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7 Deadly Sins of Student Ministry Volunteers

7 DEADLY SINS OF STUDENT MINISTRY VOLUNTEERS

For student ministries, volunteer engagement is essential.

The days of a student ministry being led by a charismatic leader with adult chaperones is as far behind us as bellbottom jeans.

Every church ministry must be aligned around relational discipleship for the flourishing of the Gospel. Student ministries will fail to develop disciples when the student pastor is the only person investing into the lives of the students. When we fail to develop disciples, we fail to fulfill the Great Commission.

Leaders are the key to student ministry discipleship. You can say goodbye to discipleship if multiple adult leaders are not connected to students.

That’s a big deal! The discipleship process must involve every adult volunteer. If we want to ensure every adult is on mission we need to identify what is getting in the way of our discipleship efforts.

[Read: 8 DEADLY SINS OF STUDENT PASTORS]

Are you committing any of these deadly sins? Be honest with yourself, then take the necessary steps to get back on track with God’s mission.

7 DEADLY SINS OF STUDENT VOLUNTEERS

1. SHOWING UP LATE AND/OR LEAVING EARLY

Nothing communicates a lack of investment more than showing up late or leaving early. A large portion of discipleship is proximity. Those who are inconsistent at Bible studies and worship gatherings are not developing disciples. The Great Commission doesn’t say “Sit in a youth room to fulfill a student-to-leader ratio.” Jesus commissions every disciple to create disciples.

2. ONLY TALKING WITH THE ADULTS

Why are you volunteering with the student ministry? Is it to invest in students? Great. Investment doesn’t end once you step into the room; that is when investment begins!  Don’t fall into the temptation of sitting in the back of the student room and chatting with the other adult leaders. You are serving to make a Gospel difference in a teenager’s life. So pull up a chair and get to know some students.

3. FAILING TO FOLLOW UP WITH STUDENTS

One hour of communication per week does not sustain a friendship. Discipling students involves following up with students throughout the week. This may look different each week (attending ball games, texting students Bible verses, inviting students to events), but the key is to show up in the life of a student. When you show up outside of “church time” students will begin to see that God cares for them outside of “church time.”

4. NEVER TALKING ABOUT JESUS OR THE BIBLE

Student ministry isn’t all fun and games. Who am I kidding? Student ministry is awesome! The presence of games shouldn’t lead to an absence of Biblical instruction. Each student ministry volunteer has a responsibility to share about the grace, love and goodness of Jesus. Don’t let the student pastor be the only voice the students hear.

5. PRETENDING THAT YOU HAVE FIGURED LIFE OUT

You know that being an adult doesn’t bring clarity to life and an uncanny ability to live perfectly! Be careful not to project a “holier than thou” persona in front of your students. Jesus has saved you, and the students, by grace alone. Sure you have some wisdom to share, but be sure that you are communicating that you still need Jesus.

6. FAILING TO GROW SPIRITUALLY

The number one role of a student ministry volunteer is to be a spiritual leader. It doesn’t matter what area you serve in, you must be growing spiritually. The church’s mission is to create disciples. Only disciples can create disciples. An excellent book to gauge your spiritual health is TEN QUESTIONS TO DIAGNOSE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH by Donald S. Whitney.

7. INVESTING IN THE PROGRAM WHILE NEGLECTING PEOPLE

How many hours have you spent working on the worship set list this week? Or how much time have you spent looking at your small group lesson for Sunday? How about this one: How many hours have you spent encouraging and communicating with students this week? Preparation and study are essentials to be a great leader, but when we drift away from the people and only invest in the program, lesson or worship gathering, our students will leave the church.

NOW WHAT?

After taking an honest look at this list, how many of these sins are you struggling with? Being able to diagnose our current level of engagement will allow us to dive deeper into our discipleship efforts!

What other areas would you add to the list?


Chase Snyder - Headshot - 200x200CHASE SNYDER is the founder of MINISTRYBUBBLE.COM and serves as a Family Pastor in Knoxville, Tenn. He seeks to live a life that glorifies God and disciples others through their day-to-day lives, and his passion is equipping those in the church to seek those who are outside of it. Check out his writing at MINISTRY BUBBLE or connect with him on FACEBOOKTWITTER, or INSTAGRAM.

Leading Through Brokenness

LEADING THROUGH BROKENNESS

I used to drive home each day from work seeing a billboard advertisement for a dentist office. The advertisement claimed that coming to see them for dental work is not like going to the dentist at all.

