable to you. However, before you arrived on the scene, the volunteers, parents, church leadership, and youth may have had some type of ownership for this ministry. If you want to develop a healthy ministry, bring the input of these folks to the table and make mutual decisions. Not only will you want to stay for the long haul, they’ll want you to be there!

ESTABLISH A PROFESSIONAL MODE OF DRESS.

You say you want people in the congregation, parents and youth to treat you with respect? Earn it! Dress like a youth ministry professional, not like you just got back from a dodge ball game. People’s new attitude toward you may amaze you! And, the dynamic of professionalism in youth ministry will get bonus points.

BE PROACTIVE IN MAKING AN ANNUAL YOUTH MINISTRY BUDGET.

Do you want to have a budget for your youth ministry? Most churches cannot afford an accountant for the youth ministry. So, you’d better learn how to create a budget, submit it to the finance committee, have measurable goals for expenditures, and manage it. These strategies will expand your skill-set!

WORK ON SENSITIVITY DURING COMMUNICATION.

I’m not discouraging transparency here. That is an asset. What I am discouraging is the email to a parent, volunteer or staff person in response to frustration on your part. It can be a wise practice to run your emails or text responses by someone that you trust first. Once you hit the “send” button, you cannot retrieve what you said, and it can get you in a world of trouble if your response is perceived as terse, defensive, or angry. Maintain vulnerability seasoned with grace.

CONSIDER PARENTS OR GUARDIANS A PART OF YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY.

Yes, you are the YOUTH minister, but if you miss the opportunity to partner with parents or guardians, you are missing an opportunity to influence youth in their faith. The Fuller Youth Institute spent a lot of time researching the fact that biggest faith influence on a teenager is the parents.http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/helping-kids-keep-the-faith Youth ministry is a family ministry. As you equip parents to support the faith of their students, your youth will be more successful at taking ownership for their faith. And isn’t that our end-goal?

LEARN HOW TO MANAGE YOUR TIME.

You have a position that often has a flexible schedule. Annual events, mission and service opportunities, concerts and frequent evening and weekend events are a part of the ministry. However, the church leadership and pastoral supervisor will want an accounting of your time, most especially during your first year. And, you will want to avoid burnout and stress. Set up a regular weekly schedule that includes your ministry priorities as well as your personal ones. This time management skill will prove to be a gift for life.

HAVE PEER SUPPORT AND ACCOUNTABILITY.

There is only one group of people who can even begin to understand the ups and downs of youth ministry, and that’s other youth ministers. Yet, we have developed a culture of self-protectiveness amongst ourselves. What is it that we fear? Every year youth ministers who complete our program at the Youth Ministry Institute emphasize the relationships that they have developed with other youth ministers as their greatest take-away. We can all benefit by participating in a cohort of youth ministers to pray, share best practices, and celebrate together.

You now have a heads-up on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in youth ministry.  Thanks to all who have gone before and helped to teach these lessons. I wish I had known these things when I began in ministry…

 

kathy-rexroadKathy Rexroad obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1975 fromWest Virginia University. While serving as volunteer nursery coordinator at an Orlando area church, Kathy felt God’s call into a life of ministry. While serving for over 25 years at that church, she “grew up” with the children she served and became their youth minister. As the church’s longest tenured staff member, she received the unique blessing of watching some of her former youth alumni respond to their call to ministry and others return to their church home as godly spouses and parents. In December 2010, Kathy retired from her ministry to serve her family that included four new grand babies, with her husband, Gregg. In September 2012, she was hired as the Coaching Coordinator for the Youth Ministry Institute. In addition, Kathy coaches, leads a small group, serves as a Youth Ministry Assessor and board secretary, and teaches Student Leadership.

The Surprising News About LGBT Teens and Church

Source: Link
Author: Marko

my latest column for Youthwork Magazine (in the UK) has been released into the wild. i felt this one had an extra dose of importance, and hope youth workers will both read it carefully and think deeply about implications.


I don’t believe there’s an increase in gay teenagers, or those wrestling with same sex attraction (SSA), in the average church. But there’s no question that youth workers all over the globe—whatever their church’s theology, or their own—are facing an exponential increase in questions from all fronts.

