I think one of the hardest things about being a youth worker/pastor is watching a student who used to be so involved, but isn’t anymore. A student in whose life you have seen God make a complete 180-degree turn, but then they go back to their old ways and struggles. They become more and more distant. It is heartbreaking. It’s even more heartbreaking when you have to console the mother of that student because she doesn’t know what to do anymore. What does one do with this? What can we possibly say in times like this? What can we actively do to move forward from this?
I’m going to be honest: I don’t know. It’s hard.
I have been working through this myself lately with some students, and what I keep coming back to is this verse:
“How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19b-20)
Something I have learned more this year than in my previous years in youth ministry is that we have the power to change no one.
As much as we want to, we don’t have the power to do this. But we serve a God who can change the hearts and minds of those He created and loves. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that can cause someone to be open to listening to God, and He can make them more willing to listen to others and take advice to turn their hearts around.
I don’t know if there are more steps to this, but this is what I have been doing this past year. I have seen God move in the hearts of students who used to be far from Him. I’ve seen Him call them back, and I am confident in prayer that He will do the same with those students who are far from Him right now as well.
Pray — Prayer is simple, but it is not always easy. Patience is the key to prayer. Pray God begins to soften their heart to be open to talking about what is happening.
Pursue — For students who are not coming like they used to because they know they are doing things that are not right, constantly pursue them. Let them know you are thinking of them and praying for them and are there for them. Whether they text back or not, they will know you are still thinking about them.
Persist — We don’t know how long it will take, but we need to persist. In my own ministry, I have gotten a random text from a student months after their not being around. They knew I was thinking about them weekly, so when things got hard, they would text and ask me to meet with them. They knew I wanted to meet with them for months.
Prepare – If they do reach out to you, be prepared for what is coming. Be prepared to listen. Listen well. Most of the time when I have these meetings I don’t say anything because I just want to hear what’s going on. I’m not quick to give advice unless asked. Usually, this is the first of many meetings to follow.
God has the power to bring people back to Him. We do not. So pray, pursue, persist, and prepare for those students who walk away. God can still move in huge ways, and we get to be a vessel in bringing students back to Jesus. What an awesome job we have.