While I appreciated their desire to lessen the association of pain with regular checkups at the dentist, I see this promise and desire span broader and deeper through many areas of life.

THE IN-BETWEEN PLACES

So often we want to skip out on the hard stuff in life. We know where we want to be – on the other side of it – but we do not want to acknowledge the actual feeling as we proceed through it.

We have run so far away that it is as if we do not know what to do with the in-between places, especially relating to pain but equally relatable to boredom or almost any other emotion labeled uncomfortable or unwanted, including brokenness.

We eagerly saturate the process with distractions and call this good because we think it makes it easier; truthfully, it makes us ignorant and numb.

I know this because I am the one running through the hot coals of brokenness claiming everything is good as my feet sear with pain at each step.

BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

In part, this is because I honestly see the beauty in the brokenness – it is not a lack of sincerity. I can see the working out of my faith in the places that hurt.

But brokenness has sharp edges that should be attended to lest they pierce us when we ignorantly try to run through the pain.

The fact that life is hard does not negate that it is full of goodness. And all of the goodness does not negate the fact that life is hard.

I propose that these are intertwined rather than on opposite ends of a spectrum; both are needed for life to be lived with any amount of sincere joy.

But none of that means it is easy.

Sometimes I need to sit in the space with what is available.

Sometimes what is available is brokenness.

Sometimes what is available is tiredness.

Sometimes that space is full of awkwardness.

Sometimes it is full of anger or hurt.

Sometimes it is just full.

And sometimes it is empty.

And this is OK.

It is OK to sit there. It is OK to just be there.

SITTING AMONGST THE BROKENNESS

I am by no means casting my joys aside. I can sit amongst the brokenness resting in a peace that does not equate to the place. I can honestly speak of joy while also talking about heartache.

The heartache does not drive the joy away; rather, it increases it.CLICK TO TWEETI can sing songs of joy with tears in my eyes. I can wait patiently for the promise of goodness because my hope lies in the Lord and not in circumstances. I can trust that the Lord is good – I CAN EVEN TASTE IT – when situations are full of frustration.

When I stop trying to fill the spaces that are uncomfortable, whether that is anger or silence or brokenness, using habits of Facebook or exercise or friends, I can see not only what is broken but also the goodness. And it is by stopping that I can see the movings of the Lord; his response to my need of him in these places.

That is the goodness. That is the joy. That as I sit in these hard places, I can invite the Lord there with me and rest in him as I sit in the momentary place of difficulty.

LEADING OTHERS IN BROKENESS

But what happens when I am broken and I have to attend to others, to lead them, to comfort them, to speak hope and truth and grace?

How come we believe we are less effective when we are in seasons of brokenness?

It is in the brokenness that we get to glimpse scripture as alive and active when we read that his grace is sufficient and how his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 CORINTHIANS 12:9). Do we believe that? Or do we just like how it sounds?

Looking back, the seasons of brokenness where I am most convinced of my own need of God are the most beautiful of seasons.

Looking around, it is those who speak from brokenness that I want to follow.

There appears to be something sacred about the way people see their need for God to be God and then give him the space to do just that. There is something magnificent when others acknowledge their limitations of brokenness and the body gets to work together to fulfill what the Lord has called us to be and do; to be the church.

We are not less because we are broken. God becomes more real to us and gets glory in our brokenness. And there is no better place from which to lead and to call others into.


 

Andrea Gaston received her Master of Arts in Counseling and spent several years as a professional counselor as well as an adviser position in higher education before becoming involved with women’s ministry, which led to a focus in college ministry. In the Summer of 2016, Andrea moved from Georgia to Iowa to pursue the opportunity of working specifically in college ministry. She practices working out the rambling thoughts in her head through writing in THE MESSY PLACES OF GRACE blog.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

Making Sense of Suffering

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Making Sense of Suffering

Suffering is a part of life.

Mikhail Gorbachev said, “You are born. You Suffer. You Die.” There is so much horrible suffering in this world.  How do we make sense of this? I think it is answered by Christ’s death on the cross…

He Takes Responsibility for Suffering Upon Himself

The Bible calls Jesus a man acquainted with grief. It says, He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isa 53:3)

God could have made a universe that provided no free will and no option for evil to enter the universe. He chose to create beings like Lucifer and Adam who had the ability to do evil. Although he does not sin, never has and never will, he took responsibility for sin upon himself.

