When The Youth Room Turns Against You

Carl Dodd
April 5th, 2019

It was a summer afternoon in England (which means it was probably cold & raining). I had been invited to speak at another church’s evangelistic mission. The idea was that throughout the week their team had been cultivating relationships with the local community and then the students would show up in the evening for some music, games and someone that would share a message. Tonight, it was me.

Just before my talk, I was standing to one side of the room before I got up to speak, and ever since the evening had kicked off, there were some local middle-schoolers from the neighborhood who had been messing around, occasionally saying something inappropriate and doing it all from the front row seating right in front of the worship band. 

The youth pastor did not look happy. In fact, his face was slightly red. I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach… which only deepened as he walked up onto the stage to introduce me. What followed was an angry rant about their behavior that went on for some time. Without pause, the youth pastor went on to invite me up onto stage.

It was possibly the most interesting introduction I’d ver had, Before I even got up on stage, I had lost the room. Now I would love to say that I effortlessly stepped into what was one of my first speaking engagements and brought them all around with smiles and laughter. I would love to say that, but that would be a lie. It crashed and burned. I was heckled, shouted at, and the room was lost in the midst of drama. Now almost 20 years ago, I look back and shake my head. 

As I think about that evening, I realize all the ways the youth pastor and I could have taken a different approach. I want to give you a few ways you can handle youth room drama, without the crash and burn!

Take a breath

When chaos is erupting around you, or when you suddenly realize no-one is listening to you. Or perhaps when a fight breaks out between a couple of students. The most important thing to do is…breathe. Don’t jump in with both feet and react to what is going on. Instead, take a moment to check yourself and your emotions. Remember there is a bigger relational story at work as you respond to what is unravelling in front of you.

Bringing it into land 

When your youth room is out of control,  then it can feel the same as when a plane is out of control. So think about what happens if your plane develops control issues. If there’s a nearby airport, the pilot doesn’t keep on pushing on to their destination, they aim to bring the plane down as safely as possible. Remember this, if your room is out of control: you don’t need to keep trying to hit your destination. Land your session as safely as you can. This may mean finishing your talk early and using the rest of your time to follow up relationally (see the next tip. If your group is trying to divert the plane for you, then sometimes you have to follow that diversion (I once had a group that would talk about ghost and zombies, no matter what the evening’s topic was supposed to be). However you choose to land the plane, make sure you take time later to review what happened and plan for the future. 

Responding to the drama 

If you simply gloss over whatever drama has just unraveled right in front of your eyes, then some people could be left really hurt and some students miss the opportunity to learn how you deal with conflict maturely. After ‘the plane’ is down, spend time following up on the drama. If this is with students, talk with them relationally. If it needs some response within your groups behavior policies, then do it relationally with the student and parents. Have these conversations intentionally and with a constant view of what it looks like to restore relationships. Make sure you keep your senior leadership in the loop with all that is going on.

Learn from the experience 

After the dust has settled, take time to gather your thoughts and meet with your volunteers. Talk about what just happened. Ask your volunteers what they saw happening and what you should do differently. Invite your team to be part of the solution. You may have to leave some ego at the door, but ministry is never about us. The process of listening and evaluating helps to make the changes you need to grow for the future.

Most of all, recognize that what happened last week doesn’t need to define what happens this week. Take time with God and ask Him to minister to you and be at work in the lives of all involved. God’s grace and love is often revealed most deeply in some of the times when things fall apart around us. 

Thank-you for going into the trenches weekly, and having the courage to step into all that God sets before you!

Carl Dodd

Carl Dodd has been ministering to children, youth and their families for 20 years. He has served in local, regional and national projects. He is currently Head of School at Eastside Academy in Seattle, a Christian High School working with at-risk students through counseling and recovery support. Carl also leads Youth Crisis First Responders (www.youthcrisis.org), equipping churches and ministries to respond to students experiencing times of crisis. Carl is married to Rachel and enjoys the outdoor life with their two girls in the lakes and forests of Washington.

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.