I was going to start by qualifying myself by saying Iâ€™ve been in youth ministry in some capacity for nearly 20 years, but quite honestly you donâ€™t even have to be in youth ministry for 20 minutes to relate to what Iâ€™m talking about here: Teenagers are very emotional beings. And itâ€™s not uncommon for those emotions to get the best of them and their decision making.Â Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve been there: itâ€™s at the end of your weekend message, or a deep small group discussion, or the famous last night of some retreat when it happens.Â The atmosphere becomes electric with emotions.Â Tears start flowing, kids are embracing, itâ€™s a seemingly supernatural event.Â Our hearts want so desperately to pin it all on an Acts 2 replay of some type, but in the back of our minds weâ€™re wondering what or who is really behind the tears, behind the decisions, behind the electricity we sense in the room.Â We want so desperately to know that its 100% Spirit-driven, but we also know (because weâ€™ve been around for 20 minutes) that emotions can play a big role in studentsâ€™ decisions; whether those decisions are social, mental, academic, sexual, or even spiritual.
But before we call every â€œmountaintopâ€ experience a fluke based on flimsy and fickle emotions, we need to realize that our emotions have been given to us by an emotional God who created us in His image.Â Emotions arenâ€™t bad.Â Quite the opposite, really.Â Emotions can be powerful and effective gauges that help us navigate spiritually.Â When theyâ€™re submitted to God, emotions can help reveal our passions, our fears, and even our direction.Â Rest assured, Iâ€™m certainly not vilifying emotions or their part in the spiritual lives of students we love, serve, and lead.
I simply think itâ€™s important to keep in mind that all students (female AND male) are hardwired with emotions given to them by God.Â One of our roles as youth leaders is to help them sort out whatâ€™s from God and whatâ€™s sheer emotion.Â Involving our emotions in our decision-making process is so very natural, but allowing emotions to drive decisions is where we get into trouble.
Some things Iâ€™ve done to help student sort out whatâ€™s emotionalism and whatâ€™s Godâ€™s clear directive:
- Donâ€™t always default to the dim-lights, soft music, and eyes-closed response time at the end of a message.Â Itâ€™s not that itâ€™s a bad approach, but how hard can it be to take a stand when no one else sees it?
- Speak clearly with students about what Godâ€™s Word is saying.Â You can use sensitivity in your communication without adding fluffiness that dilutes Godâ€™s Word.
- Give students questions to consider and/or clearly defined steps to take in the days/weeks after a spiritual decision is made.Â Have these ready for students to take with them. This allows the â€œdust to settleâ€ on the emotions that undoubtedly played an important role in their spiritual decision in the first place.
Letâ€™s face it: working with students means working with people who are prone to allow emotions to rule the day.Â And we donâ€™t want to be making disciples who follow Jesus only when it â€œfeelsâ€ right.
Jerry Varner serves as Student Discipleship Pastor in the Richmond, VA area and blogs at jerrythinks.com.Â If youâ€™re ever in the Richmond area and want to grab a burger, heâ€™s buying.