If anyone says, “This world is sick. Why doesn’t God do something?” You can respond “He has.” God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son…. (John 3:16)

He Enters Our Pain

God has empathy. He feels our pain; he does not feel it  just from heaven; he came here and felt what it was like. He knew what it was to be hungry, tired, thirsty, betrayed by friends and rejected by society. The greatest agony he ever felt was taking all of the sins of humanity into his body.

Are you suffering? Do you know someone who is? Jesus suffers with you and them. The Bible says that although he has this incredible place of authority he still relates to our pain:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He gets what we are going through.

I had a 2000 pound suspended ceiling fall on me years ago… I felt like I was dying. Two bones in my spine were crushed. It hurt… a lot.  At the same time, I never felt Jesus closer. He comforted me all through my recovery year .

He Rescues Us

There’s a place in Star Wars where Obe Wan Kenobi says that he will become even more powerful in death. He must have borrowed that from Jesus. Jesus overcame our greatest enemy –not Darth Vader but close… it is death. How do you know that you can make it through this life? –Because the one who gives us life is the one who successfully defeated death. He rose from the dead and He delivers us from evil.

Life can be difficult. Many suffer unreasonable inexplicable  pain. Facing pain never gets easy. Thankfully, we don’t have to face this pain alone and sometimes, miraculously, God takes the pain away.

Let ‘em know

Easter is such a great time to help people understand that God has an answer for their pain. It is found by understanding the meaning of the cross and allowing the one who died on it to enter into our suffering..

Ron Powell

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Ron Powell is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com

Youth Ministry Volunteers Partnering With Parents

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YOUTH MINISTRY VOLUNTEERS PARTNERING WITH PARENTS

By Doug Franklin March 30, 2017

Parents: the most important and influential people in a student’s life.

Youth ministry volunteers: outsiders who demonstrate the same life and spiritual values from a perspective outside of the family system.

Parents are the primary faith influencers, and youth ministry volunteers are the critical third party voice. When working in tandem, parents and volunteers reinforce from all angles how to walk with Christ. They dig deep into a student’s life, model a godly life from various positions, and empower students to carry their ownership of their faith as they walk through the doors of adulthood.

“When working in tandem, parents and volunteers reinforce from all angles how to walk with Christ.”

In order to be effective and transformational, parents and volunteers have to be on the same page and work together. Here are three tips that pave the way to just that:

1. Communication

An open line of communication is one of the most important ingredients in the relationship between volunteers and parents. Parents give more freedom and trust when they are informed about a volunteer’s goals for a student, and volunteers gain confidence when they know they’re mentoring within parents’ guidelines for a student. This doesn’t mean every detail of a student’s life is revealed and discussed at meetings; it just means that there are regular opportunities to check in, share wins, and confront problems or obstacles together.

2. Respect

Parents and volunteers must also have mutual respect for one another. Both parties are making an investment in the spiritual growth of a student, but each party understands different aspects of a student’s life. Parents understand a student’s history better than anyone else, but a volunteer will see and likely understand a student’s life outside of the family context. Because parents know parts of their student’s story that a volunteer cannot know, a volunteer must respect and support parents’ decisions and desires. Parents must also give volunteers the ability to build a relationship that is uniquely different than a parental relationship. It takes a great deal of respect to have two coexisting parties with different roles and responsibilities, but wise parents and volunteers will respect and value the role of the other.

“When parents and volunteers spend time dreaming together and determining goals for a student’s growth and development the outcome is an individualized spiritual development plan for each student.”

3. Shared Mission

Parents and volunteers need each other; neither one is completely effective alone. Having a shared mission unites parents and volunteers, allowing them to work together more successfully. When parents and volunteers spend time dreaming together and determining goals for a student’s growth and development the outcome is an individualized spiritual development plan for each student. Parents drive home foundational truths, and volunteers begin to smooth out the rough edges in a student’s development which parents may struggle to reach. Together parents and volunteers can support one another, encourage one another, and ultimately, challenge students toward growth and consistency.

When a student hears a message only from one place, they are likely to compartmentalize it. So when following Christ is only embraced in the home and at church, it is easy for a student’s faith to become environmental. Having a Christ-like influence outside of the home helps take the “daily grind” mindset out of a student’s faith and allows students to safely process and apply their faith in even more areas of their life. But parents and volunteers must work together. I encourage you to communicate regularly, show value for your respective roles, and get on the same page about your goals for your student.

