gather-makeshift-memorial-school

I vividly remember the aftermath of Columbine.

How could two teenagers follow through on something so horrendous?  Since that day we have witnessed similar events on college campuses, movie theaters, elementary schools and on Oct. 21 in a Nevada Middle School.

Often these shooters are described as “quiet,” or the “nice kids.”  If this is true we want to know: “How could this happen?”  I believe our students are like us and are struggling inside to know why? Could they be the next victim?  In their heart of hearts some of our students are even wondering if they are capable of something like this?why

The question is, “What is at the heart of these wrongdoers?”  Yes, there are statistics that support abuse, fatherlessness, bullying, mental illness and bad home lives as part of the cause.  Still there are elements that go even deeper.

Here are the trends I see in each act of violence:

Hope Was Lost:

There comes a point when things seem “so bad” that you have no hope for tomorrow.  It seems like the cycle of hurt will never end, and there is no way out.  When we come to believe the pain is interminable then the darkness consumes us.  This is the point at which it is easy to get “stuck in our heads.” The voices that tell us it can’t and won’t get better begin to scream louder and louder. This is also the point at which plans of an extreme “way out” begin to be made.

Feeling Helpless:

When you “can’t fix something” the logical response is that it has to be your fault.   Bullying, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse as well as other factors seem to be something we SHOULD be able to stop.  Mental illness seems taboo. You can’t just “get happy” when suffering from depression.  HOWEVER, we believe if we were just “more” or “less” we would be able to end the horror.  If we were stronger, more popular or less of nerd or crazy then it would go away. Maybe we feel like we messed up so terribly or are such an awful person we can’t “get out.”  The feeling of helplessness leads to a deep shame.  Shame is a hideous monster that breeds lies.

Isolation:

There is a reason why these shooters are so often described as “quiet.”  Something causes them to pull away from everyone.  Maybe they have come to believe they are invisible. Perhaps, they don’t want others too close, because then you might find out their secret?  What if they went for help, and weren’t heard? Worse what if others threw up their hands and said there was nothing that could be done?  At some point they pulled themselves to the side lines of society for self-preservation.

Our role as youth workers is to pay attention.  

We have to remember a student’s perception IS THEIR TRUTH. Different students will be deeply wounded by a myriad of factors.

Maybe we couldn’t stop these horrors. However, I keep wondering if we will start truly listening to the heart of our youth, can we stop this from happening in the future?  Not every situation will end in a school shooting. Some stories will end with runaways, or joining a gang, addiction or ending up in the sex slave industry. And no we can’t catch every one.

We need to let them know someone is here for them. We might not have all the answers, but we can get them help if they need it. We need to let them know there is a God big enough to hold them when the world can’t. They do have an “out,” and it doesn’t have to end this way.

 What do you see?

This past weekend actor Cory Monteith was found dead in a hotel room. According to authorities, he died of a “mixed drug toxicity” of heroin and alcohol – likely as an overdose from intended use.

Cory Monteith - GleePerhaps you’re shaking your head. It can be for any number of reasons:

  • Cory is “fameish.” Meaning, he’s excessively famous to those who watched his character Finn Hudson emerge on Glee, but not so famous to the average person who has no connection to that show. Maybe you’re not in the loop on who he is or the impact his death may have among students.
  • Cory had confessed to drug addiction in his past, and maybe you’re let down that he gave in.
  • Cory’s character was the “every man” character on Glee – his audience went with him on the emotional journey of pressures with popularity, dealing with gay friends, finding a voice, being betrayed and more. You already knew the impact it would have on students the moment you saw the headline.

Prediction: This will be *the* funeral/memorial service to be watching.

I don’t mean that as a joke… people will tune in expecting that the music alone will likely be off the chart. That’s a bit short-sighted if that’s someone’s motive, but then again – maybe it’s out of respect. I hope so.

That in itself raises an interesting tension:

Is it healthy to consciously immortalize someone for his or her talent while unconsciously ignoring the rest?

