Guest post by: John Keim

We all have students in our ministry that can “stick out” for any variety of reasons. Maybe they are a stellar athlete in their school or they are extremely outgoing and know everybody or they have found a way to be vocal with their faith and it’s impacting their friends in a big way. And then there are those students who “stick out” for different reasons such as;

  • The middle school student who when he was asked to stop running around simply responded to my college age female intern “you smell good”. She was so thrown off by his response that he took off again!
  • The high school guy who had snuck off during youth group and after we searched the building he finally resurfaces from the kid’s ministry snacking on a bulk size bag of goldfish that he claims he brought with him from home.
  • The student who drops a string of f-bombs on the kindest and most caring adult leader after a simple request to pay attention.
  • The middle school student who by day two of summer camp has one of your most competent and experienced counselors ready to quit and go home.

And then there are those instances when you have one student who sticks out for ALL of those reasons. Those aren’t fictitious examples; those are actually a sampling of moments from one student’s journey in their student years with us-and he’s only a freshman right now!

My first thoughts on how to handle a student like this are not always the most holy, most helpful or even most legal! (I may have researched the cost of cattle prods-don’t judge me, you’ve been there too!) But what I’ve found to be true time and time again with students who stick out for these reasons is that there is always more to the story.

It’s not that there is more to the story of what happened in youth group, that’s always pretty clear. It’s that there is more to the story of their life and what goes on the 166 hours a week they’re not in youth group. My little buddy that I wrote about above has a whole lot more to his story and I guarantee you that the students in your ministry who “stick out” for the not so good reasons have more to their story too. And when I’ve taken the chance to talk with these students and hear the rest of their story, I have found my heart breaking for the harsh realities of this broken world.

In ministering to students like this there have been two helpful steps I try to always engage in with them;

  1. I will go out of my way to continue building relationship with them so that we can show this student a consistent and unshakeable love for them. Recognizing that this may be the only environment where some students are being cared for, encouraged and loved we do everything we can to love them well.
  2. I will meet with that student and lovingly but firmly establish boundaries for behavior. This allows me a chance as the student pastor (if I haven’t already) to express our love for the student and how glad we are that they are a part of our student community. And out of that love and care I’ll talk through the simple, respectful boundaries we have of how we will treat each other. Some of these students have never had a caring adult place firm boundaries in their lives and this can communicate care for them on another level.

So the next time that a student pushes your buttons or decides to kick holes in the drywall (different kid, another story) or acts out at youth group; put down the cattle prods and remember there is more to their story!