The other day I was sitting in my office, when a teenager I did not recognize knocked on my door.  He said, “Hi, I think I’m supposed to talk to you, but I need someone to sign these forms saying that I did service here.”  I took the forms from the teen and saw that the forms were for his school’s service hour requirement.  There is nothing unusual about this; several times a year (especially Fall and Spring) I get the mad rush of teens trying to complete their requirements for the school year. What made the situation odd is:

  1. I barely recognized the teen.
  2. What he wanted me to sign off on was something he did 3 years ago.  

The reason I knew it was three years ago was because we hadn’t done that type of service project at the church in the last three years.  Like I said, I’ve done a ton of recommendation letters and service requirement forms, and usually it’s for teens I know and I can confidently say have earned my support.  But, once in a while a teen or a parent I’ve never seen walks in and asks me for “This Favor.”

Ideally, you would want to have a conversation.  You would talk about how you don’t feel comfortable vouching for someone you don’t know or something you have never seen.  And then you would develop a plan to get the student more involved so that you could be confident in putting your name down, right?

In theory that’s what we would like to do; however, many of us are guilty for just signing off and enabling the situation because we are:

Too Busy – Often times we give a student a pass because we are just super busy.  I can’t blame you, there is a lot on your plate and when something like paperwork hits the desk, you look for the quickest way to process it.  If this is you, you need to come up with a system where you allot time for situations where you don’t feel rushed to just GET IT DONE.  The teen (or parent) might plead to get the form, letter, etc. back as soon as possible; however, you need to be their youth minister and sometimes that means holding them accountable to what they are requesting.

People Pleasing – You just can’t say no, you don’t want anyone to feel bad and you just hate conflict.  You’d rather a teen have pleasant encounter with you than feel rejected by the Church.  In fact isn’t that the reason people are leaving?  They feel rejected?  I believe teens crave structure and someone with a strong foundation.  Yes, you may upset the teenager; however, if you follow the NO with love and care, they’ll respect the fact that you are looking out for their best interests.

You Agree With It – You see things like recommendation letters and service hours as something small.  It doesn’t matter if you know the teen, it’s just a part of the system; therefore, having a conversation with them about whether or not they really earn this letter is mute.  You believe that as the youth pastor you have an obligation to do what the congregation asks of you, even if the teen isn’t a full-blown member.

While the situation may seem insignificant it does say something about your ministry.  It’s circumstances like these where we have a real opportunity to talk to teens about investing in the local church, especially if we don’t know them or they rarely get involved.  By signing these forms and writing your letters your vouching for your ministry, so you want to be as truthful as possible.  By signing for them, you are vouching saying they are a representative of the Church, and that is saying a lot.

What are your thoughts?  Is this a big deal in your ministry?  Do you have any solutions to fixing it?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.