If you are a volunteer and haven’t checked in lately with your student’s parents, go out to coffee and encourage and pray together for your student. If you are a parent, give your student’s youth ministry volunteer a phone call and check in. You may learn something great about your student you never knew. Together parents and volunteers are a force to be reckoned with!

Doug Franklin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have a dog that thinks he is their only child. Diesel is a 70-pound Weimaraner  who never leaves their side.

How to Get Teenagers to Stop Doing the “Christian” Life

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How to Get Teenagers to Stop Doing the “Christian” Life

written by Darren Sutton April 12, 2017

Our culture values doing over being. Business cards reveal what we do, not who we are. College applications ask what students have accomplished, not who they’ve become. Even churches and youth groups sometimes unwittingly encourage right actions before faithful hearts.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, for sure. Here are a few ways to recognize the differences…

DO asks: Have you read your Bible today?

BE asks: When you read your Bible, what trait of Jesus do you resonate with most?

DO asks: When is the last time you raised your hands in worship?

BE asks: When was a time you were so captivated by worship that you felt lost in lyrics and emotion? What was that environment like, and how did it influence your response? What was happening inside you at the time, and why?

DO asks: How many service hours have you logged?

BE asks: Who are “the least of these” in your sphere of influence? When you notice them, what do you do, or wish you would do? Is prayer an action or a copout in these situations?

DO says: You know how to behave. Don’t step outside the lines and do something bad.

BE says: Your heart is the wellspring of life and action. When you mess up or fall short, what do you say to yourself? What does Jesus say to you? What would you want him to say?

DO says: Everyone needs a regular quiet time.

>>Students who are attached to Jesus starts with an authentic youth ministry. Join Rick Lawrence and the Beckynator this week as they talk about how to build an authentic youth ministry that values participation not performance. 

BE says: When you pay ridiculous attention to Jesus, every moment becomes your quiet time. He speaks in a myriad of ways, including special, set-aside times for him and everyday, run-of-the-mill times for you. Are you looking for Jesus in all your moments, not just the quiet ones?

Jesus is more intent about who we’re becoming than what we’re doing for him or even how we’re behaving.

Click to tweet

Behaviors and actions are dictated and measured by the unseen forces on the inside. Those compel us to notice Jesus and allow him the space to transform us. If we help teenagers get their actions right before we help them engage their hearts, we create shells—whitewashed tombs—capable of regurgitating “water” from an unclean well, laced with toxins that don’t allow for a very long shelf life.But if we help kids embrace the BE of the Jesus-centered life before they embrace the DO? That builds a pure well whose water is life to those who drink it.

This week we released a new devotions for teens graduating from High School and it’s all about identity. It’s called Destination: Life, Navigating your future with Jesus. It covers “Who does Jesus Say I Am?” Packed with relevant devotions that bring the heart of the issue back to Jesus paired with fun “how to be an adult” tips. Check out the sample devotionals below:

What’s In It For Me?

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What’s In It For Me?

You’ve probably heard this witty comeback at some point in your ministry. Savvy seekers exploring the idea of faith often will not commit whole-heartedly without this question being answered. At the outset, it seems to be just a non-committal hesitation. After all, the last ten years of ministry have been fixated on the mantra, “It’s not about you!” Sometimes we repeat it so often that we dilute its meaning. Further, it is often vocalized in frustration when our projects, procedures or positions are questioned. But in the end, it comes down to buy in. Youth will not commit full-throttle to this faith-gig until they have this question answered. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

When we jest in our gruff superiority, “It’s not about you,” we don’t really mean it’s not about you. Of course your faith it about you. Duh. The beauty of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is that he relates to each of us through our unique perspectives. What we really mean is, “it’s not about only you.” Faith is about all of us working together to reach others.

Faith is about all of us working together to reach others.CLICK TO TWEETIn a similar vein, what if the motives driving students to question the value of faith for their lives doesn’t mean what we think it means? When students demand to know what’s in this Jesus thing for them, I believe they are not exhibiting selfish motives. Instead, they are revealing a set of more elemental questions lurking below the surface. See if any of these alternatives below apply to your students.