In every one of my youth worker coaching groups, participants of all theological stripes want to talk bout how they should respond to teenagers with SSA questions (and transgender questions). Almost every youth worker is asking (or should be asking!) pragmatic questions, and being expected to give answers to teenagers, parents, and oversight committees.

I’ve found that most of us don’t know how to talk about these issues. One of the results is an interesting one: we almost always default to theological camps (even the large quantity of youth workers who aren’t sure of their theological camp). Conversations quickly become debates.

There’s a place for debates, to be sure. Biblical and theological understanding is critical. But at the end of the day, I’m finding that most youth workers are wrestling with questions and situations that are more pastoral than theological. And I’m not seeing enough of those conversations. To paraphrase pastor and author Andy Stanley: With Jesus, we see that theology is never allowed to trump ministry.

us verses usI was recently reading the manuscript of a wonderful book being released later this year by Andrew Marin, called Us Verses Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community (NavPress, 2016). The book reveals the findings (and practical implications) of a massive research study of the faith of LGBT people. And there are some very surprising findings, one of which should result in direct action from youth workers everywhere.

(It should be noted that while Marin currently lives in Scotland, studying at St. Andrews, the research study was conducted on a US population. That said, I believe the implications still have something to say to youth workers outside of the US.)

In short, one surprising finding of the study was that LGBT people score more than 10% higher than the general population when it comes to having a background in the Christian church. That fact itself is fascinating, and worthy of reflection. The research team dug deep into the data, cross-referencing reams of data from other questions and digging into the responses from open-ended prompts.

They discovered that a large portion of young teens experiencing SSA look for ways to rid themselves of the attraction they don’t desire to have. Prior to their young teen years, survey respondents may have been aware of their SSA; but the questions (and often pain and fear) surrounding these issues become particularly urgent to young teens stepping into the developmentally normative work of identity formation.

Here’s the news for youth workers (and churches in general): a statistically significant percentage of young teens experiencing SSA, but without prior church experience turn to the church, as a means of turning to God. Did you catch that? Young teens without prior church experience start attending church and/or youth programs specifically because of their SSA. They are looking, primarily, for answers and help (and often, hoping that God will remove their SSA).

Sadly, the statistics also show that the vast majority of teens experiencing SSA do not find help in the church (all too often experiencing condemnation and rejection): The majority of LGBT adults report leaving the church (but not their faith) during their later teen years.

Teenagers are in our midst, looking for help; and we have been—for a very, very long time—failing them.

This is one of the reasons I am so firmly in agreement with Andy Stanley’s insistence that “the church should be the safest place to talk about anything, including SSA.”

This column is not the place for a deep dive into all the ways we youth workers should be living out this ‘safest place to talk about anything’ mandate. But let’s at least start here: love, and dialogue, and create safety, and prayerfully work out your pastoral response (more urgently than your theological posture) to the teenagers in your very midst who are wrestling with same sex attraction.

 

 

Teen Suicide… A Helpful Infographic

Source: Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

FEBRUARY 27, 2016
Today, I want to pass on a helpful infographic from the folks at Teen Help (see below). In addition, I want to point parents, youth workers, and others who care about kids to some very helpful resources that sit at arm’s length in your library. Here are my recommended books. . .

A Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis, by Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock

Help, My Kids Are Hurting, by Marv Penner

Preventing Suicide, by Karen Mason

The Youthworker’s Guide To Helping Teenagers in Crisis, by Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock

When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression, by Richard Winter

teen-suicide-statistics-infographic

 

Walking Through Tragedy with Youth: My Grief Observed

Source: Andrew Chappell at Youth Ministry Collective

No youth pastor should ever have to go through the death of a student. But that does not stop tragedy from happening. As painful as it is to think about, there will most likely be tragedy in some of your churches.

I experienced such tragedy in my youth group when I was 17. Thomas was on his way to our week-long mission camp when he was in a horrific car accident. His death affected each of us in similar and different ways. One of the things that kept us going in the midst of tragedy was our youth pastor, Allen.

