Correcting with Grace
In youth ministry, we deal with all sorts of crazy behavior. How we handle it communicates just as much about Jesus as any teaching that we ever give.
Our group once held an event in a church while another youth group was also using the facility. I watched as a youth leader from that group was angrily correcting a high school student. He said, “Stop doing that, Stupid!” and smacked the high school boy on the back of the head.
I was shocked. I still am. In fairness to the youth leader, I definitely have wanted to smack a high school boy or two upside the head – but I have never done it.
It isn’t kind, and I do not believe it is Jesus’ way.
Yes, Jesus strongly rebuked and corrected at times, but he was talking to grown men and He had the unique ability of knowing the depths of their hearts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t correct our students, but how we do it is vital to their understanding of who God is.
Here is what I do when dealing with crazy behavior:
- Say a quick prayer. Praying is the most critical thing you can do in youth ministry. If a kid makes me mad or if I know I have to engage with a student on their behavior, I ask God to help me. This often helps me defuse my emotions and enter the conversation with a cool head.
- Ask yourself – “What happened to them today?” Rarely have I seen kids act out without cause. Something stirred them up to act the way that they do. Recognizing the darkness that many our youth face helps us shift our perspective on their behavior. Many times, I have started a corrective conversation that turned into profound ministry that had nothing to do with their behavior.
- Treat them with respect. When a kid does something crazy in your group, pull them aside and talk to them about it. Don’t embarrass them in front of their friends, don’t demean them, and don’t – even in jest – call them names. Tell them what they did, why they can’t do it, and what consequences will happen if they continue.
- Understand what your consequences are. Know before you approach the kid where your line is, and what happens if they cross it. You should have a culture in your group that expectations and consequences are known. My major goal in a situation is to diffuse and move on, but this isn’t always possible. I’m not a big fan of kicking kids out of group for the night, but there are occasions where this is unavoidable. (Though, often I have told them they had to leave and then in the same breath asked them out for ice cream).
- Be level-headed. You shouldn’t need to raise your voice, loom over them, or ever get physically aggressive. Look them in the eye and have a simple conversation with them. If they yell and freak out, as can happen, be the adult…don’t respond the same way.
- Be consistent. Treat all the kids in the same way, day after day, week after week. This allows a culture of expectations to build, and the longer you stick with it, the less corrections you will need to make.
Let’s never look at our kids and call them stupid. If you mess up, apologize and tell them you were wrong. Let’s not yell at them or hurt them, even if we are mad, even if they deserve it.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments about how you have handled discipline issues!
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.