How To Respond To Teens In Crisis

Courtesy of Sandip Bhattacharya/
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First day of school is supposed to be memorable.  That’s a little bit of an understatement for the teens at Perry Hall High School.  Yesterday on their first day of school a 17 year old student was shot by a classmate. (To read the story go here)

It’s during times like these when many people will ask the question, “Why?” hoping to find some justification to the situation that surrounds them.  A tragedy like this can be difficult for anyone, for a teen in can be downright unfair.

Youth ministry would be a thousand times easier if you never had to deal with tragedy.  But, it’s going to happen in some shape or form.  Some of the incidences you face will be personal (i.e. loss of a loved one) and others will affect the whole community (i.e. damage from a natural disaster).  As a youth minister you need to be there for your teens; therefore, you need to be:


No one likes to prepare for crisis; but, it’s essential.  Tragedies in your communities are not only powerful; however, they move quickly.  If you don’t prepare for crisis you will:

  • Miss Out On Opportunities To Bring God’s Healing – You don’t want to take advantage of teens; however, you want to make sure that they are loved.  Reminding them that they are not walking alone can be one of the greatest comforts you can give them.  
  • Lose Your Teen’s Trust – Teens will look to you for guidance, direction and wisdom.  That doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, you just need to be present.  In times of need teens want to know that you are aware of their struggle.

If anything you need to make sure you can respond and the best way to do that is by having a plan, which should include:

  • Outsourcing Experts – Who are the experts in your community that deal with tragedy?  It’s important to build relationships with school counselors, local therapists and even pastoral directors.  Anyone who knows how to deal with teens in crisis will be an added benefit to your team.  This way you don’t have to carry the burden on your own.
  • A Place For Prayer – When life spins out of control, peace is needed.  The best thing you can do for your students is offer a time when they can come together to seek the Holy Spirit.  Whether you plan on seeing your students or not, make sure they know you are available to pray with them.
  • The Opportunity To Listen – On top of prayer, teens need someone that will hear their array of emotions.  When you give them a listening ear they’ll see that you care what’s on their heart.  God only knows what is on their chest and in their mind.  By listening you give them the opportunity to free that burden.

No plan is perfect for every occasion; therefore, it needs to be flexible.  When tragedy occurs in your ministry or community the best thing to do is lean into the tension.  Allow God to give you strength and courage to take the right steps.  Above all else, make sure you have a plan, that you share it with your team and you trust that God will see you through.

What’s the best piece of advice you would offer a youth minister facing tragedy in his/her community?