The following is a result of almost ten years of reflection upon both the accident and my youth pastor’s strength through the storm. I hope you find it helpful in whatever grief you are walking through with your youth. These five things are critical:

One: Listen

In the midst of tragedy, your job is to listen. Your job is not to talk, to fix it, to give all the right answers, or to save your youth from being angry at God. Your job is to provide a safe place for your students to express the emotions and questions they experience. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ 5 Stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) have to be lived out.

You do your students a disservice when you attempt to save them with horrible answers like “God needed one more angel in heaven,” or “It was just her time I guess.” No. Stop. Your job is to listen, to be present; especially in the immediate days after the tragedy.

Two: Be Compassionate

When most people first experience death, their understandings and perspectives can shift drastically. Your youth are probably wrestling with the concept of a loving God in light of a completely inexplicable occurrence. They will most likely wonder how a loving, all-powerful, and just God can allow such a thing to happen. Any “everything-happens-for-a-reason” response is much worse than a simple “I don’t know,” or “I don’t understand either.”

Your students are likely experiencing the reality of death for the first time, and so they are also coming to grips with their own mortality. They no longer see themselves as invincible. Physical life now has a clear end. Death is no longer a story in a book.

Accept that anger is normal. When Thomas died, I was angry at God. I was also angry that the world didn’t seem to recognize my hurt. The world kept spinning, people kept going to work, and life kept moving. The world should have stopped but it didn’t. Anger is a part of this. Let it happen. Be patient and compassionate.

Three: Remember

The most important part of this whole process is God’s promise. Death is not the end. Jesus Christ has defeated death forever and promises new life in resurrection. That means we have a hope that surpasses pain and suffering. Paul reminds us, “God works in all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Death is incredibly painful, but it also adds a depth to faith that has never previously been understood. Remember and remind your youth that God is present in all things.

Four: Watch

Our culture wrongly expects us to get over loss in a few days. And life does go on. In fact, many of your students will begin to heal and find a new normal, but the time it takes each student will vary.

So keep tabs on them, especially in the few months after. Be sensitive to changes in behaviors and outlooks. Listen. Be intentional about checking on your students. Don’t be afraid to point a student and his or her parents toward more professional help if it looks like you are out of your element. You are not a therapist, but you will have a unique role in their process of healing.

Five: Self-Care

The hardest part for most in the midst of tragedy will be self-care. You will likely be the one being strong for everyone else. Do the best you can. Be real with your students. Acknowledge your own questions and doubts. Have mentors or friends in ministry that you can go to when you need some relief. Make sure you have a chance to deal with your own grief. Go see a counselor.

My prayer is that you never have to go through a tragedy like the one I went through. But if you do end up in that sort of situation, you can be equipped by practicing these things. Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you. Pray unceasingly. May God grant you peace, strength, and love as you continue in ministry, in the good times and the bad.

My Little Angel (the Porn Addict)

Source: Chris McKenna at Youth Ministry Collective

By some estimates, there are around 1 billion websites (and the number is constantly growing). Others estimate that somewhere between 4-14% of all websites are pornographic. This means that there are somewhere between 38-140 million inappropriate places for our kids to stumble into. On October 2, 2015, I received this Facebook message from a local parent, who gave me permission to share this:

“Hi, I’m guessing I’m not the first parent to send an email like this. Last night we found out our 15 year old son has been looking at porn on his phone for the last nine months. My initial fury and horror quickly led me to shame that we hadn’t protected him and that I was too arrogant and naive to believe my son would do this. He’s a good kid, kids like him would never do this….Please feel free to share some of my story as an illustration of it CAN be your child. If I didn’t worry about protecting his reputation I would be shouting out to everyone I know to set up the blocks on EVERYTHING! Don’t be fooled into thinking your child could never do it.

During over 10 years working with tweens and teens, I’d say that most of the kids I’ve counseled are “good kids.” They just made a bad choice. And the Internet allows them to make bad choices with blazing speed and ease. Yes, even your kids. 

