We all experience pain in different ways and at different times in our lives. For most of us, pain is a common experience that we don’t want. In fact, we go to great lengths to try to avoid it. But when we find we can’t avoid it, most of us need help in dealing with it—especially teenagers. As an adult, encountering pain in a teenager’s life is often challenging to maneuver.

Some adults react too apathetically, and others respond too strongly and try to help with something that sounds like, “I told you so.” Avoiding or attacking aren’t the best ways to respond to students in pain. The “dark sky” moments in life hold great potential for discipleship. These moments are unique and require something more than telling the truth. Some teenagers are facing impossible situations: difficult parents, death of a loved one, divorce… the list can get ugly, but you get the point. For these kinds of pain, words are cheap, and presence is priceless.

1. Show up unexpectedly.

The power of Jesus was that He was present with those He was ministering to. He walked with His disciples. He had intense conversations. He listened. In a distracted world, our teenagers need an adult who will choose to be present with them. When you show up in their lives consistently, give them your full attention and pursue them in their world, you communicate to them that they matter. When they know they matter to you; they will listen to what you have to say a lot more.

2. Create a safe place for them to process verbally.

Our teenagers live in a performance-based, judgment-filled world. They are craving a place where they can be themselves. It’s only when they can be honest about their lives that God can truly start the process of transformation. How can you create a safe space? A safe space is created when you value acceptance, confidentiality, and honesty. When you model those things, you’ll see teenagers start to open up in ways you never thought possible.

3. Affirm, affirm, affirm

Everyone’s faith journey is a little different, but one of the common elements of a growing faith is the appearance of doubt. When teenagers encounter doubts (which is fine—remember John the Baptist doubted) be sure to listen to their questions and affirm them for wrestling with difficult issues. A doubter needs to be taken seriously before he or she will listen to an answer. Without trust, a doubter won’t be helped. It is exciting to watch a doubter eventually grasp God’s truth.


Johnny serves as the Student Pastor at First Colleyville Church in Colleyville, Texas. He’s been pastoring students for just over 14 years and is a graduate of the Youth Cartel. He is finishing his certification as a Youth Ministry Coach. He and his wife Alisha have two daughters named Ellie and Emory. When not doing student ministry, Johnny can be found building cabinets, fishing, or taking his daughters on adventures.