Again, 31-year old Cory Monteith died from a drug-induced catalyst. He was absolutely talented, but absolutely made the wrong decision.

The other matter is most know “Finn Hudson” more than they do “Cory Monteith.” For that reason, most will tune in to mourn for the fictional person’s character… versus the real-life person’s character. Cory struggled with an addiction. Many people do, and again… that’s not my point either. That alone should create brokenness in us for him and others – not judgment.

I’m simply offering that we’re on the verge of seeing many young people (and possibly many adults as well) elevate Cory into a status that he himself would likely squirm out of. It’s something we often do with any funeral.  The only difference is most funerals involve mourning someone we know. In this instance, most will mourn the fictional character versus the real individual. A Glee convention already became a makeshift memorial service.

I hope we can all speak into how real this will be for students, even if it’s a bit misguided. Glee has been successful for many reasons, among which is their realization that students no longer just claim ideals from non-fiction truth… they also claim ideals from fictional storylines and characters.

I like what Chris Schaffner pointed out on his blog:

Glee struck a chord with young people… it spoke of the things that no one else would speak about and they did it creatively and honestly.  Many in the camp of Christianity wrote off Glee as obviously secular with an agenda but many failed to hear the messages of our youth that were reflected in the show’s storytelling.  Weekly, the show masterfully addressed the deepest longing of our kids and one could hear it only they would listen.

What if our youth ministries, what if our churches, what if our faith communities had the magnetic pull that Glee had for so many?

Join me in praying for the family and friends of Cory Monteith… right now.

And then share your thoughts on how we can minister to students through this.



Whether you are a youth pastor, parent, teacher, or random person in the mall, you know that teenagers (along with several other age ranges) are addicted to technology in some form or another. It does not help that this is the most plugged in generation with iPhones, iPads, laptops, televisions, Xbox 360, and every other digital screen that you can imagine.

This has caused many people to worry. The death toll for people texting while driving in the last five years is over 16,000 people, families have transformed from Friday nights together to everyone in their own room in the basking glow of their digital device, and many teenagers are showing symptoms of withdrawal from studies that have looked at fasting from technology.

The question is, how can we as a community fight back against tech addictions? We have a few ideas for you below.

  1. Tech-Free Church Services
    What would happen if we fully turned off all tech at church and youth groups for the one hour that we are sitting in the sanctuary? This is not limited to the phones of congregation members, but includes all of the monitors in the lobby promoting the Bible studies or iPad that are used to sign up for missions trips. Retreats that have limited or no phone use (do not read “no phones” as leadership should always have a way to be contacted) can make engaging with teenagers easier.

    Maybe you ease into it and only do one Sunday a month and see the success of it. It may not seem like a long time, but soon you begin to talk to church members that you sit beside. Youth pastors now can preach and know that there is one less distraction in the room. Small group leaders know that they have their group’s undivided attention. Relationships flourish and you begin to forget about that tech.

  2. A Tech-Only Room
    So many families want to know how they can reunite their families back in their homes. Teenage boys are in their room playing Xbox, teen girls are in their rooms on the phone, dad’s in the living room watching television, and mom is on the laptop in the study working.

    One experiment that has seen significant success is a tech only room. It contains the only television in the house, the only place you are allowed to get on computers, and the only place you are allowed on the phone. This can cause an inconvenience at first and does not guarantee that families will even converse fully, but it ensures that you get to see family members while they are home. At the same time, for families that have concern for pornography or too much video game playing, this is easily monitored simply by proximity.

  3. Talk About Rules Before You Have To Enforce Them
    Setting up a culture within a church or school system or implementing rules at home that are established before any issues come up have shown to reduce the risk of anything happening before they should. Let your teenagers know what will happen if they text while driving, install the proper monitoring applications, and consistently check up on them. Let them know that if they break rules on computer and gaming usage or do something that is inappropriate, that they will punished a certain way.