Every child deserves protection from the dangers lurking on portable, internet-ready devices. A balance between filtering, monitoring and conversation is the goal. For kids in the 4-14 age-range, I highly recommend Mobicip, which has been thoroughly tested as a filtered browser and monitoring tool. I also work with a group that has created age-specific, downloadable internet safety sheets for parents that are based on hundreds of hours of research on what we think works well whether they are in elementary, middle or high school.

If I can help you protect the young eyes in your own home and those of the families you serve, please let me know.  You can contact me at protectyoungeyes@gmail.com.

 

 

When You Want to Quit Youth Ministry

Source
Author: Leneita Fix

One of the most frustrating conversations I have with friends is the “You should quit ministry” conversation. Sure, there are days when I want to quit, more than I care to admit.

You know those days. They are filled with church politics, angry parents, mess-ups, complacent students, bad youth nights, and heartache. These are the moments in which tragedy occurs or the moments when a student we have discipled for six years decides following the Lord is just too hard. They are the moments you need someone to say, “What you do matters.” The last thing you need to hear is, “You know you can serve God anywhere, have you thought about being a barista at Starbucks?” Yes, you have thought about that too, but every time you almost press “send” on the internet application the Holy Spirit whispers you should stay. So what I do not need to hear on my wretched days is that I could walk away. I suspect those statements are not helpful to you either.

When your own “I QUIT” moments occur, consider these five things:

Is this where God placed you?

I think it is healthy to assess on a regular basis if you are where God wants you. This can apply to the church you are at, the job you hold, or if you should even stay in youth ministry at all. However, whenever someone says to me, “Have you considered another vocation?” I feel like I hear the Lord ringing in my ears, “NO!” As long as I know this is exactly where God wants me, then I need to stay put. If I doubt, then it’s good to get flat on my face before Jesus.

You are allowed to have a bad day (Or 15).

It’s alright to have a crummy day. Feel all the feelings that go with that. It is certainly more healthy to share it all with the Lord. We have great Biblical examples in Elijah, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, David, and even Paul of those who didn’t handle every day perfectly. The God who created everything (even our emotions) can handle those same feelings. There are seasons when one bad day melds into the next. When frustrations begin to mount, it is really easy to put all of our energy into what is going wrong. This is the place where trouble occurs. Have your bad day, scream it out, then refocus and put your energy on Christ.

Write down some God moments.

I have heard stories about a folder we should all keep filled with thank you notes from students and parents. Well, fact is the “thank you’s” haven’t been huge for me over the years. YET, that doesn’t mean God hasn’t shown up and worked in the lives of the families I serve. On those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, cry yourself to sleep. Then wake up the next day and take some time to intentionally reminisce on ways you have seen God move in the lives you interact with. Write down a few. Start a journal, or maybe even a jar of papers with memories on them. Then the next time this happens, read a few and write down a few more.

What fills you up?

It can be easy to get worn down because we are stuck on the hamster wheel of doing. When is the last time you stopped and did something that you just like to do? Play a game, go for a run, read a book, binge watch something on the internet, crochet booties for your dog, have coffee with a friend. Spend some time with the Lord, just because you like Him, not because you have to prepare for the next program. On the bad days, sometimes we realize they hit us extra hard because we are empty.

 

Find “safe” people.

If I know there are people who will always tell me to quit. They are probably not the people I should turn to when I am raw. Instead, there are safe people who pray with me, love me, encourage me that I am not a failure, and point me back to Christ. One close friend encourages me most when she says, “I don’t know what to say, but I can support you.” The people who get you, and get why you don’t quit, these are the people we call who remind us that God lead us to this ministry and will get us through it.

Sometimes the Lord calls us out, and there may come a time when I do leave this place or this ministry. However, it won’t be because I am giving up on a bad day when I want to quit. My hope is that when I move to the next step, it will be because this is where God has called me to next. I know there will be days I want to quit in the next phase of life, too.

– See more at: http://youthministry.com/when-you-want-to-quit-youth-ministry/#sthash.txTG9OQQ.dpuf

What to do When a Student is Grounded from Youth Group

Source

What happens when a student is grounded from youth group?

Maybe you’ve gotten that late afternoon text message before, just a few hours before your midweek program is ready to get started:

Can’t come to youth group the next two weeks.

