Helping Spiritually At-risk Kids

Youth Specialties
July 6th, 2016

Ron’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.

Years of research and millions of dollars have gone into studying at-risk kids. Most of these studies are focused on behaviors that lead to early pregnancies, overdoses, or drunk driving and other crimes. Less is known about behaviors that destroy the soul. Sadly, millions of youth—even church youth—engage in four soul-destroying behaviors:

  1. They defy parental authority.

In Dr. James Dobson’s book The Strong-Willed Child, he says that defiant behavior starts to emerge at age two. He warns that if this behavior isn’t dealt with at that age, it will dominate the house. Parents represent the love of Father God.

When students shut out their parents, lie to them, or spend as much time as possible at friends’ houses, they’re accountable to no one. They can easily stray from their parents’ values, morals, and beliefs, and their souls are in great danger. If students shut out their parents in this way, they can’t receive help, guidance, or correction from them.

  1. They defy God’s authority.

This is nothing new—teens make the same mistakes Eve did. She died spiritually, because she did the following:

  • Listened to the Serpent (Genesis 3:1). Who influencing a student?
  • Doubted God’s Word (Genesis 3:6). What is a student’s knowledge of the Word, and how strictly does he or she live by it?
  • Gave in to selfish desires (Genesis 3:6). What is enticing a teen away from loving and serving Christ?
  • Shared her sin with others (Genesis 3:6). Is a student convincing others to join him or her in faith or in sin?
  • Hid from God (Genesis 3:8). Is a student running to God, running from God, or keeping God at a distance?
  • Blamed someone else for her behavior (Genesis 3:13). Does a student blame the condition of his or her soul on others?

Most of us have gone down this road before—it’s the road of the prodigal. Fortunately, the lost son in the Bible came to his senses. Some parents wait decades to see their kids return to faith. Some kids never return.

  1. They have close relationships with non-Christians or lapsed Christians.

You don’t need a degree in adolescent development to know that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Negative peer pressure will very quickly drag students down. If those students aren’t accountable to or supported by other Christians, their behavior will deteriorate. After a while they will find themselves at a crossroads: Do I change my behavior, or do I change my beliefs? In this situation, teens often desert their faith.

Students become very much like their closest friends. An absence of any Christian friends is a clear indicator of at-risk Christians.

  1. They engage in idolatry.

We rarely think of students as hard-core idolaters. Students may be high-achieving and disciplined, but if you look past the honor roll, you may see some of these dangerous behaviors:

  • They spend no private time with God.
  • They spend six or more hours a day with media or video games.
  • They’re constantly seeking their next purchase.
  • They working several hours a day in order to buy tech or clothes.
  • They constantly follow celebrities but do little to follow Christ.
  • They abandon the youth ministry in order to study or participate in sports.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah with my daughter, and idolatry is a constant theme in the first half of the book. In Jeremiah, God runs out of patience for his people, and he brings destruction and slaughter upon Jerusalem. Jeremiah explains the reason for the judgment: The people had put their faith in the Temple and in their identity as the chosen people—they didn’t think anything bad could happen to them. They didn’t realize that they had sold their souls.

Hope for the At-Risk Soul

Some teens I see already show signs of soul destruction: these teens have shut out their parents, fallen in with bad crowds, given their hearts to people who don’t love God, turned their back on God, and want nothing to do with Christians. When teens show these signs, they’re pretty far gone. We need to love them, pray for them, and look for any opportunities to help them return to Christ.

For students who are showing early warning signs of these four risky behaviors, early intervention is the key. Here are a few things parents and youth workers can do:

  1. Match strong parental warmth with biblical standards.

High-pressure parents who have difficulty expressing love to their teens can drive their teens underground. Teens in these families will sneak behind their parents’ backs to follow the crowd. But when families pursue fun, warmth, and communication, there’s a better chance that teens will stay on track.

  1. Get the right ratio.

Kara Powell suggests that students should be supported by a network of five committed adults—these can be youth workers, coaches, relatives, teachers, or friends of the family. If a teen has a network made up of faithful people, there’s less risk that he or she will stray from the faith.

  1. Connect students with a committed mentor.

Along with the network of five, there should be one committed adult who will regularly meet with a student for accountability and nurture.

I recently held a retreat for a very large group of young adults from one church. This group has overcome all the statistics that say many college students will lose their faith. The secret? Each of these students has had a mentor since they were in the Sunday school program. While this may not be a possibility for every church, if a student has a mentor during the transition years or during early to late adolescence, it will make a huge difference.

There’s always a risk that students will stray, but putting some of these things in place might help some of our students beat the odds.

ronDr. Ron Powell is a youth ministry veteran and the director of the Youth Ministry Institute in Edmonton Alberta, Canada. He is cofounder and author of the blog YouthMinistryUnleashed.com.


Youth Specialties

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.