WHAT PURPOSE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

This generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful…CLICK TO TWEETThis generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful participants. The personal and national terrors of their childhoods have heightened their awareness that life is short. They are also not naively trusting. Yearning to get into the mud with this down-and-dirty business of changing the world, they demand specifics of that change in advance to guarantee that the time sacrifice is worth it. I believe that reveals much more than selfishness. It illustrates a positive stewardship of time and resources. Most importantly, they desire to understand Jesus’ specific role for them to play in that transformation. If we gave them a label, this generation could be called “street-smart problem-solvers,” in that they believe as Isaiah, and later Jesus, proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1

Answer this question by giving them a powerful purpose and authorizing them to run with it. Ownership of that purpose will galvanize today’s youth into powerful players in the future field of faith.

WHAT VALUE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

No matter how engaged students are, they are still teenagers. Each young person has a deep, unquenchable need to be worth something. Being valued for who we are is a basic human need. The reality that Jesus created us and loves us just as we are meets that need in a way that well exceeds most student’s expectations.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ, you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

When students recognize that faith in Jesus Christ offers them eternal significance—coupled with a completeness that can be applied powerfully in the present– they are more apt to buy in.

WHAT CHALLENGE DOES FAITH OFFER ME?

Today’s students are movers and shakers. They don’t aspire to sit comfortably inside of the church walls, bored and entertained. They yearn to rage against the machine of injustice and evil. They crave an authentic, active and adventurous faith that empowers them to take great risks and results in even greater rewards. You mark my words, many of this generation will be among those standing before Jesus saying,

“Yes, Lord, I saw you in faces of the least of there and I stood with you.” Matthew 25:21.

It is up to us to embolden students to battle against injustice and speak out for the poor. To do so, we must live out adventurous faith ourselves. That is what they are really asking.

It’s not a question of what faith has to offer them; rather, what kind of faith are you as their leader going to model for them?

So the next time a student says, “What’s in it for me?” try to see beneath the teenage bravado to the real questions lurking beneath the surface. Before we respectfully explain the truth of the matter, we must search our hearts. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to say with fierce authority as one who has experienced such faith, that true faith in Jesus Christ offers you a challenging life, full of purpose, value and adventure!


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SABRENA KLAUSMAN is the author of ZOMBIE CHRISTIAN, THE SACRED UNDEAD and has served more than sixteen years as a pastor’s wife, church planter, and curriculum-writer.

 

 

Five Promises For The Worried Youth Worker

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Worried youth workers worry me. I see so many men and women who are facing burn out, enduring constant scrutiny, and bearing the weight of others’ expectations. These men and women lack self-confidence, tend to make decisions out of fear, and allow worry rather than mission to consume their thoughts and drain their energy. Let me say this to worried youth workers: it doesn’t have to be like this.

“Youth workers allow worry rather than mission to consume their thoughts and drain their energy.”

Let me remind you of these five promises from God’s Word:

Worried about numbers

When you’re worried about numbers, remember that God looks at the heart. The most common question asked of youth workers is, “How many students were at youth group this week?” And while numbers may be the world’s easiest measurement of success, God’s version of success looks more like changed hearts than high numbers. He states this directly in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” When we consider God’s priorities, we can spend less time worrying about the size of our ministries and more time focused on teaching students about the Savior who rescues and changes their hearts.

Nervous about pay

When you’re nervous about pay, trust that God will provide for your needs. Money and anxiety oftentimes go hand in hand. Underpaid youth workers worry that they might have to change jobs or leave the ministry, and they are prone to distrust church leaders who set the terms of their paycheck. We must remember that we serve a God who is able to “meet all [our] needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:18). Not only that, but our same God has declared that “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). We need not worry about what God has promised to provide. To learn how to get paid what you’re worth in youth ministry, look back at this earlier post.

Afraid of inexperience

When you’re afraid of your own inexperience, remember that God promises wisdom to those who ask. I talk with youth workers all the time that have no idea on how to do their jobs. They are without training and mentors, and they are terrified of being found out. God, however, isn’t at all concerned with our inexperience or our weakness; his track record proves it. And his promise in James 1:5 is true. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know; the Lord will give you everything you need to be an effective minister in his Kingdom.

Concerned about parents
When you’re concerned about parents, remember that God promises to give you the words to speak. Most youth workers don’t feel like they have the experience to work with parents, and it becomes their tendency to avoid them or pretend like they don’t exist. We’re not alone in this fear. Jeremiah made the same claim when the Lord first called him as a prophet to Judah. He says in Jeremiah 1:6, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But the Lord responds with, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8). The Lord promises to give us what to say, and he says there is no reason to be afraid of pursuing even the most difficult conversations with parents.