Got in trouble at school and now I’m grounded.

On the surface, this just seems wrong. It seems like bad parenting. Your kid makes bad choices and the punishment is to keep them away from the positive Biblical teachings of church?

After all, it’s our job to help students make better choices and lead better lives. How can keeping students away from an environment like that possible help the situation?

And if I’m honest, the first time I got that message I was a numbers-centric youth minister with a small youth group and a spontaneously grounded kid might torpedo my attendance by as much as 15% for the next two weeks. Then I became a parent and after that I became a parent to a teenager, and I started to understand things a little differently.

Today I’ve got a more nuanced view on those grounded students than I did ten years ago.

Why would you ground your kid from church?

Unfortunately, it’s not usually that simple. I remember being a teenager.

My social life was my entire life and my entire social circle was my youth group.

We met three times a week, and although I loved Jesus, my primary motivation for going was simply to be with my friends.

When you’re grounded, that extra time with friends is usually the first thing to go, and for a parent it’s an impossible situation – you can’t effectively ground your kid and still let them hang out with their friends 2-3 times a week, even if it’s at church.

It’s a hollow and ineffective punishment if it doesn’t sting.

Beyond that, there’s the truth that parents often don’t understand or experience the true value of your youth ministry.

Our emails and flyers and websites extol how fun the Nerf Wars are going to be, but don’t emphasize the spiritual meat.

You already know that teenagers aren’t the best at having meaningful conversations with their parents about “what we talked about at youth tonight.”

Add that up, and a parent’s view of your ministry might be that it’s a lot of fun with a lot of friends. Stated that way, it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d want to ground your teenager from.

Before getting too negative about parents, really consider their point of view.

Have they been shown the spiritual and moral value of your program?

Are the co-conspirators also a part of the youth group?

If mom sends him to youth group, does he then hang out more with the people he got in trouble with?

Is it possible that this is a one-week thing because the student needs to spend tonight working on an extra-credit assignment to make up for an abysmal grade?

Once you’ve taken a few minutes to be empathetic to the plight of a parent, it’s time to start thinking about the student.

Even if you ultimately disagree with the parent, the truth is, it’s their kid and you don’t control how they parent.

What you can do is control how you minister to the student anyway.

A student isn’t beyond your ministerial arm just because they’re not at youth group, and the truth is that a student who’s in some trouble provides a ripe opportunity for you to invest in their lives.

Send over an SMS-ready devotional.

It’s not difficult.

Figure out the Scripture part of what they’ll be missing at youth group, and send a simple text that says:

Bummer.

We’re in Matthew chapter 8 tonight.

Since you’ve got extra time now, read over that a few times tonight and text me back to let me know what stands out to you.

Later on, ask how you can pray for them.

Never speak poorly about a parent.

Even if every part of you is inconsolably convinced that this is bad parenting, never let a whiff of that get to the student.

There is nothing good that can come from that, so don’t do it.

Instead, offer to help a tired parent out.

You think kids take it hard when they get grounded?

Their parents might be taking it even harder.

Send a message to mom or dad and let them know that you’re available.

You’d be shocked how many parents will take you up on it.

Word of advice here, if you meet with a student who’s gotten into trouble, you’ll want to be pretty businesslike.

Meeting them for donuts or disc golf probably feels like a reward, and that’s kind of the wrong incentive.

But meeting just to talk, pray, and counsel.

That’s cool, and it’s an opportunity you will not want to miss.

Family Members With Mental Illness: What You Need to Know

Source

Christmas always comes with sort of mixed emotions for me. On one hand, I know it’s all about the birth of our Savior and the ultimate promise fulfilled though the arrival of the Messiah. In addition, the happiest memories from my childhood all happened at Christmas.  I was showered with presents which was a huge way that my mom specifically showed me love. Yet, it also marks a really hard time of year for me. There is a lot of energy that I spend being supportive and loving as my family struggles through darkness and uncertainty. You see both of my parents suffer from mental illness, and while they weren’t both diagnosed fully until I left home, it has always been there under the surface for as long as I can remember. Between the two of them there is a cocktail of bipolar depression, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, attempts to take their lives, and agoraphobia (the fear of crowds and basically leaving the house).

