As we enter the worship center on Sundays, we are met with many smiling faces. Everyone seems joyful and happy because they have a relationship with Jesus, and we all know that having a relationship with Jesus means that we have no problems or struggles. Despite the smiles and masks that we like to wear in the church, deep down inside – if we are willing to be real enough to admit it – we all have struggles and life is at times not all smiles and joy. The “stain-glassed masquerade” as Casting Crowns termed this phenomenon is killing the church and your youth group.
Behind your students’ masks is a world that many parents and youth workers would like to pretend doesn’t exist. As students smile and tell many that they are doing “good,” they are really wrestling with their own demons.
As Susan smiles and says hello, she is really struggling to fit in. She looks at the other girls in the youth group and feels like she is not pretty. This leads her to battle with an eating disorder – desperately seeking to lose weight to reach a standard of unattainable beauty as defined by her culture.
Jeff is the crazy student. If you were to take a poll, Jeff would be considered the life of the party, yet when Jeff goes home, he is met with a horrible situation. His parents are about to get a divorce, and his dad is beating his mom. As Jeff hears them fighting in the other room, he begins to blame himself for his parents fighting. He feels like no one loves him and that he is a failure. Jeff is considering ending his life to stop the pain.
As you say hello to Jess, you notice that she is wearing her hoodie again in the middle of the summer. For her, the hoodie is merely a cloak to cover the self-inflicted wounds from her cutting addiction. Jess is just trying to numb the pain in her life by letting the blood flow from her forearms.
As students hurt under the surface, they feel alone and helpless in their struggles. They are longing for a safe place. They are longing for someone to listen to them without judging them yet someone who can help them through their pain. Your youth group should be that safe place for hurting students. So how do you begin to open the door to making your youth group a safe place:
- Give Students the Gift of Going Second
Someone has to be the first person to drop the mask and admit that everything is not okay all of the time. As the youth leader, you can have a great impact on the lives of your students by sharing struggles and things that you have personally battled with. This is giving them the gift of going second. This is something that should be done with wisdom. It is not your job to dump all your dirty laundry on your students, yet you need to be real with them. You might want to begin by sharing of a time when you didn’t feel like God heard your prayers, when you doubted God, or when you were angry at God. These are all circumstances that all Christians go through that your students would relate to.
- Remind Students of the Gospel
The message of the cross can be summed up in one phrase: “It is finished!” All of our sins were future sins at the cross. Remind your students that there is nothing so bad that they could do that Jesus cannot forgive them for. Remind students that the resurrection is a statement of victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection set them free from sin’s consequence, guilt, and power. They can walk in freedom in the gospel.
- Connect Students to Each Other and Leaders Through Accountability Relationships
The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. The discipline of a peer and an adult accountability partner is essential to encourage students to live in the freedom that they have in Jesus. Accountability partners must seek to encourage each other in the gospel rather than beating them over the head as the moral police. These relationships should be focused on grace and truth. It is in the balance of reminding others of the gospel and challenging them to faithfully live the gospel where abiding accountability is formed.
Do you have any additional ideas to foster accountability that have been effective in your youth ministry?