Anxious about competition

When you’re anxious about competition, remember that the gospel must be preached all over. We tend to wonder if the program down the street will be more attractive to our students, and we feel pressure to have activities that are better than nearby ministries. But the Lord is clear in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We need more ministers, not fewer, if we’re to reach more students for Christ. Competition becomes less important when we remember that we’re on the same team and living out the same mission.

Therefore, do not worry about numbers. Don’t lose sleep over your paycheck or dwell on your inexperience. Don’t avoid parents out of fear or be anxious about someone who is not your competition. Instead, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Doug Franklin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have a dog that thinks he is their only child. Diesel is a 70-pound Weimaraner  who never leaves their side.

5 Things You Should Know About Self Harm

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“Today was a great day,” Aaron thought as he pressed the razor blade into his forearm. He watched the blood slowly pool in the wound and then drip around his arm onto the cement floor. “At least it started out that way.”

With the first cut, he felt the tension in his shoulders begin to ease.

With the second, his breathing began to even out.

With the 10th, he felt the guilt of relapsing.

With the 25th , a familiar peace set in.

As he replayed the day’s events in his mind, the emotional relief began to leave. His breathing once again increased and the tension returned to his face and shoulders.

Tears mixed with the blood.

“Why am I such a f*** up?” he whispered to himself as he began to dab his forearm and shoulder with a Kleenex.

The day had started out great. For the first time, at age 17, he felt like he actually had friends.

They spent the day together: Walked around the mall, got high, went to a movie.

Aaron was on top of the world.

After returning home, he texted Monique a bit of gossip about the mutual friend that they had just hung out with.

Monique’s response was sharp and unexpected. She was upset with Aaron because he was badmouthing their friend.

Aaron melted down.

He went from being on the top of the world to the depths of despair in seconds.  The world was crumbling around him. He thought he’d never have friends again.

On the verge of a panic attack, he had run to the basement, grabbed his hidden razor and began to cut.

Now, as he cleaned up, he was getting light headed.

Like always, the cuts didn’t hurt, but he realized he cut too deep and too much.

Fortunately, when he stopped responding to Monique, she got worried and called me. She was exasperated by his drama but still concerned for him.

I called his mom. She found him in the basement, still bleeding and rushed him to the emergency room.

Several stitches later, he was back in his room, thinking about the razor he had hidden under his mattress.


When working with teens who self-harm, people often find themselves anywhere from mystified to intrigued to scared.

My hope here is to demystify self-harm a little bit, and in a subsequent post, I’ll give you some practical tips for helping students who struggle in this area.

1. SELF-HARM WORKS

Self-harm is a strategy people use to manage strong emotions or numbness. And for some, it works really well.

Teens who are prone to strong emotions often report a period of peace and clarity following a “cutting session.” On the other end of the spectrum, some struggle with unbearable numbness. Cutting helps them to feel alive again.

Since self-harm tends to work well to help teens feel better, they might not want to stop. They might feel like they’ve finally found an effective means of managing their feelings and be afraid to let it go.

As someone who’s never personally struggled with self-harm, that was hard for me to grasp at first. It can seem bizarre that taking a blade to your skin could change your emotional state in a positive way, but it can.

In order for us to effectively help teens work through this behavior, we must radically accept the fact that their actions make sense based on their beliefs and experiences. We must lay aside any disgust, disdain or disappointment we might be feeling and treat them with dignity and respect.

That is not to say that we affirm self-harm as good, godly or positive. But we affirm the teens in the midst of their struggle.

2. SELF-HARM ISN’T A SUICIDE ATTEMPT

Perhaps because wrist cutting has been referenced as a stereotypical method of a suicide for years, many have associated self-harm with a suicide attempt. It isn’t. In fact, it can be looked at as the opposite of a suicide attempt.

People who self-harm are looking for a way to live, while people who attempt suicide are looking for a way to escape living.

That isn’t to say that people who self-harm cannot be suicidal. But the action of harming themselves isn’t an attempt to take their lives.

3. SELF-HARM IS ADDICTIVE

If you’re trying to put self-harm in a category, put it closer to substance abuse than suicide. People who have been injuring themselves for a while can be addicted to the response their body has to the harm they inflict. And like with any addiction, there is a law of diminishing returns. This means they’ll have to inflict a greater level of harm in order to get the same response from their body.