In the past few weeks, I have been really touched by the interviews and articles discussing this topic on YouthMinistry.com. (See Kay Warren on Grief and Facing Mental Illness and Mental Health Stigma: Is it an issue in your youth group?) and   That’s why I reached out and asked if I might give a voice to the student who is growing up in a home where parents are hurting in a way that no one can explain. Out of respect to honor my parents, I have asked to remain anonymous. So here I stand today an advocate for the family.  I would like to tell you some things you might like to know about a household with mental illness:

  1. You Can’t See It From The Outside Looking In

When you are growing up in a family the only normal you know is the one you experience.  So to be honest while there were nights when I cried myself to sleep, at the time I thought most teens just struggled to get along with their parents.  My parents were involved, and tried to come to almost every event in which I participated.  As a matter of fact, we worked really hard as a family to pretend we had it all together. On the outside, my parents were interested in my life, well-kept, and happy. The mask I wore was of the confident, over-achieving perfectionist at the top of my class. It was behind the closed doors that things were a mess. It was here that both my parents coped with challenges by sleeping. There were times when my parents slept entire days away. My Dad would give all he had at work, come home nap, get up eat dinner, and then go back to bed. If my father was more than 10 minutes late home from work, my Mom would turn off all of the lights in our house, stand by the window sobbing in a panic attack and repeat over and again, “I just know he’s dead.”  From the time I was at least 10-years-old, it was my job to sit next to her and tell her he was not dead, and that he was going to be fine. I heard from my Mom over the years more times than I can count that she wished she was not alive. In an effort to make me different from them there was extreme pressure to perform, be perfect, never mess up, and manipulation was used to get the desired results. There was anger that erupted into screaming, throwing things, and hitting. Then when the “fight” was done, it was if it had never happened at all. All of this came from deep reserves of not knowing why they couldn’t just feel good.

  1. No One Knows How to Respond Well

We put all mental illness in a bucket, but it means so many different things. They say hurting people hurt people, healed people bring healing, and broken people can’t be well. These people can’t “get happy” or get beyond their issues. It isn’t always someone hearing voices or rambling to them in a corner. When I was growing up, no one had a clue on how to interact when they found out there was a bandaid holding back a festering wound. One time when my parents admitted to a pastor they were falling apart the response was, “Well, maybe if you were more involved, we could be there for you. However, you get what you give.” What my parents needed was unconditional love without judgement, or at least a helping hand. This caused them to walk away from church for many years, and created a belief that faith is transactional. If things were going bad, “God was mad at them for not doing enough.” As a matter of fact so much in life had wounded them everything was a transaction: love, service, and care. You take care of me, and I will take care of you. To this day, people stare at me blankly when they find out my parents struggle. We always talk about the “stigma” of mental illness and that is what causes people to hide. More often than not, when someone finally opens up about their struggle to get help, it goes awry. Why on earth would you put yourself out there again? So, instead you become someone who can at least survive the day. If you get through today at least you accomplished something worthwhile. When you are mentally ill or living with someone who is mentally ill, you just want to talk about it. You need to ramble and tell stories. You aren’t looking for compassion or empathy. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of what hope looks like.

  1. Students From These Homes Probably Don’t Know What Normal Really Is

It wasn’t until well into my adult years and landing in counseling by accident that I began to peel back the layers of my upbringing.  I can still recall my first therapist telling me, “You are not crazy. Your parents are,” and the huge wave of relief that washed over me.  After years of trying to be perfect for Jesus, he started to show me he loved me just because he made me. I had never realized that I didn’t have to do anything to earn that love. I had never been cared for with no strings attached. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I came to learn what that felt like from a person.

It isn’t that I don’t have happy memories from when I was young, I do, like at Christmas. In our strange transactional love, my mom wanted to give to us extravagantly. Christmas and birthdays were the two times of the year I saw she was trying, genuinely doing the best with what she had to offer. However, over all my childhood was not what I would call happy. There was sadness, but more so, I would say it was strained. Through much prayer, I have come to understand and forgive my parents for the ways they could (and still can be) hurtful. I have learned how to navigate situations with them, and have come to see that it is not my job to make them happy.

