Our role as youth pastors will often be different from the role of a professional counselor. Will we counsel? Yes. Will we at times do what a professional counselor does? Yes. But, we as youth pastors don't necessarily have the same boundaries as a professional counselor. We rub shoulders with our kids all the time. We have them over the our home. We throw dodgeballs at them ... probably won't see many professional counselors doing that with their clients. That just makes our role different. That said, here are a few things to keep in mind as youth pastors:
1. One of our main roles is simply to show unconditional acceptance. It's the idea of always thinking positively of a student ... maybe not what they are doing ... maybe not their actions ... but always thinking positively of them. Example: We had a student stay in our home for nearly a year. This guy came from a very, very difficult home life and needed a place to stay so my wife and I opened up our home to him. The first few months were fine, but as time went on we began to have some serious problems with him. He wouldn't come home at night. He would never let us know where he was. He would not do the things he committed to doing when we first agreed to let him stay with us. As we tightened our boundaries, he simply disconnected from us ... physically and emotionally. One day he left and never came back. He left all of his stuff in our home, never let us know where he was or what was going on. He simply vanished. We knew he was alive because of people seeing him around and he was still in school, but all efforts to try to contact him were never returned. A year later he came to our home ... just showed up out of the blue and apologized. He apologized for how he treated us and for everything he had done. Our response was to be honest ... yes, we were hurt, but we were and are still totally in love with this kid. We let him know that and told him that no matter what he did, we were still going to love him. Unconditional acceptance ... down right HARD, but what Jesus calls us too.
2. Treat kids the way the "should" have been treated. Sometimes we may be the only one that shows up at their sporting event. Sometimes we may be the only one to give them a ride home. Sometimes we may be the only one that talks to them about drugs or sex or alcohol, whatever it may be. Many of our kids come from really good homes, but the unfortunate reality is that many also do not. We have the opportunity to treat kids the way they SHOULD have always been treated.
3. Don't worry about being liked. We have to be willing to point out the hard stuff sometimes. We can't necessarily worry about what a teenager may think of us if what we have to say is going to be a difficult truth to express to them. Don't get our needs met through them. The overall theme of the book of Proverbs is that we all have foolishness in our hearts. Part of our role as youth pastors is to help drive out the foolishness.
4. Take advantage of "Drive-Thru" Counseling. What I mean by that is there are several times when we'll have opportunities to talk with kids when we aren't in our office for an "official" time of counseling. Take advantage of the times when kids talk to us at our weekly meetings or on mission trips or wherever it may be. Many times I'll have kids come to me after one of our Wednesday night axis and just need to talk briefly or just need to share something briefly or just ask me to pray for them. My role is to take the time to listen, give my complete attention, and try to insert nuggets of truth in our short time. I'll often pray with them and will often follow up with them as well.
5. Realize there are times to network and refer. Sometimes stuff is just going to be out of our league. If and when that's the case, refer to a trusted professional counselor. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to humble ourselves, recognize when it's better to get someone else involved, and then do our best to make it happen.
6. Don't feel like you need to be the hero. Our role is not to "fix" things. We are NOT responsible for making someone "better" and we cannot allow ourselves to be pulled in to that trap. Only frustration will follow. We are in great danger if we put the emphasis on the results we see in the lives of our students. Diane Langberg has said, "the work of the Spirit in our lives is not evidenced in the number of people we fix, but in the character we manifest whether people are fixed or not. What happens in the lives He brings across our path is under His jurisdiction, not ours."
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