If you have a teen who is in this place, take a deep breath, you might be in for a long journey. Overcoming any addiction comes with bouts of successes and failures, self-hatred and self-righteousness, ups and downs. Remember to not tie your identity to their success. Walk alongside them as they journey toward health, but don’t ride the rollercoaster with them.

4. SELF-HARM ISN’T AN IDENTITY

“I have a cutter in my youth group” is a nasty little phrase that we use all too often in youth ministry.

It’s false.

It’s a lie.

Our teens aren’t “cutters,” they’re humans made in God’s image. And if they’ve accepted Christ, they’re holy, perfect and blameless. Even in the very moment they’re harming themselves, they’re completely pure.

Teens soak up identifiers, hungry for labels. Let’s give them the labels God gives them and let the worldly ones fade away. The more a teen becomes immersed in the false identity of their harmful behavior, the harder it will be for them to change their course.

5. SELF-HARM ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD

As youth ministers, there are certain things that can really affect how we view teens. Things like sexual experimentation, drug use, doubt, and cutting might tempt us to feel differently about certain kids.

Be encouraged, their behavior isn’t the end of the world. They’re young and sanctification takes time.

My prayer is that as you walk with teens on their journey, you are able to lead with empathy and love.

In my next post, I’ll give some practical tips to help you lead your teens toward healing in the area of self-harm.


Ash Headshot 200x200Ash SanFilippo has done youth ministry from the streets of Chicago, to a small church on a secluded island, to the suburbs of Minneapolis. He currently works for TreeHouse, leading a team that creates online training content aimed at helping people minister to at-risk teens. Ash lives in Minneapolis with his wife and 1-year-old son. Check out TreeHouse at: TREEHOUSEYOUTH.ORG.

How to Combat the SEND NUDES Trend

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How to Combat the SEND NUDES Trend

written by David SmithJanuary 11, 2017
send nudes problem

Spilled potato chips. A freshly baked pepperoni pizza. Some wiggly Chinese noodles. Are these the cravings of a pregnant woman? Nope. They’re just a few images young people are using to ask one another for nude photos. And these requests contain absolutely no subtlety!

Excuse Me, I’d Like a Naked Picture of You

While scrolling through your Facebook feed lately, you may have noticed a video or picture with the message SEND NUDES. It might be a picture of foods, clouds in the sky, or even a note spelled out in Christmas lights. Regardless of the format, the message is always the same: SEND NUDES.

According to the website Know Your Meme, SEND NUDES is “an expression used to request sexually explicit photographs from someone via various forms of communication, including web based services and text message.” The site also gives a brief history of how the phrase entered our culture’s language.

If you haven’t seen any of these creative requests, here are some samples from The Chive. (These graphics don’t contain any nudity.) The site offers the following advice to help (mostly) guys score naked pics of female friends: “It’s no secret now that the more creative you get when asking for nudes, the higher your chances are of actually receiving them. Intense research has also shown that if you can include some laughs with your requests, your creepy factor will go down and return photos will go up.”

College Humor offers this list of 11 “best” SEND NUDES requests. The tag line? “Rumor has it, these 11 people are still receiving nudes from these top notch requests.”

Thanks to this colorful and brazen social media campaign, the SEND NUDES phrase is growing in popularity. You can buy cell phone cases with the phrase, and if you type “send nudes” on Amazon’s homepage, you can purchase everything from hats and shirts to winter gear—all with SEND NUDES emblazoned across the front. Recognizing the massive appeal of the message, Kim Kardashian sold her own SEND NUDES merch this holiday season. Clearly sex still sells…literally.

Silly or Serious?

Undoubtedly, many young people will dismiss this trend as just a joke. “I wasn’t really asking for naked pictures; I just thought the video was fun to send.” Granted, some of the creative videos and photos might make kids chuckle, but it’s no laughing matter when young people’s lives are ruined by sharing or receiving nude photos.