When I first got married, I would tell stories from my childhood like eating Thanksgiving in our pajamas, because that’s when it finally was cooked at 10:00 p.m. (Depression does not get you out of bed for an early turkey), and my husband would just look at me with an eyebrow raised.  For many years I would smile and say, “That wasn’t normal was it?” He helped me process when the answer was, “no,” and what to do with that (Sometimes we are still doing that.).

  1. Hold Out On Passing Judgement

My upbringing has made me a radical advocate for parents. Looking back at my childhood, I just wanted healthy parents. I wish there had been a youth pastor in my life that could see past my well-kept mask, and instead let me ramble about my home life. I just wanted to process. To this day, that’s all I am looking for. I even now embrace some of the good traits I inherited from my parents like the power of generosity. I can’t stress this enough, not one person beyond those that lived in our home had any clue about our family. My mom seemed a little anxious and overbearing and my dad seemed slightly emotionally distant. There are extended family members and old friends of the family who just think my parents are a little “odd.”

I wish I could tell you this all ends like the finish of a beautiful movie where everyone is well and full of joy. Instead, my parents have gotten worse as they have gotten older. There is not as much anger, but now years of medication has led to confusion and forgetfulness on top of some physical ailments. As an only child, taking care of them has become complicated. Many people have asked me why I don’t just cut them off. Do I wish some days it could be different?  Of course I do. It can be exhausting as just five minutes ago I was convincing my mother that life is not as destitute as it might appear, and I have that conversation daily. However, she’s the only mom I have. Jesus helps me know how to forgive, navigate things, and learn how to raise my own children differently.

 

Here is the number one thing to remember: Every child loves their parent no matter who they are.

I just had to learn that loving them might look different than it does for others. Maybe this is where my tenacity comes into play to help the church genuinely forge partnerships with families, all of them, even the ones with lots of pain.

After many, many years my mom was invited to a Bible study one day by a friend that she took a chance on. By the end of the first visit, people had prayed with her, and even offered some practical help my parents needed. I have never met a group of people like this church who just embraced my parents and loved them. They didn’t ask questions or make decisions about who they should be; instead everyone accepted them as God’s beautiful children. It was the first time they ever felt “good enough” to be a part of the body of Christ.

Who can you find in your midst today that might need you to love them with the love that Christ offers? This love is powerful, offers a light in the darkness, and does whatever it takes to show itself. Can you love a family like that today? I wish someone had done that for us when I was still at home. In the end that’s all we were really looking for, and honestly all that any of us still are.

– See more at: http://youthministry.com/family-members-with-mental-illness-what-you-need-to-know/#sthash.ftw8PYXx.dpuf

Dear Parents of Teenagers, Here are 5 reasons you should keep your teens involved in youth group…

Dear Parents of Teenagers, Here are 5 reasons you should keep your teens involved in youth group…

Posted by Greg Stier

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5 Reasons You Should Keep Your Teens Involved in Youth Group

Dear Parents of Teenagers,

Thanks for all you do to invest in the life of your teenager(s). You probably feel like an uber driver (ready to pick them up/drop them off when they call), coach (helping them perfect their sport), tutor (working with them on homework), guidance counsellor (preparing them for the future) and, sometimes, a jockey (pushing them to cross the finish line…without a whip of course!)…all wrapped up in one!

That’s why, with all the insane busyness of parenting a teen, it’s easy to let youth group attendance slide off the grid. It’s tempting to think, “My kid’s just too busy for a night of hanging out with other teenagers, playing some goofy games and hearing another Bible lesson.”

Believe me when I say, I understand the temptation. As a parent of a teenager (who has tons of homework, plays football and is not yet old enough to drive) my wife and I are constantly under pressure to measure every event through the lenses of what matters most. And we have decided that youth group attendance must be a priority. Although we view ourselves as the primary spiritual influence of our kids, we also believe that a strong youth ministry plays a vital role in his overall spiritual development.

