real world parents, NYWC, youth culture as a whole...

I have been out of youth work for just about 6 months now. I try to stay consistent on the ins and outs of youth culture and the youth worker's world. There are so many things going on, that it is difficult to really keep up with the latest hot book or new topic that should be talked about. One thing I can say that I never faced up or even talked about in a youth setting is bullying.

This morning, I logged onto the Atlanta Journal Constitution's website ( and I came across an article that was written by an AP reporter on a teen suicide. However, this was one of 4 teen suicides that happened in ONE high school. Most reports would lead that these students were "bullied to death".

I sat and read this article, wide eyed at the fact that there is more bullying going on than people realize. I was bullied in high school as well. It never drove me to the point of depression where I could not go to school anymore, however in Mentor High School there have been 4 teen suicides due to "bullying" in the past 3 years.

Mark Matlock has written a book and a seminar called "Real World Parents". This is a seminar that helps parents be more involved in a students life. It helps them with parenting their children into believers of Christ, mentoring them, loving them through the hard times, and it also allows an open dialogue between parents and children that is more archaic than anything in today's families. Matlock likes to post on twitter, the Real World Parents Blog, and Real World Parents website articles and posts that can help parents understand youth culture more. Youth culture is constantly changing and the generation that parents grew up in share similarities but are way different to the standards of their children's generation.

Similarly, Youth Specialties likes to put on a convention twice a year called the National Youth Workers Convention, or NYWC. It is through this that youth workers and volunteers can get together, worship and learn new techniques to keep them up to date on how the youth world is revolving. It can also teach us, as youth workers and volunteers, new ways to reach students in their world, without changing our own view on the world.

Recently, at NYWC San Diego, Doug Fields was a speaker in one of the big room seminars. Doug Fields, who is probably one of the most famous youth pastors around and has helped shape youth ministry into what it is today, told a story referencing teenage suicide saying unless a student was going to kill himself he needed to, "go home". I was not there to hear the talk, but I do know that it was referenced as a joke. The sad part is, teenage suicide is not a joke. Youth ministers and workers alike can overlook this constant attack on students, even in their own groups. If we are going to speak to 3,000 other youth workers and help guide them and up lift them, do we really need to joke about turning students away from the church and tell them to "go home" unless they are going to kill themselves. Out of context or not, this made me sad to hear someone I look up to say something like that.

The reason I am writing this blog post today is because something very real presented itself to me in the article I read about teen suicide. Youth workers alike are not paying attention to the real issues that are hitting teenagers today. Another blog a friend of mine, Eric Hendrickson, showed me a few months ago talks about the mistakes a lot of youth workers make. One of the top five things was that we are relying on the newest book and curriculum to help us keep our finger on the pulse of youth culture. Youth workers are taking these books and curriculum as gospel and spilling it out on our students without really reading over things, and trying to relay it to our own group so that they understand. I am guilty of this as well.

We must really seek where we are getting our Gospel from. We must also try to dive into the youth culture head first and try to be as relational as we can with the students we encounter. The sad part is, as youth workers we sometimes get along with some students more than we do with others in our group. Without trying to show favoritism, we sometimes make fun of the odd students behind their backs. We want to fit in with our students and we really want to be funny and be the person everyone wants to hang around, but we can be just as much of a bully as people that students encounter at school.

A book that I would recommend to all youth workers is Unfiltered Relationships by Andrew Root . This book lays out in detail how a real youth worker should be. I was changed by this book, however it does not shape my life on youth ministry. It had a profound impact, but nothing more. I build my world around the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and I try to be the best youth pastor I know how, for Him.

This is not a smack in the face of youth ministers and workers that read this blog (if any do!). However, this is a time for us as youth workers to really rise up and see where youth culture is going today. We must equip ourselves and brace for impact as we jump into the deep end of youth ministry. We need to disciple students as Jesus did with His disciples. We must create and atmosphere that is inviting and loving to students of all kinds. We must try to have our hearts AND ears AND eyes open to all our surroundings to really understand youth culture. As a youth worker, minister, pastor, leader, volunteer, or warm body we must try to create an atmosphere that focuses on the students but also connects parents with their students. It is a true family environment that we must achieve to have successful relationships within and outside the church walls.


Mark said...

Hi Mark,

Excellent post here. I agree Cyber-bullying is quite rampant and parents should be looking out that there teens are not receiving or dishing it out.

While I'm not certain bullying is happening at a more frequent rate than in the past, the emotional impact on cyber-bullying can be much greater. And while there are far too many suicides taking place (more people die in our society from suicide than homicide), teen suicide has trended downward consistently from 1991 to 2006 (the last year we have trending data from the CDC). Notably, suicide trends are up for Baby Boomers (who were teens when teen suicide was at it's peak

While I'm glad there has been a downward trend, any life lost is too many, and there are about 4400 teens taking there lives each year. Too many!

I do want to defend Doug because many through blog postings, have taken his story out of context making it into something it was not. At recent events, I've heard Doug's message 3 times and never once took this story as insensitive to a suicidal teen (or a teen in need). In fact, quite the opposite.

The context for the illustration is a message about keeping our families healthy while in ministry. The story takes place on Doug's 25th wedding anniversary dinner with his wife and a teen drops by to chat.

In the story he is pulled between honoring his relationship with his wife and talking to the teen who "dropped by". Doug's telling was very funny, and most in youth ministry have been in similar situations.

He says that at one time, he would have dropped his family to talk to the the teen, however he made a decision that he had to protect family time.

So he makes sure the teen is not suicidal (which did get a big laugh in his telling) and then tells them they can talk tomorrow. It is assumed that if the teen were suicidal, Doug would have foregone his anniversary dinner with his wife to help the student.

That is the context of the illustration. Students and suicide were not being made fun of, rather, family was being lifted up. And while his checking to see if the teen was suicidal was funny in this story's context, he was actually indicating that there are issues of importance that trump family.

Just thought you should know the context.


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