One of the most difficult things to learn as a young youth minister is your role as disciplinarian. You may have little to no experience in disciplining others, but this role of the youth minister is essential if you are going to help young people grow in their faith and as individuals. One of our jobs is call them back into line. The older I’ve gotten the more comfortable I have become with this role.
Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Hebrews 12:4-5
But in addition to the challenge of feeling comfortable with this role is knowing what to do and how to handle it. If you read It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry, you will read a variety of stories and what people learned trying to navigate them. I’ve had youth scale the outside of buildings, smoke pot, sneak out at night, and incite a plethora of other incidents over my 20 years in youth ministry. Fortunately, there are some practices that we can put into place that will help us when it happens to us.
A marksman uses the mantra ready, aim, fire with each shot. These principles can be used to help us discipline in difficult situations.
Ready begins before you ever leave on a trip. Ready involves making clear the church’s and your behavior expectations. This could include creating a discipline covenant that is signed by parents and students before they go on a trip.
If you are ready, parents will not be surprised. They will know your stance and role from a parent orientation. They will know the consequences if a major rule is broken, including you putting their child on a bus and sending him or her home at their expense.
On the trip, being ready includes gathering information and seeking counsel. If you did not witness the incident, make sure you gather information from those who did. You might meet with the offending parties to gather information, but not to share a decision. Asking for advice from other adults on how to respond is another way to be ready.
Being ready means checking your own heart and emotions so that you can approach the discipline in a constructive manner.
Now you are ready to take aim. Before you fire, who needs to know what you are doing? This includes not surprising your senior pastor by letting him or her know what has happened and your plan of action. Other adults may need to be made aware of the situation. You may need to contact the parents to let them know what is about to take place.
You should always have a witness. Someone who can both support you as you enforce the discipline and someone who can witness what was said and done to prevent a he said/she said situation.
Just as a marksman takes time to calm her breathing and go through the mechanics in her mind, remind yourself of the the things you do NOT want to do:
- Get physical
- Raise your voice
- Use sarcasm
Now you are ready to meet with the students and calmly share with them the decisions that have been made and how they will be disciplined. You will have benefited from going through the steps and will feel confident in your response and decision.
Many young youth ministers simply go quickly from ready to fire and respond out of anger or frustration. This kind of response can damage relationships with youth, parents, other leaders, and your senior pastor. I know. Discipline is a learned process. Always keep in mind that this is a youth who you hope continues to grow in their relationship with God and remains a part of your ministry.
Check for Damage
After discipline has been enforced, you will want to circle back after an appropriate amount of time to check on the student. You will want to try and create space that allows you to express your love for them and their continued place in the ministry. You should follow up with their parents and see how they are doing and express your desire to continue to minister to their youth. How will you continue to support them along their journey?
My biggest learning over the years is embedded in this process. Take your time. You should not discipline on the spot. You should stop the incident, but you do not have to enforce the consequences of the actions in the moment.
If you are a youth minister, discipline is inevitable. Learning to do it well is important as you seek to lead by example and help young people grow.
For further reading, check out Hank Hilliard’s “The Importance of Developing a Discipline Covenant.”
This article was developed from notes from Mark DeVries’ workshop on discipline for the Center for Youth Ministry Training.