Youth group is fun, full of surprises, and so encouraging. It’s a place where students feel God’s presence – teens feel cared for and are reassured that they matter. This is awesome! But for some students, what they experience at youth group is nothing like what they experience at home. To focus on a student’s youth group experience alone would be a huge mistake and missed opportunity.
Students with wrecked home lives need youth pastors willing to step beyond their job description and far beyond a students youth group experience. These students need youth pastors who keep their word and minister beyond the walls of the church on a regular basis.
Beyond the job description
Going beyond the job description requires wisdom and sensitivity. It’s risky and could put you in a vulnerable position. It will also most certainly interrupt a few dinners. But students need us to be risk takers. There was a time when my job prohibited me from giving students a ride home. When one of my students said he was going to walk home in the dark from youth group, I was willing to take a risk to keep him safe. He lived in a dangerous part of town and his mom worked night shift, so he would be going home to an empty house. Wisdom said call his mom and let her know you are dropping her student off. Wisdom said let a youth volunteer know you’re dropping this student off and call that volunteer again when the student gets home safe. I have had students whose parents were not able to drive because they didn’t have a car or simply were not in a position to drive. I’ve done everything to get the permission I needed to transport their students when needed. With this permission my supervisor would allow me to drive a student home when other transportation was impossible. Driving a student alone is a last resort. I’ve always tried to take another adult with me if possible. When I’ve been frustrated, and I have been, about getting home later than usual, or frustrated by the lack of interest a parent has in their student, I’ve missed the opportunity to go beyond my job description. We can use wisdom when taking a ministry risk and turn it into a ministry moment. Drive time talks with students can offer the hope they need to get through one more night at home.
Keeping our word
Students who live in turmoil at home have enough people not keeping promises. Their home life is often full of tension and disappointment. They need loving adults who keep their word by doing what they say they’re going to do. You may not notice it, but the quickest way to sever a relationship with a student and create distance is not keeping your word. It’s easy to say to a student, “Let me know when you have a game, I really want go,” and then forget about it. Find out when those games are and show up. Trust me, those students are looking for you at game time. Going to a game might give you the chance to meet their families and better understand their situations, as well as communicating to your students that they are important to you. What they do is important to you. And you are a person whose word matters.
Ministering beyond the walls of the church
Youth ministry and church staff life gets busy. I understand how quickly the weeks go by but students need us to be present. Seeing or being in contact with us more than once a week is imperative. We are not replacing their parents, but we are partnering with their parents who are living in tension with these students. If you have an opportunity to have a presence on their school campus, take it. If you can meet with them for Starbucks, do it. If you see them on Facebook, say hey. If you can find a way to get leaders to their school events, do it! Students who have wrecked home lives are starving for healthy community and need the opportunity to live life together as members of the family of God.
We all know how fast the years go by. Our students will graduate high school and out grow our youth ministries sooner than we can blink twice. The investment of time, love, and energy we put in will give these students a chance to thrive when they become independent young adults. The truth is, their family life might not change while they are involved in our ministry and living at home. What can change is their sense of worth, their sense of hope, their ability to operate with forgiveness and grace, and their dependence on God, who created them and loves them desperately, right where they are.