When Life Happens For A Teenager: Helping them embrace God’s plan

Each year it seems as if some kind of tragedy strikes a student (or many students) in our church community.  Maybe it’s the death of a classmate or parent.  Maybe it’s the closing of a school or parent’s job.  This February will be 4 years since the Browning Family incident, it’s kind of hard to imagine.  Talk about a game changer I know it opened my eyes to how badly a teen’s life can change.
This is a bad segue but I’m looking forward to the series we are doing in January.  We’re calling it “When Life Happens”.  The series is loosely based on Pete Wilson’s book Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?  It’s a great book, definitely recommend it.  The reason we’re doing this series is because we want to help teenagers that are blindsided by life.  Right now a lot of them have plans on where they want to go to college, what they want to do with their lives and it excites them but then, BAM! parents get divorced, best friend dies in a car accident, they get a career ending sports injury, something in their life happens and shakes their whole reality.  It kind of changes their plans and they don’t know what to do…so how do we help them?
It’s a good question to think about because so often (tragedy or not) our lives change, because the plans we create aren’t always God’s plans.  Embracing God’s plan is difficult, it’s tough and for a teenager who is constantly and quickly growing it can get overwhelming.  To sit here and write how to approach each life changing situation for every type of teen that could possibly walk into our lives would be impossible, but this is what we can do as youth ministers to make life happening a little less overwhelming.
Build An Irresistible Atmosphere – One thing I try to do every week at our high school program is greet students as they walk in the door.  Not only is it a great way to get to know their names but it’s a way of showing them that I care.  I want them to know that every week I’m waiting for them and I’m not satisfied until I see their faces.  When they get inside I’m hoping my leaders carry on the same attitude, not hesitating to say, “So glad that you are here.” because it’s truth.  I want them to be able to sit back and listen to the message, connect to the music and laugh with the antics of the evening.  I want them to anticipate their small group.  As youth workers we need to create environments and atmospheres that allow our students to know that when life happens they have a place to go.
Always Be There – I’m not saying we have to create a ministry that’s 24/7, but what I am saying is that we need to be consistent and predictable.  Our ministry isn’t event based, we are a system that meets every Thursdays for high school students and every Sunday for middle school.  In our programs we will worship and then share life in small groups.  Our students should know that they can consistently meet with the same leaders (small group and not) on a regular basis.  They need to know that even if they miss 10 weeks in a row, that we will be there when they come back.  God’s consistent in our lives, shouldn’t we be consistent in theirs?
Let Them Know Your Plans Changed Too – Authenticity is so key to ministry, especially student ministry.  Our brokenness, resiliency and hope are what we need to share with the students.  I’m not saying we divulge every secret, what I’m saying is that we share with them the fact that we have struggled (or currently struggle) with embracing God’s plans for our lives.  We need to let them know that we’ve had dreams shattered; however, because of our hope in Jesus Christ, because of our weakness we are made strong.
There are so many great resources out there to help hurting kids, so many great message series, so many great tools, but nothing is better then the environments, opportunities and relationships we create for our students.  My encouragement is that we as youth ministers should work together in sharing resources that deal with this matter, that we work together to make ministry a place, and a relationship that help students answer the question, “What do I do when life happens?”

Be sure to share your thoughts, opinions and any resources/ideas you might have when it comes to this subject.