Day 3 at the Youth Ministry Leadership Exchange started to bring it home and get a lot more practical. Tom Shefchunas and an expert panel talked about the real parts of ministry — how are we creating safe environments for students to share their struggles?

Tom started by sharing some of the questions he has been asking lately as he has studied Jesus:

  • What did Jesus choose to say and not to say?
  • How did He choose to say it?
  • When did He choose to say it?

What he has realized is that Jesus usually chose to speak only after he had built a relational bridge strong enough to support the truth. He only said it in a way that defended and lovingly corrected. And Jesus was selective as to when He spoke. Taking these principles, he shared several points on how to mimic Jesus in our ministries.

  • Wanting to be a safe place and actually being a safe place are very different.
  • You can measure how safe your ministry is by what your students have been brave enough to share.
  • There are some things we shouldn’t say from a microphone on stage, because from a microphone, we can’t listen and they can’t see our eyes.
  • It’s often what you don’t say, when you say it, and how we say it that communicates love to a student.

He then ended with three questions that I think are incredibly important to ask ourselves:

  • How safe do you want to be?
  • How safe are you actually?
  • What do you need to do to change it?

After this, we were greeted by a panel of youth workers and counselors, who talked specifically about depression and suicide. The talk was very open and raw, and it reminded me of my own desire to put on a workshop for parents and teens on this very topic. As they said, “Silence is deafening; we have to talk about it.” They also shared what to do and what not to do when a student shares they are struggling/hurting:

  • DO listen.
  • DON’T get into too many details.
  • DO focus on emotions.

Two of the ladies on the panel even put together a one-page document for us to share with our student ministry teams. If you’d like a copy, just text YMLX to 345345, and they will send you a PDF of the document.

So, how safe are your ministries? What have you done to create a safe place for students to share openly about their struggles? I’d love to hear what is working in your ministry, so please leave a comment below!


For all my posts from YMLX 2018, click here.


2 thoughts on “Creating Safe Places in our Ministries (YMLX 2018)

    1. Great question! The big idea they shared was to not get overwhelmed in the minute details of what is going on but to find out the big picture so you can help in the moment and then pass them on (refer) to others/professionals who can then help further with the details. The thought behind this is that our volunteers are usually not professional counselors, so they are not equipped to go into all the details. Instead, they need to access the immediate need and find someone to help beyond that.

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