How to Help Youth That Fail

How can we offer help to troubled youth in a way that they can benefit? Below are seven ways to hold out a helping hand instead of pointing an accusing finger.

Robert is angry. One of the causes for his anger is because he has not learned to accept a “no” from his parents when he was young. His parents were easy going. Robert could pretty well have his own way in whatever he set out to do. Now Robert has younger brothers and they are treated in the same manner. Mom and Dad seem to look the other way when the household erupts into vicious sibling rivalry. Schedules are made to be broken. All this makes Robert angry and bitter. He has been secretly viewing DVD’s and listening to rock music, but he is not sure it would matter if his parents would catch him. He dreams of the day when he will run away from his parent’s home and the church.

Rocina is disillusioned. She can vividly recall her early preschool days when a cousin would take her up into the hay mow of the barn. He had found some pornography along the road, and his mind was filled with perversion. She soon learned what his fantasies included. He had made dire threats if Rocina ever told. She was not sure her mother would listen anyway. Mother and Father were usually too busy with the family businesses to care much about her, or at least that is the way she felt. She cannot remember the family ever gathering together for family worship. Mealtimes were rarely a sit down affair. She does not remember being taught bedtime prayers or having private talks with mom. How will she ever talk about these dark memories that fill her with such confusion? Maybe she will just do away with herself.

Ray is confused. When he was much younger a neighbor boy slept with him in the same bed. Before they went to sleep, the neighbor taught him to do some things that had never ever entered into his mind. Later he found some pornography. He soon developed habits and addictions that raged out of control. As he learned to drive, acquired a cellular phone, and then bought his own vehicle, each new liberty that was given to him opened new doors for feeding the demon of lust that raged in his life. He sought access to the wicked magazines in convenience stores and in bookstores. He found the novels at the local library where adulterous scenes were given in graphic detail. Ray had made a commitment at church when he was younger, but as he hid these failures, he grew increasingly confused with the Christian life. Why bother? Nothing ever seemed to help anyway.

Randy is frustrated with dad. It seems all dad wants him for is work. He had expanded the dairy operation so the boys wouldn’t have to work away from home, and now supposedly everyone must work night and day to keep up with the increased payments required by the new debt load. In addition to the responsibilities of the dairy, dad is ordained. He is put on committees and programs here and there across the church so he is frequently gone. This leaves Randy feeling trapped at home. As he slaves away, Randy nurses his bitter thoughts. “I am not good enough to talk to, but I am good enough to be a slave. When I don’t do things just so, dad can really yell. It makes me so mad when he gets angry! One of these times I am going to put him in his place!”

These youth and others with turbulent involvements may attend your home congregation. When you see them, you may get the vague feeling that something is wrong. However, their problems are not written on a sheet of paper fastened to their backs. The only hint of a problem may be the look in their eyes. They avoid contact with adults, especially adults that have authority. They hide their victimized disillusionment, their addictions, their anger. Eventually these problems will consume their lives. How soon will they lead them out of the church and into the world? They will never be at one in a brotherhood until these underlying problems are resolved.

Sometimes faltering youth take courage and come forward with their needs. Most times they do not. Why stay with a church that did not help mom and dad be honest with their problems? Often youth with these heavy secrets have allowed themselves to become convinced that the church only cares about externals anyway. The times they hinted at needing help, the request was seemingly only shrugged off. They will be very careful to whom they turn with their problems lest the problems are only magnified.

What is to be done with these youth and their problems?

We help youth when we find answers to our own struggles and are free to care about others who are hurting or in some oppressing bondage. The only answer to any problem is to find God in His reality. When we have an answer to a problem, it isn’t really a problem anymore. We may need to work at the solution, but the problem is solvable. When we have God in our life, we become partaker of the Omnipresent Solution; we have a constant answer. Therefore we can live with, learn from, and benefit from all problems.

When we find answers, we leave impressions from our lives. When we know Jesus’ truth and His truth has set us free, an aura is established that is more felt or sensed rather than documented. People can often sense from surface issues how effectively we are managing the core matters of our life. When we are free, we have the resources to look beyond our own little world and become sensitive and caring about the struggles of others. If we are truly going to be a part of the solution in our church life regarding struggling youth, we must live in Christian victory ourselves. Youth need answers, but not pat answers. Youth need other Christians who have answers that withstand the reality of daily life.

The only answer is to lead these youth to the foot of the cross of Christ and find His solution to their problem. Jesus Christ shows us the way to put to death what needs to be crucified. Jesus has resurrection power for healing and an infilling we can receive nowhere else. Jesus has teaching that sets men free. Youth with problems in their lives will need to find these solutions, all of them, in order to grow and stay with a Biblically separated church. But they find the way best when we lead them there.

Youth need to hear parents talk about passages they read in their personal devotions, and how these Scriptures met needs in their own lives. They need to see adults applying Biblical concepts to daily struggles, or how they went to the Lord in prayer and how He met their need. This kind of life they can understand and can follow.

We help youth by being real with root problems and by practicing vibrant Christian discipleship in our church life. While there is a place for a church to have traditions, to produce a culture, to have its rites and rituals and to maintain its own identity, Jesus instituted the church to do more than just these externals. Any organization or religion can manifest externals. The Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Buddhists have forms they fervently cling to. Jesus founded His church to do specific things heaven prescribed. These commandments or ordinances convey deep spiritual significance that ministers grace to those who obey them from the heart. This grace sweetens the entire life.

