You got into youth ministry because you wanted to make a difference. You remember how challenging those years were: peer pressure, puberty, breakups, makeups and then breakups again. Now that you’ve come through the other side, you want to help the next generation. However, you’ve got a sneaking suspicion that some of the boys you are trying to help could care less.You're in youth ministry to make a difference. But you've got a suspicion that some of the boys couldn't care less! Click To Tweet
And as if the boys’ indifference wasn’t enough, it sure seems like they joined your youth group for all the wrong reasons. But how to tell? What is the difference between a teenage boy being a teenage boy, and a teenage boy looking to exploit the group you love? How do you know when you’re overreacting, or when you need to step in and do something?
Let’s start laying some foundational perspectives concerning youth group.
- The focus of youth group must always be God first. The moment we lose sight of this purpose, our group will drift into dangerous waters.
- A youth leader is to shepherd their flock. This means that youth group must always be a safe place where the students are treated with honor, dignity and respect.
- God loves every teenage boy! This perspective needs to be in the back of our mind as we confront issues in youth group. Teens are people not problems.
- Girls, Girls, Girls: Is there any other topic to cover first!? Youth group is not some spiritual club where boys can identify and land their next date. Every young woman in youth group is someone’s daughter entrusted to your care. Honor that trust by immediately addressing any boundaries that are crossed. This can include a hand on a knee, constant whispering in an ear, or words that are filled with innuendo. Quick tip: If it makes you uncomfortable as a leader, you’re not being old-fashioned, you’re being an adult, and the behavior needs to stop.
- Smoke Screen: We’ve all seen it attempted. A group of boys gets dropped off, but as soon as their parents leave the premises, they try to sneak out of service. Kids are clever, teens brilliantly so. If they can get Mom to think they’re going to church, when in reality their going over to their friends to play Xbox….why not? But youth group is not a cover story for dishonest behavior. Quick tip: If you notice a student attempting to sneak out, be sure to catch their parent on the way in next time. It’s amazing what a clarifying conversation with Mom or Dad can accomplish.
- Appetite for Destruction: The teenage boy is a destructive force of nature…but a force of nature with self control. Just because they can be hard on things, doesn’t mean they get a free pass to destroy pool sticks, carpet, chairs or anything else they can get their hands on. If a student looks for opportunities to tear apart your space, they are not coming to youth group in the right frame of mind. Quick tip: Have a conversation with the student about respect. Remind them that you can’t respect God and disrespect His property.
- It’s Better than Being Grounded: This issue is as much on their parents as the teen themselves. But an issue, it is. The teen boy who comes to church as a form of punishment for bad behavior at home. When a teenage boy starts getting in trouble, the ultimatum can get laid down: “You can either be grounded, or you can go to church!” But church is not a form of punishment, it’s a wonderful gathering of God’s children in worship. Quick tip: If you notice this situation playing out in your youth group, have an honest conversation with the parents. Encourage them to share a Bible-centered view of church and the issue at hand with their child.
- The Bad Boy: As teenage boys grow, testing boundaries is natural. But there is a big difference between testing boundaries and defying authority. Some teens will be deliberately disrespectful in an attempt to gain attention. Attitude is a huge deal! When a student chooses to defy a leader’s authority or deny responsibility for their actions, it’s time to get serious. Quick Tip: A strongly defiant teen has typically had a difficult childhood. Take some time and talk one-on-one. See if they are willing to open up about why they’re acting out…you never know how God might move.
Final thought: With any of these issues, it is important that they be addressed with honesty and compassion. Though challenging, a direct conversation is always better than hoping things will get better on their own. But, before you get direct, take a moment to reflect. What were you like as a teen? How good was your judgment? How much grace did you require? This is usually enough to temper direct words with a healthy dose of grace.