Raising the Bar in Youth Ministry

Helping Your Young People Expect More of Themselves

I recently read a news article about former NFL player, Tom Holloway, who had his house vandalized while he was out of town. It’s hard to comprehend how the consciences of over 300 high school students would allow them to break in, get drunk, steal memorabilia, and graffiti the walls, but that’s exactly what occurred in Tom Holloway’s home. It was one big, bad, out of control party…nice kids, huh?

Fortunately for Mr. Holloway, many of these teens thought it would be fun to post pictures and videos of their illegal activities on social media for their friends to see. These same pictures were later used to create a list that revealed the identities of 200 involved teens.

More concerned with the lack of character in these teens than the damage caused to his property, Tom Holloway believed it was important to give these minors a chance to come forward and make things right. He announced a weekend cleanup day where any teen involved could come forward and help repair the damage they caused. Tom would provide the supplies and even host an afternoon BBQ after their work was complete.

Only four teenagers showed up…wow!

Here’s the clincher: Rather than thank Tom Holloway for allowing their kids to make retribution, several parents actually threatened to sue him. These parents were upset with Tom for revealing their kids’ identities online, potentially jeopardizing their opportunity to get accepted into the universities of their choice after graduation.

This story is a perfect example of how society continues to lower the bar of responsibility and integrity among today’s youth—producing weak individuals who are unprepared for a purposeful life.

One of the goals in student ministries should be to instill in our young people biblical values that will prepare them to live a godly, Christ-honoring, successful life.

How do we raise the bar? Here are a few suggestions:

Raise Your Own Bar

Before we can raise the bar for our teenagers, we must raise the bar for ourselves. Two words come to mind: The first is integrity. Without personal integrity, you have no credibility. Integrity is the platform required to teach responsibility.

The second word is involvement. You can’t raise the bar from a distance. Parents will often exclude themselves from parental responsibility due to busy work schedules or fatigue. Youth workers will focus on the administrative aspects of activities without involving themselves in the heart-level discipleship and mentoring of teens. As hectic and crazy as life may seem, you must understand that your influence has a shelf life. Your teens won’t be in your house or youth group much longer. Get actively involved.

Set Goals and Boundaries

Effective boundaries must be clearly understood and consistently enforced. Also, it’s always best to attach a biblical principle to that boundary. (Believe me, they’ll ask for one.) But boundaries alone aren’t enough. Some parents and youth leaders are professional “boundary setters,” but then they do a poor job creating meaningful goals. Put equal effort into both. Give your teen something to aim for—maybe a reading goal, a target GPA, or perhaps a weekend project. Be creative, and ask for your teen’s feedback as you mutually establish the goal.

Make Personal Responsibility a Big Deal

Raising the bar isn’t going to be a quick adjustment; it’s often a complete overhaul in your thinking and involvement. Don’t accept the excuses your teens give to avoid personal responsibility. To do so only reveals how little you value responsibility. Instead, when a boundary is crossed, be ready to confront and instruct. At the same time, when your teen achieves a goal, be sure to praise them.

Let’s get to work. You can be sure that our culture will continue to lower the bar. This is disastrous for our young people. We, as bar-setters, cannot fail in our work—there is too much at stake. Let’s model integrity, teach responsibility, and stay passionately involved throughout the process.

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