    We are not looking to “punish them with the rules” but instead to protect them from the dangers that tech brings. Know why you are putting rules into place and explain it to teenagers or others so that everyone is on the same page. If there is strong pushback, at least listen to what they have to say, regardless if you plan to take their advice. This will show respect for them and may even give you a better opportunity to speak into your teens’ lives.

    When these rules are established, follow them yourself. Teens have the easy excuse right now of texting while driving because adults do it too. Be a good role model and if need be, enact the punishment upon yourself if you break it. At the same time, a reward for following the rules has shown to promote further positive-viewed behavior.

How have you seen a tech-free environment have a positive outcome?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

If you work with the youth of America in any fashion, be it youth ministry or as a parent, you know that we have identified this generation by the inventions that they have been raised among. Some call them the Internet Generation or the Digital Gen, which leads many to assume that this generation not only is always online through a digital interface some how, but that they actually prefer it.

That notion could not be further from the truth. But before we get there, let’s look at how they got that name.

  • 90% of teenagers are connected to the Internet through phones, laptops, or gaming devices. In fact, there are more ways to get online now than ever before.
  • 68% of teens text daily, girls more than guys
  • 51% visit Facebook daily, sometimes for more than 3 hours a day
  • Some rough estimates believe the average teen is on a digital device up to 13 hours a day and can be as high as 18 hours!

While those numbers seem to scream that they have a problem, what those numbers do not reflect are what the teens know about this heavy usage and their desires for something more.

  • 1/3 of teens actually long for time off from the Internet while 36% of teens wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.
  • 49% of the surveyed teens prefer a face-to-face conversation above any other form of communication.
  • 41% of teens consider themselves addicted to their phones and 43% wish they could unplug (half of those wish their parents would join them too!)

[Study from CommonSenseMedia.org]

The question for you, be you youth pastor or parent, teacher or just someone who sees teens at church, how are you helping or hindering the situation? They had to learn these habits from somewhere and be given permission (even if it is an unspoken one) from someone. Are you perpetuating the problem or offering a solution?

If you do not get anything else from this article, hear this: teenagers not only want face-to-face conversations, but they want to be heard. Sometimes it comes across as needy and whiny, but they are navigating a turbulent time in their lives where their identity is shifting from being within a family to developing into an adult and it is not a safe journey by any means.

What can you do within your context to promote a healthier way of communicating that honors the teenagers?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



If you are into sports, you might be able to relate to what I am talking about. I personally am a huge hockey fan, I love the Vancouver Canucks and watching hockey is something I really enjoy doing. But this year I have realized that my passion is just not healthy, in fact arguably sinful. I am certain that I am not the only person that gets wrapped up in sports, but when I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours leading up to an important game God convicted me in a big way about this obsession.

The combination of stress, joy, malnutrition and unusually high heart rate should have been a dead give away that something was amiss, but when my brother brought me home a T-shirt from the game that read “this is what we live for” that I realized just how wrapped up I was. Could it be, that this is what people including me are living for? A seasonal passion for a sports team, and how could it be, that I could get so wrapped up in it. I wasn’t hungry on game days, I was grouchy when they lost, pumped when they won, its not right.

But what about the thing that is most important in my life, where is my undying passion for that, and that is where it hit me. I was in over my head and more invested in sports than my ministry and here is what I have been praying God would do in light of this deep conviction that I had let a sports team become an idol.

1- That God would help me to be more excited about what He is doing in the lives of our students than how my team is doing in the playoffs.

2 – That I would be as passionate about seeing hearts won for Christ as I am about games won by my team.

3 — That I would be living for something that matters and that passion would be obvious to my students, leaders and others, saved and un-saved.

In the age of Facebook our lives are more transparent and students can easily see what we hold highest and its really easy to let other things upset what should be a clear hierarchy of priority and I am sure that many of us have been in the same position. If you are someone that gets easily wrapped up in things other than His Kingdom, ask Him to work that out. It’s been a great week as God has worked on my heart to make sure its pointed to Him.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.