Sunday, October 27, 2013

Self-Injury (cutting) goes mainstream. How you can help

Can you spot the cutters in your youth group? They are there. If you've been in youth ministry for any amount of time I'll bet you've run across more than one person who is engaging in the act of cutting as a way to manage chronic and overwhelming emotional pain.
In 2002 schools in England reported that almost 7% of their students reported an act of deliberate self-harm. The largest group is girls under the age of 18. website reports that their Boys Town National Hotline received 696 calls in 2007 whose primary issue was self-injury, or cutting. In 2011 that number was 2052, nearly triple.

In his book, "Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut," Marv Penner does a great job of defining the problem, explaining the reason, a suggesting concrete ways to fight this growing danger to our kids.

In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at:
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at:
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at:
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at:
Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut: Learning to Understand and Help Those Who Self-Injure - Unabridged Audiobook [Download]
By Marv Penner / Zondervan/Youth Specialties
The issue of self-injury has become increasingly visible in the world of adolescents and young adults in recent years. The chaos of divorce, poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, and neglect has kids looking for ways to manage chronic and overwhelming emotional pain. In Hope and Healing author Marv Penner will take you into the world of self-injury, defining what it is and what it is not. He provides the tools and wisdom to help understand the pain and confusion a self-injurer experiences and how to walk with them toward the Light to find hope and healing.
I'm usually shocked (and very saddened) when I find out. In a perfect world, one free of the bad events stated above, this would never happen. Frequently my mind goes into the "If only" loop: "If only I had done said this...", "If only her parents had...", "if only she was was not bullied...".  The "If only..." torment is frequently experienced after a tragedy, like a suicide, when it's too late.  The positive news, however, is that  the hurting child is still here, Far from being a wish to end it all this is a call for help.

As a youth worker we are already in a good position to offer help:

We already have an established relationship of trust with this young person. A teen who is constantly being bullied at school or is neglected at home is trying to deal with emotional pain of betrayal, depression, and despair anyway they can. They learn from others that cutting helps, and shockingly, it does for awhile. They may not have anyone in their lives who can offer better ways to handle stress and pain. They might be too ashamed to ask and afraid of the reaction they'll get. Sharing is risky and leaves them vulnerable to even more pain and rejection. If you can be a friend, be a good friend. If you are a leader, lead them into hope and show them grace.

We can apply The Word of Truth to combat the false assumptions they've made about themselves or their situation. At this age they are forming their own identities.  They now have the ability to review their past and present for clues. They may decide that they are stupid because they are doing poorly in school. They might determine that they are unlovable if their parents have been too self-absorbed in their own lives to really care about them. Peers may be telling them they are worthless. They might be bearing the burden of guilt or shame from a past sexual abuse. The most effective method to combat these false assumptions is to help them grasp and believe the truth of their identity in Christ

Make sure they are comfortable and involved in your youth group.  They need to feel wanted  and significant. Kids don't do this automatically. Group building must be an ongoing goal for every activity you do. You need to teach them how to care for each other with words and deeds.

Teach them What the Bible says. Most have not yet read the Bible. Wearing a WWJD bracelet will not help unless they know what Jesus did. Use my lesson plans to help. Don't assume that the kids attending your youth group or Sunday School are saved. Help them make an informed decision, and a lasting commitment to Jesus as their Savior. No more bubble gum. Give them real meat.

There is a lot you can do. There are over thirty five free Bible lesson plans on my website and links to hundreds of other resources. Buy the book suggested above to be informed and get it into the hands of parents.

Help relieve them of guilt and shame they may feel from an abusive or traumatic situation.
Sexual abuse and abandonment can cause a child to conclude that they are defective in some way. They can also feel guilty about their feelings of anger toward people who have hurt them. Children in Christian families can also feel like they've failed to appropriate the victorious Christian life like all the other smiling people in church.

Know when to call in professionals.  Self-Injury is just a symptom of much deeper issues. Feelings of abandonment, defectiveness, low self-esteem, depression, and despair present huge obstacles to be overcome. You can be a significant helper in these areas but professional assistance may be needed to address the serious issues.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A different view of fundraising for Youth Ministry

Budgets for youth ministry are at an all time low. Times are tough (and getting tougher) they say. Giving is down. A financially sound church might yet provide a minuscule salary for a youth pastor but there's little left for anything else.

