Sometimes little things get in the way of noticing the big things.
Often times I will notice a student’s behavior that’s a little out of whack. Maybe they’re not acting the way they normally do, or they are in a constant state of acting out (also known as being a 7th grader). While that can be extremely frustrating at times, especially if it affects the rest of the group, we have to remember that the behavior is usually indicative of a bigger problem. For example, you may have experienced sleeping problems at some time in your life. While there are definitely some things that ONLY affect sleep, usually sleep problems are a symptom of stress or another issue. You can treat your insomnia with sleeping pills, which might fix the problem for now, but it’s just a temporary fix to a long-term problem.
We don’t want to treat the symptom, we want to treat the problem. The same thing applies in youth ministry. When I see a student not acting himself, I know that there is probably something bigger happening in his life at that moment. Maybe the behavior change is masking the problem, and many times the student doesn’t even know he’s doing it. I have a student that would become the disruptive class clown any time another student in the group would start talking about home issues. It suddenly dawned on me that it was his way of changing the subject because he didn’t want to talk about home issues or dad issues because it brought negative feelings about the subject. When I talked to him, he didn’t even realize he was doing this, but we were able to address the underlying issue.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are times when I’ve noticed a typically happy, upbeat student acting a little off, not as happy as he normally is, or just generally not himself. When I ask him about it during small group, he can shrug it off as just “being tired” or “nothing’s wrong.” Even though he’s not admitting to it, there’s definitely something going on. Don’t be afraid to push a little more and dig a little deeper. Sometimes students need the extra push to get things going, and once they do, it starts a pain chain. Once the floodgates are open, feelings just start pouring out.
Don’t get frustrated when you see a behavior issue. Instead, ask God to help you recognize what the underlying problem may be. It might not be the best time to address it during your small group, but don’t let that behavior excuse the student from talking about what’s really going on. Pursue it, don’t excuse it.
Matt Reynolds and Steven Orel are volunteer youth workers at Saddleback Church. They approach youth ministry from two different generations and perspectives. Look for lots more from them in the future — for now you can follow them on Twitter and check out their previous blog posts here.