3 Ways to Walk with Young People Through Difficulty

Christina Baillie
June 29th, 2021

It’s such a privilege as a youth leader to walk with young people through life. We feel it in the joy filled moments of summer camps and smores. It is also true when we walk with young people through difficulty, in those “rubber hits the road” moments, that have a lasting significance on their lives. When I talk about difficulty, I mean everything! Everything that a young person would define as difficult, from bullying to exams, to adolescence itself. I don’t know about you, but I think there has been plenty of difficult stuff over the past year! We know supporting young people in these times can make all the difference.

However, often in the difficult moments, I can feel overwhelmed and unclear as to how I can help as a youth leader. Yet I know there is a call on my life to walk with young people and a huge opportunity to support them during those significant times. So, seeking to understand how I could be of help to young people, I spoke with them. Three things stood out: 

Number One: It’s Okay To Ask Questions.

As young people experience difficulty, I’ve found they will try to see if their faith connects with what they are experiencing. Does my understanding of God and His world match up with what is in front of me now? 

While this may be hard for us, I think it should be a great encouragement! When young people doubt or question their faith, it means they aren’t willing to blindly accept faith or follow a God who isn’t relevant to their lives.  Doubting and questioning often leads young people to stand firm in their understanding of God and form their faith which holds true even in difficult times. 

Number Two: Experience God

Here my assumptions were really exposed. I thought that young people needed me during difficulty. They needed me to find a teaching series that could help them.  

However, the young people said they needed God in difficulty. The young people I spoke with shared that they responded to difficulty by seeking an experience with God. Or, they found comfort by reflecting on previous experiences with God. 

Wow! How amazing! The young people sought to pray, worship, and journal. They sought out the God they loved for comfort and peace on difficult days. It challenged me as I had limited my expectations. Sadly, I was surprised they went directly to God. I had stuck myself in the middle and I wasn’t needed there. 

It made me think about what we do with young people through our programs and what we hope their personal spiritual journey will look like. I loved that they were able to use these spiritual practices to connect with God and be comforted by Him. I think there is a lot more that we can explore with young people to experience God together, as a Church, through inviting them to experience God on their own. 

Practically, I have thought about how I could offer a space for young people to worship, listen to God in silence, and pray. This would provide them with an opportunity to bring their difficulties to God. The purpose of facilitating this space would allow young people to ask questions or share what they have heard from God. It would allow young people to explore practices of faith in a supportive environment and can help them see this modeled by leaders and other young people. 

Number Three: Connect Experience To Truth

The young people I spoke with pointed out a clear role for youth leaders – helping them to connect the Bible to their experience. They needed me to come alongside them and make suggestions of what they could read. 

Especially in difficult moments, the young people felt the Bible was overwhelming. They knew help lay in its pages, but didn’t know where to start. They spoke about sitting with an older Christian who could help them read different passages to learn more and identify parts of the Bible which would connect with how they were feeling. This is such a key pastoral opportunity, to walk with the young people facing difficulty and help them hear from God today. 

Here are a few things that I have been considering as a result and I hope they could help you as you lead, pastor and support young people:

  • How can I create space for young people’s questions or doubts? 
  • How could I model experiencing God personally and facilitating this within our group?
  • What would it look like in my context for a young person to connect with an older Christian, exploring the Bible, and connecting it to their experiences?

I encourage you to think deeply about what you do, be willing to change, and keep pursuing God. You’re welcome to follow these steps too, for you. I suggest, that if it works for young people, it will be pretty good for our walk with Jesus too!

Christina Baillie

Christina lives in Holywood, Northern Ireland with her husband Mark. She has volunteered for years as a youth leader and now works in the Church of Ireland to support Parishes with their youth work. She loves travelling, especially around the US!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.