Parents and youth workers must help shape a generation that often defines itself by other people’s reactions to their images. Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Monitor social media. Sexting has been a youth culture reality for more than a decade. But sharing racy pics is no longer restricted to just text messaging. Snapchat built its empire on the (empty) promise that images sent to friends were completely temporary, causing nude photos to increase faster than the national debt. And when Instagram added its “Direct” service, many people rightfully believed it would encourage users—young and old—to send naked photos. Caring adults need to pay as much attention to kids’ social media apps as they do to their text messages and web-browsing history. (Here are a few tips from BeWebSmart.com for doing that with Instagram.)
  2. Keep having conversations. Of course, the best way to deal with this problem is to avoid sending nude photos in the first place. For that, maintain ongoing dialogue with kids about the potential disasters that can result from sharing nude photos. When you read an eye-opening article about Snapchat, share it with teenagers and ask for their insights. Listen to what they have to say. (On his blog, Jonathan McKee recently provided a helpful video and discussion questions about cell phones). You might think the 27 talks you’ve already had on the subject were great—and they might have been! But it takes only one lapse in judgment to undo all your hard work. Talk. Listen. Repeat.
  3. Combat the normalcy of overt and public sexuality. From sexting and magazine covers to racy billboards and the explosion of online pornography, our culture is enamored with sexuality. The SEND NUDES trend is just the latest expression. Granted, the phenomenon will probably disappear like a Snapchat photo of Aunt Ethel asleep on the couch at Thanksgiving. But something similar will soon take its place; after all, our culture salivates for all things sexual. Make sure young people have a biblical understanding of sex, as well as responsible habits for relationships and dating. Helpful resources include Sex Matters by Jonathan McKee and Pure Sex from Group Publishing.

Teenagers don’t have to lose their minds (and more) just because millions of other kids are. Ultimately, the more seriously you treat the SEND NUDES trend, the less silly your kids will look.

This article was originally published by our friends at The Source for Youth Ministry. You may find the original article here.

David, a 15-year youth ministry veteran, helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel and equipping others to do the same. He recently co-authored the book “Ministry By Teenagers.” On his website, DavidRSmith.org, David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers. He resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

Yes Means Yes: Affirmative Consent

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YES MEANS YES: AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT

[This post is part of our Let’s Talk About Sex Series] Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the topic of sexual assault and rape, especially in high schools and on college campuses. The issue that has been put front and center after many horrid incidents, is what consent looks like.

Many youth ministries have sex as a regular topic on their agenda, and rightly so. But few include open conversations about what consent looks like. Yet we need to talk about this, because it’s not something that is crystal clear to students (anymore).

Youth culture in general does not embrace a clear affirmative consent, but perpetuates the stereotype of girls who say no or say nothing at all, but in reality ‘want it’. Our students may be raised in church (if that’s even the case), but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to this line of thinking. And—dare I say it?—the derogatory culture towards women in some churches doesn’t help to give women a full, equal voice in sexual matters either.

“She said no, but I know she wanted it.”

How often do we hear variations of this in rape and assault cases? And that’s nothing to say of the many, may rap songs that include some reference to this line of thinking.

Then there are the many instances where there was no consent at all, where girls or women were either too drunk to give consent (or to protest), or drugged, or both. There have been cases where bystanders watched, filmed even, while a clearly unconscious or dead-drunk girl was being raped. Somehow they thought that meant consent.

affirmative consent

But even if students are raised Christian and even if they do believe girls and women are valuable and worthy, we still need to teach them what consent looks like. Because they’re growing up in a time and age where they get bombarded with conflicting messages when it comes to this.

In New York (my state), a new policy called ‘Yes Means Yes’ has been adopted on state universities and colleges and is spreading to private campuses. They key thought is that only an active ‘yes’ is consent for sexual activity, not silence or a lack of resistance. That’s exactly what we need to teach our students.

This is what affirmative consent looks like:

  • the consent is voluntary and cannot be given when it is the result of any threat, coercion, intimidation, force, etc.
  • consent is active, not passive; silence or lack of resistance does not mean consent
  • consent may be withdrawn at any time and at that point, sexual activity must stop
  • previous consent does not mean continuous consent
  • consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated, for instance due to alcohol or drugs, or when someone is asleep

The bottomline is this: no does not mean yes; yes means yes.

As youth leaders, we can help push back against culture and show students what affirmative consent looks like. Yes, these kind of conversations are messy and risky and highly uncomfortable. But they need to happen.

I came across a unique approach this week, made by students from Carnegie Mellon. It’s an interactive graphic novel-experience called Decisions That Matter, where participants make choices and are confronted with scenarios. It’s certainly a fresh approach to the topic of consent, if not a Christian one. I haven’t done the whole thing, so I can’t say for sure if it’s suitable for high school students (definitely not for middle schoolers), but you could have a look at it to get some inspiration.

Have you ever talked to your students about consent? If not, how could you make this happen?

[Photo Credit: Vincent Anderlucci, Flickr, Creative Commons]