There comes a point in every youth ministry where you are required to discuss a topic or two that you would rather not. Whether pushed by an actual need in your ministry or current world event, youth leaders will face the challenge of having many hard conversations with students. While these conversations can be difficult, they can be navigated in a way that makes them a little more manageable. Here are a few strategies.
Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Some topics are challenging to navigate because we simply don’t know enough to have them. We don’t feel prepared to equip our students in the conversation. It’s alright to admit you’re not sure about some things. Be willing to be vulnerable and share that you have some questions yourself and still learning. This creates an environment where you both can learn and progress together! Show your students that it’s okay to have questions, at any age ,and equip them with ways to find solid Biblical answers by modeling it for them.
Bring in an expert. Just because you’re not an expert, doesn’t mean that one isn’t present in your church or community. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who is more studied on the topic to join you for a Q&A session or guest “lecture” in class to share their expertise. My current church did a series on mental health in which we invited mental health experts and therapists to come and share their knowledge with our youth ministry. Why? They had the training and knowledge that we did not possess. They were able to answer questions that we couldn’t answer. As a extra bonus, their love for their profession and the Lord was evident throughout their time with our students.
Start with the students. A lot of times we make conversations more challenging than they have to be. We spend too much time trying to figure out what questions a student may ask about a tough topic. We can win half the battle by first asking the students what questions they have about the tough topic . Allow them to drive your message preparation by letting them let you know their real concerns.
Partner with other churches. Some conversations shouldn’t be had alone. Some of your local churches have already proven that they are well versed and capable of having difficult conversations and presenting difficult information to students. Connect with those churches. Go to their youth events that center around a specific, difficult topic. I was a youth ministry volunteer for a church that presented an entire conference on sex. They had experts from the medical community, church world, social services, and many other helping service areas to come out for a three-day conference on sex. Many local churches came to participate because we had proven that we were well equipped to have the conversation on a scale that many of them were unable to have.
Extend the conversation. Sometimes one of our major challenges in having difficult conversations is time. We feel like there is not enough time to have the conversation we need to have in a manner that addresses it effectively. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to extend the conversation. Schedule time over multiple meetings or create an extended meeting time outside of normal programming. The conversation is no less beneficial or spiritual if it takes place outside of your normal worship times. And, sometimes a break in routine is what you need for students to open up and dive deeply into what they are thinking and feeling.
Fact. We will always be faced with having challenging conversations with the young people we serve. We may never feel like we know enough or that we are adequately prepared to dive into some of these deeper waters. But I know, from personal experience, that practicing these strategies can help us move forward in these conversations in a way that is a little less scary!
Kristin D. Hemingway is a 15-year youth ministry veteran that hails from Detroit, MI. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA where she is a nonprofit professional, youth leader, and sought after curriculum developer, trainer, and speaker. She is an avid volunteer in her local community and enjoys traveling, good music, and creating amazing memories with her loved ones!
SM – Twitter – @DeborahsChild