This article is from Living with Teenagers magazine.
One of the most challenging tasks we face in youth ministry is to reach out to families who are in a crisis with their teens. While we can't foresee every critical situation, we can develop a plan to respond to these hurting families. Review the following basic ministry steps:
1. Be genuine
This is a basic yet important action. I can't possibly have personal relationships with every family in my church, but I can be authentic and real with the parents I know. When I'm open with parents about my life, it makes it easier for families to approach me with the real issues that happen in their lives. No parent wants to share a crisis with a leader who appears to have the perfect life, perfect family, and expectations for a perfect youth group! Allow parents to know that you have genuine concerns and fears similar to theirs. This will set the stage for parents to feel more comfortable with you during a time of crisis.
2. Develop an entry-level pain program
Over the years, we've found that most crises involve drug use, alcohol abuse, and students acting our sexually. There are more issues, but these seem to be the "biggies." Our first line of defense to these issues is to invite students to attend out Christ-centered recovery program. We call this first-step program: "Life Hurts, God Heals." In this program, we follow an eight-step recovery program based on the Beatitudes. Students are given practical ways to deal with their past, their pain, and their future decisions. The volunteers who lead these groups have struggled with similar issues and have found help in a Christ-centered recovery program. People in crisis need a place to go, and the church should have a safe setting where students can talk about their struggles and issues.
3. Align crisis survivors with parents in crisis
I have learned that the best ministers to parents are often other parents who have shared a similar crisis. We encourage families in crisis to call our office, and we provide them phone numbers of other parents who have been through a similar situation. While this requires some administration, it's a much better use of my time than trying to counsel parents on life situations in which I have no experience.
Every time I meet a parent who has "a story." I ask her is she'd be willing to talk to other parents in need. Many parents find that when they share their experiences, they receive healing in their own lives. Begin a file of wounded parents and allow them to provide some of the healing that families in crisis need.
4. Gather referrals
Since most youth workers aren't mental health professionals, we need to be able to point families to Christian professionals. It's important that you develop a list of local Christian counselors who specialize in family and teen issues. Meet with these counselors and interview them in regard to their professional qualifications and spiritual maturity. It helps to also know which counselors will see families at a reduced rate or on a sliding scale. After you make a professional referral, make sure you follow up with the family and express your concern for their counseling journey.
You cannot prevent families from having crises with their teens, but you can have a plan that provides help for these hurting families. Do the possible and pray for God to do the impossible!