With this as a backdrop here are 5 short, yet powerful, reasons you should encourage (make?) your teenager(s) go to youth group:

1.  Teenagers need models and mentors.

“O God, You have taught me from my youth, And I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come. “  Psalm 71:17,18

In the Jewish culture it wasn’t just parents that poured into the younger folks. Older men poured into younger men and older women poured into younger women (Titus 2:1-8.)

Of course you as a parent are called to be the primary spiriutal mentor of your own teenager but he/she also needs other godly adults! It’s important for your son or daughter to see that this whole “Christianity thing” is more than just mom’s and dad’s belief system. They need to have models and mentors that reinforce all of the spiritual truth they are learning from you.

2.  Teenagers need community.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:24,25

In an age of bullying, gossip, slander and hatefulness (which can destroy a teenager’s self-identity), young people need other young people who can lift them up, encourage them and challenge them in all the right ways.

Youth group is also a place where teenagers can discover their spiritual gifting and begin to use it to serve others. This will help them have a heart to selflessly serve others for the rest of their lives!

3.  Teenagers need mission.

When Jesus challenged his most-likely teenaged disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations”, he was tapping into the activist wiring of these young men. In the same way your teenager needs challenged with the mission to reach their peers with the good news of Jesus in a loving and contagious way.

Youth group is a place where your teenager can invite their unbelieving friends to hear the gospel. But it’s also a place where they can be equipped to share the good news of Jesus with their own peers (which will help them grow in their faith!) As your youth leader continues to build a Gospel Advancing ministry the message of Jesus will advance in them and through them. This process will accelerate the disicpleship process in the life of your teen in ways you could never imagine!

4.  Teenagers need theology.

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”  Ephesians 4:14,15

Youth group is a place where teenagers can wrestle through the theology you’ve been teaching them (you’ve been teaching them right?) and have it reinforced in a powerful and personal way under the guidance of a youth leader who knows how to ask great questions and point teens to sound truth.

This should result in your teenagers knowing and owning their faith on a deeper level. Youth groups and small groups should be a place where teenagers can ask tough questions and even share doubts and struggles with their beliefs without fear of rebuke. Skilled youth leaders can take questioning teens back to God’s Word as the source of authority and help them process through all of the Biblical truth you are praying they grasp, believe and live out.

Great youth groups build on the foundation that godly moms and dads have laid. And, for those teenagers who don’t have believing parents, an effective youth ministry helps lay a solid foundation of Biblical truth for the rest of a teenager’s life.

5.  Teenagers need a safe place to confess and confide.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  James 5:16

Often teenagers who struggle with sin and temptation have nowhere to confess and confide. They feel trapped by their sins. But a healthy youth ministry can create a safe space for teenagers to open up and talk honestly about their struggles. Of course this doesn’t mean they should confess every sin to everyone. But it does mean that they should have a handful of others who know their struggles and can pray for and encourage them to walk in victory over those sins.

When my son came back from a youth retreat last year he had this opportunity. He opened up with a handful of others about some of his struggles and then he came back and opened up to me. After he confessed his struggles he told me that he felt a thousand pound weight had dropped off his back.

Here’s the thing, my son and I have a very strong and very open relationship. But there was something about his band of brother friends, under the leadership of a caring adult in a youth retreat type setting, that gave him the freedom to confess and confide.

Skilled youth leaders know how to create a context of open and honest dialogue. Teenagers who push their struggles down and never open up often struggle later on in life with addictive and destructive behavior. An effective youth ministry can help teenagers deal with these challenges now and prepare them to be victorious both now and later.

Yes, I know that teen life is busy. But it would be a shame if our teenagers graduated from high school and were catapulted into “the real world” without every opportunity to know, live, share and own their faith.

At the end of the day, our teenagers embracing and embodying the Christian faith is more important than sports and more important than academics. Getting them involved in a healthy, vibrant youth ministry is worth fitting into a crazy, busy schedule. And if it’s not quite as healthy as you think it should be then why don’t you volunteer and make it better?

There’s too much at stake for us to get this wrong. So let’s get it right!

To Reach a Generation,

Greg Stier (a fellow parent of a teenager and Founder of Dare 2 Share)

(Original Source)