“You wouldn’t believe what he did to me…”
“I’m never talking to her again.”
“I hope that one kid isn’t on the trip. He’s weird.”
Perhaps you’ve heard statements like this from students in your youth group. Let’s face it: conflict is always going to be present when groups of people try to work together. Humans are sinful creatures, and managing group dynamics is never easy. Teenagers in High School and Middle School are dealing with a lot of social pressure. Remember, relational challenges can seem even greater when it comes to working with hormonal teenagers!
Dealing with drama, gossip, fights, and factions is unavoidable in youth ministry. So how do we best handle it? How much can or should we be involved in stressful situations? Is it our place to step in?
We want the church to be a safe place, especially for teens. Adolescence is a tumultuous time already and it’s important for us to welcome students into youth groups, communicating to them that they are loved and accepted. Problems are inevitable, but we can help teens work through them and model appropriate conflict resolution. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” we read in Matthew (5:9). So how do we make the peace? How do we guide our youth toward resolution? Naturally, specifics will vary according to the nature of the situation, but there are some general guidelines we can remember when approaching conflict. Consider some tips on “dos” and “don’ts” of conflict management…
DON’T… What to avoid in dealing with youth ministry conflict
- Ignore or avoid tough issues. This might seem obvious, but it can be tempting to push things under the rug, so to speak, or view conflict management as a waste of time. Ignoring problem situations will only make them worse for all involved.
- Take sides when teens argue. Demonstrating a bias is a great way to lose trust and respect.
- Accuse or blame anyone in a conflict.
- React to arguments emotionally or immediately. Sometimes disputes arise quickly and heatedly, but it’s important to take time to cool down and look at the situation objectively.
- Let the situation escalate and cause strife in the larger group. Try to handle things on a small-scale before they grow out of control.
DO… What to pursue when student ministry conflicts
- Gather all of the facts of a situation. Talk with both (or all) parties involved to gain understanding of the root causes of problems.
- Model appropriate communication with teens. When you are in conflict with someone else, set a positive example for resolution. Handle things wisely, according to the precedent set in Matthew 18.
- Encourage forgiveness and restoration, when possible. There might be situations when forgiveness takes place, but that does not always lead to total restoration of a friendship. The goal should be mutual understanding and cooperation, recognizing that sometimes “getting along is good enough for now.”
- Emphasize the importance of unity with others, as the body of Christ. Remind students why it is essential to aim for a spirit of cooperation. Look to Jesus first and foremost.
- Involve and inform parents, when necessary. Depending on the situation, you might assist students in resolving their issue on their own, or might need the input of parents. However, adults should always be aware of what is going on in the lives of their teens. Often, conflict might take place between siblings, in which case it’s certainly helpful to bring in parents.
- Support and love youth, and emphasize the value of each individual.
- Encourage teens to show care for others and include all participants in activity.
- PRAY, in all circumstances! Pray before and during addressing conflict, and make opportunities to pray with teens as you work toward reconciliation.
As youth leaders, we have great influence on the teens we interact with, sometimes in ways we don’t even recognize. The way that we do (or don’t) handle conflicts will stand out in memory for our students. We are bound to make mistakes, of course, and suffer imperfections of our own. Conflict is never easy, but is an avenue for “teachable moments” in ministry. The more we help teens learn to handle and resolve their issues, the better equipped they will be to do the same in adulthood. Let us place Christ first and pray for wisdom and guidance as we gently and lovingly support the relationships of our young people.