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4 Tips for Loving “Difficult” Teens

4 Tips for Loving “Difficult” Teens

I’ve got to admit I was disappointed when I read an article the other day intended for youth workers dealing with teens that have bad attitudes. When the writer questioned, “Have you ever dealt with a teenager that has had an attitude before?” I was puzzled. Who hasn’t dealt with a challenging teen before in youth ministry? The article continued on to discuss ways to combat problematic students and their behaviors and to not let it affect others in the group. In the ministry where I presently serve, we deal with difficult behaviors day in and day out. If volunteers do not receive an attitude, eye roll or smart remark we would wonder if we were in the right building. I think many of us deal with difficult behaviors all the time.  It can cause us to leave frustrated, belittled or even angry. It can also cause us to wonder why we are even involved in the ministry.

I was recently reminded by one of our staff members that after Jesus Christ was born, he began his first days in a manger, a place that is uncomfortable, unclean and undesirable. There are times when we are serving others and we feel uncomfortable, possibly unclean and in an undesirable environment – but maybe that’s exactly where we need to. My encouragement for this writer would be – if you do not have students in your ministry with attitudes and rough edges – you might consider going to find some! We should do more to seek them out rather than get them out.

We all know ministry isn’t always pleasant or wonderful, but it’s important to remember why we’re doing it. That’s why at our ministry we strive to constantly reminder our volunteers of these four things:

4 things to remember
when serving in a tough situation

1. The enemy does not want you here.

When volunteers are frustrated and are not able to serve from an overflow, then the students and the ministry suffers. The devil uses all sorts of tactics to get us sidetracked and off focus of where our hearts should be.

 2. Serving takes an abundance of prayer, patience and creativity.

We encourage volunteers to always arrive early to help them focus. We can have long work days before we volunteer and therefore we can easily slip into discouragement during ministry. Therefore, being “prayed up,” focused and thinking creatively about the evening prior to arriving is important. We also seek out people in the church to be praying for every volunteer by name. We all need prayer- the more the better.  

 3. Remember what a student could have gone through before they walked through the doors.

If a student is causing challenges or frustrating a volunteer, we encourage volunteers to think about their past, history and the student’s story. Prior to arriving to the event the student may have dealt with a variety of challenging home life situations including being verbally abused by a parent, no food in their home for dinner, being yelled at by a family member, no one being home, etc. Difficult behaviors are not the problem. When we observe challenging behaviors, volunteers can learn how to seek out and find what the potential root issue may be.

 4. Your purpose for being in the building.

It is important to continually encourage volunteers about what a “win” is, big or small, for the student ministry where you serve. We all need to be reminded of our purpose for serving. If you have regular volunteer staff meetings, I would encourage you to take at least one meeting a year to focus on what a “win” is for the ministry and to help volunteers stay focused on their purpose and reason for serving.

Instead of looking at how we can combat frustrating behaviors, we can work together to learn more about a student, love with a deeper sense of grace and get a fuller understanding of our own fallen human nature.

Meredith Dahl
Executive Directory at Cross Connection Ministries
Meredith is the Executive Director of Cross Connection Ministries in New Holland, PA. She has received a Bachelor of Science in Student Ministry and a Master of Arts in Ministry (Concentration in Student Ministry) from Lancaster Bible College. Meredith and her husband live in New Holland with their baby boy Liam and love living, working and volunteering in their community.