A church's budget is direct evidence of where their priorities lie. In most cases, the lion's share of the budget is the master pastor's compensation package, expenses related to the building, and adult ministries. Children's ministry gets enough to provide a safe place for kids to be while their parents are attending the service. In short, churches tend to cater to adults.

In a financial climate such as this I'm surprised any youth ministry gets accomplished at all. Even a simple task like replacing the outdated DVD player seems like a major fiscal ordeal. Trying to pull off a mission trip is nearly impossible. Kids are frequently sent peddling goods door to door or collecting discarded items for a yard sale. In the end, while a trip of some sort may be provided, very little in the area of actual Biblical teaching or discipleship has been accomplished.  The enormous effort required for such an event actually cuts into the precious little time you have for real youth ministry.

Mission trips are touted as "life-changing" by the companies that facilitate them. Short of a solid case of PTSD for the leaders, however, I really haven't seen the amount of life-changing spiritual growth I would expect for the huge investment required. Even the annual trek to the Dare-To-Share convention produces only a poor return of spiritual growth for the large amount of resources and effort needed.

This year, before you are startled and disappointed but the lack of funds your ministry will actually receive, take a few moments to reflect on the real purpose of youth ministry.  Why are you really here? For me, the goal is to make sure every child I come into contact with can make an informed decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, then to help them grow a strong faith that will withstand life's trials. Group-building is also an important aspect of youth ministry. The kids need to like, trust, and care about each other if any deep sharing is going to happen. In fact, the camaraderie and support of true Christian friends can be the strongest impetus for long-term church attendance and the fellowship needed to support a deep and abiding Christian faith.

Youth ministry must boil down to faith-building and fellowship. Everything else is superfluous.  My experience over the last decade has shown that a consistent time of Bible study, whether it's Sunday morning or during the week, produces the deep, vital, "life-changing" faith-building growth we seek. Here's the best part: It doesn't cost a lot!

Even in the most affluent church in which I served, my budget was only $30.00 per week. Most of that I spent on snacks. Yet I have never, and hopefully never will, do a fundraiser. But, I still managed to pull off what I feel was a successful youth ministry.

Here are some suggestions that might help you do it too:

Adjust your core ideas of youth ministry:
  1. A youth minister's job is not to take full responsibility for the spiritual training of the youngsters in their church. That's the parents' job. You should focus on helping parents disciple their kids. Resist the urge to take this responsibility on yourself. Leave it squarely on the parents' shoulders. You may, however,  augment the parents' discipleship efforts with competent Bible teaching at every opportunity.
  2. Helping parents parent well is often the best thing you can do for kids. If you are younger than most of the kids' parents you can still be effective by employing older volunteers to teach parenting classes.
  3. All of your activities must support your efforts towards Bible teaching and group building. Sometimes I think youth ministers do fun events just to gain the acceptance and adoration of the kids and seem successful in the eyes of the church. These are self-centered attitudes. "Search your feelings, Luke."
  4. Fundraising has no place in youth ministry. Children should never be coerced or expected to be money makers. We occasionally hear of some bright young person who starts their own company and, of course, we'll all have to make money as an adult, but you'll never convince me that fundraising is a proper activity for this age group. If the parents and church want a certain type of youth ministry it's their responsibility to provide the funding.
As a volunteer I have been able to take a different approach to budget issues. Parents and church leaders are grateful for any ministry I'm willing to do. They do not feel entitled to order me to do anything. My time is very limited so I'm forced to keep my ministry goals to just the essentials. My involvement is a pace that is healthy for me and my family.

I usually fund my youth ministry efforts with my own money. If they give me any kind of a budget, it's gravy. I do only what I can with what I have. Teaching and group building have the highest priority. If I do get the gumption to do a retreat, camping trip, or day activity the cost is within the parents ability to pay.

By sticking to the essentials I have been able to give many teenagers a solid Biblical understanding and a long lasting faith. So, bring on your anemic ministry budgets. I'll stick to the tactics I've spelled out in my website and quietly keep pushing the youth ministry cart down the road without doing a fundraiser. Join me as we continue to grow our kids with what the Lord provides.