Are You Compassionate?

Courtesy of Susan von Struensee/Creative Commons License

I might have four sisters, but it doesn’t mean I’m always compassionate to the girls in my student ministry.  There are some problems I get and others I will never understand.  Fortunately my wife, female coworkers, and volunteers are more than happy to give me insight into those situations.  While I don’t get every situation I do consider myself compassionate because I love my students, and their families.

It’s important to have compassion in youth ministry.  It’s an important value because it builds authenticity and most importantly it represents God’s love.  But, compassion doesn’t come naturally to all of us.  For some it’s uncomfortable; therefore, you try your best to avoid the situation.  If you avoid it, you’re giving the impression that your ministry is cold and superficial.  To show your teens and their families that you do care there are a few steps you can take.  For example you need to:

  • Listen Carefully – To build compassion you need to embrace the whole story.  Too many times we are ready to respond, and ready to answer before we even know the problem.  By listening to the whole story you will pick up on details of the story beneath the story.  In other words you’ll hear more of the root issue when you take the time to just listen. 
  • Gain An Outside Perspective – You might not understand why a parent is feeling a certain way about an issue because you aren’t a parent.  You might not understand a teenage girl’s drama because you are a man.  While you want to be youth minister to all it’s possible to really understand every situation that walks across your path.  Sit down with someone you trust and know who might be able to relate to the situation.  They’ll be able to fill in the gaps that you might not understand.
  • Extend Your Capacity – Sometimes you just need to consult others and then there are times that you need to hand the situation off to someone else.  The reason you hand off a situation that needs compassion is because you are limited in your time or because you just aren’t qualified.  There will be times when you shouldn’t be there because of boundary issues.  Compassion means pouring out a piece of you and making yourself vulnerable.  
  • Sit In The Tension – You can’t fix every situation; however, you can still be compassionate by sitting in the disorientation of the circumstance.  Sometimes the greatest compassion the one person can show another is through solidarity.  If your teens know that you are there and present, they’ll take comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone.  To sit in the tension, just let them know that while you might not have all the answers you are willing to be available in the darkest and brightest moments.

Again, building compassion is a way of displaying authenticity and sharing Christ with others.  One of the best ways you can extend your capacity and maintain authenticity is through small groups.  Your leaders will know the teens and their families better than you.  So when a parent reaches out you can pass them along to someone who can walk with them side by side.

How do you build compassion in your ministry?