Jesus also founded the community of believers and established accountability so believers would “exhort one another daily,” that they would “confess (their) faults one to another,” and that they would “admonish one another.” This body is to “pray one for another” and “love one another with a pure heart fervently.” The church is to be a body, a living organism where each fits in and finds himself becoming a larger part of a living body. Brethren are to feel a part of each other and have a place to turn to when they sense spiritual vulnerability. It is the purpose of the church to address pertinent issues of spiritual danger. When immorality or violence becomes the norm in society and is piped into every home through the news media or modern movies and music, the church cannot cover their eyes and look the other way. We hope our youth are not affected by these new norms, but we must assume they will in some way be impacted. Then we must be realistic in addressing the temptations and problems.

The psalmist acknowledged that his feet had well nigh slipped until he went to the house of God. In the New Testament church, an unbeliever would go into the assembly and through the preaching of the Word, he would hear the secrets of his heart exposed (1Co 14:25). We need that caliber of church life, where the Word with its burning power is preached and souls are helped to find their way.

We help youth by staying true to Biblical doctrines and practices so youth know where to return when they grow weary with Satan’s deceptions. Having emphasized the need to be relevant, we also need to consider the need to stay unchanging in doctrine and in the time-honored practices of the faithful church. “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good...” We do not have the only applications to Bible dress, Christian music, expressions of love, etc; but there are good reasons for the applications chosen by the generations which have preceded us. When we understand the connection between our present application and the Bible principle, we see we do not need to change with every new whim or even with every new generation.

There is great security for a wayward youth when he knows the group he left is waiting where he left it. The prodigal knew where to find his father. When congregations drift in their practices, they do so because they have also changed their doctrines. This instability creates insecurity for any who would return to the God of their fathers. Those who have forsaken their core values and outward expressions are not going to be an attraction or a haven for wayward youth. We will not help keep our prodigals out of the pig pen by establishing a boundary halfway out in the mire, but by sending clear signals that we are headed in a different direction.

We help youth by maintaining a redemptive atmosphere, where sins may be confessed, forgiven and not mentioned again.

It is true that the church should create an environment of holiness so that the baser sins should not be once named among us (Eph 5:3). There should be a strong momentum of piety that causes discomfort among those who aren’t of the same mind. It is also true that when someone sins they should be rebuked before everyone (1Ti 5:20).   Having reiterated these truths, we also need to highlight virtues we learn from the life of Christ.

He was not motivated to shame those who had deviated into a sinful life. He did not forsake people when they failed. He certainly did not keep bringing the past up when persons faced and repented of their sins. Jesus’ life and ministry was focused upon redemption. He told of the shepherd who searched for his wayward sheep until He found it. He worked with publicans and harlots. When a woman taken in adultery was brought before Him, Jesus refrained from scathing denunciations. He actually seemed to be more concerned about secret sins which go unrepented of, and of the harsh critical spirits of those who held the line of judgment (read John 8).

When youth fail, they need to be helped to face their failure. We still need the Biblical practice of excommunication. However. church action should stay within the home congregation and not become fodder for rumors.

We must send signals that repentance clears the way for restoration, not that it marks a person indelibly as an outcast.

We help youth by having leadership who takes an interest in the things which interest youth. There is something foolish about parents and leaders who try to act like they have never quite grown up. As we mature, our interests are supposed to change, and we will not win youth by chasing them. That is one perspective to keep in mind.

People know we are interested in them, when we make the things that interest them an interest to us. Young people have not come to the place where their lives revolve around making money or in keeping a nice house. They are interested in deep and lasting friendships, in having someone they can talk spiritual ideals with, and in understanding the secrets of life. All these things are on their minds. In our little conversations we send signals that we care and understand, or we can communicate that we have no interest in them.

And then there are youth activities. We can treat this subject as if every activity has to end in wantonness and overreact. If we react in this way, we will lose ground with our youth. A thing overdone is undone. There are dangers in too much play and youthful competition. But there is also room for good, wholesome interchange as youth and older ones share in recreational and work activities. Sometimes this is done on a family level, but there are  times when younger believers can look into the thinking and life of older disciples in a non-formal setting.

We help restore fallen youth by inviting them back. Do you know youth who have fallen and are out of the church? Do they know you want them back? How much does it take to communicate the thought, “We miss you”? If you find it hard to say this in words, would a letter do it for you? a card? Or a text message? Some wayward youth have said they do not know if they are wanted or not. Perhaps this is a fault of their not understanding messages of love, but perhaps it is a deeper problem of us not communicating that love. (Or is it a still deeper problem that we do not have that love?) Remember, our Lord Jesus told the story of the shepherd who went after the wayward lamb for a reason.

We help wayward youth by taking their name and their needs to the throne of grace. There is no substitute for prayer; fervent, earnest prayer. God heard Abraham’s and spared Lot. He will hear yours, and if it is possible, will spare the youth who you carry so close to your heart, too.

In conclusion. One part of the answer is for all of us to look beyond faults, and look for needs. When we look for faults, it is to put the other person down, (and possibly to lift ourselves up). When we look for needs, it is for the purpose of serving, looking for a way to help. That love creates a powerful attraction stronger than any other we can employ.

And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).

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Stephen Ebersole
Pilgrim Mennonite Conference

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