7 Words and a Hug Can Change Your Students’ Lives
It’s graduation season again. I love this time of year, but it’s hard to see students we have poured into for years heading out the doors of our youth ministries. How do you properly celebrate what they have meant to your ministry? How do you encourage them as they prepare for the next season of their lives?
One of the most obvious ways we celebrate this time is with a senior night at youth group. Many of you are probably planning some pretty amazing send-offs filled with dinners, gift bags, and personal stories about your senior class. I love these stories because they’re opportunities for our seniors to hear from you and others about how they have impacted the world around them. Yet it’s a bittersweet moment for many seniors. It might be the only time they’ve heard words like these said about them or to them.
We are commanded in Scripture over and over again to encourage one another. Encouragement speaks life to others and impacts our own lives. When I encourage someone else, I develop a more positive attitude and see my world through a lens of hope rather than despair. Don’t wait until your students about to leave your ministry. Here are a few ways to encourage them to pursue Christ and to see themselves as Christ sees them every single day.
True encouragement should point students deeper into relationship with Jesus. We should look for specific ways to speak life into students by recognizing who they are and how they are wired. It’s never bad to tell someone, “I think you’re great,” but pointing out how you see God working in and through their life is more powerful.
One of our adult volunteers took a key opportunity to encourage a student in this way. She noticed that when this particular student, Allison, prayed out loud, other students really listened to what she said. Allison’s prayers influenced the way they prayed and acted. So our adult volunteer told her student, “Allison, when you pray, people notice that you hear from the Lord. Keep seeking God; it’s having an impact on our group.” That was the first time anyone had told her this. Until that point in her life, Allison had no idea her faith was so instrumental in other’s lives.
Sarcasm is the enemy of encouragement. To encourage someone is to build someone up; sarcasm tears people down. Yet sarcasm is common in our churches and youth ministries.
“True encouragement should point students deeper into relationship with him.”
I struggle with this personally and have been trying to kill sarcasm in my life. For too long I have used sarcasm to give myself glory at the expense of others. I recently asked three people I trust to call me out when they hear sarcasm in my voice. The criticism is difficult, but it’s helping me mind my words. A few sarcastic jokes here and there can inject humor into our ministries, but if left unchecked, this habit can consume us. When most of our words are sarcastic, they drown out the encouragement we offer our students.
Show Students God’s Heart
I recently got an email from my dad that brought me to tears. My parents have been youth group volunteers for over 20 years, and they are the reason I’m involved in youth ministry. A student in my dad’s youth ministry from 10 years ago recently contacted him to say thanks for pouring into her life. Now she wanted to share about her experience at her current church.
Here’s what she told my dad in his own words:
“Jessica is a fabulous girl who struggled with the same disease many of us suffer from: guilt and shame. The story she shared with her church was about an incident I don’t even remember because it seemed like a minor thing at the time. I asked Jessica to babysit at church one night while I led a parenting-with-teenagers class in the café. Jessica showed up 45 minutes late. As she walked by our group in the café, she felt ashamed for being so late.
“After the session was over, I walked up to Jessica, said, ‘It is so good to see you!’ and gave her a hug. In her testimony, Jessica said that moment forever changed her perception of God from a severe disciplinarian to a loving Father who showers us with grace. She concluded her story by saying, ‘Seven words and a hug changed my life.’”
When we encourage our students, we show them Jesus. Many of my students are also struggling with the disease of guilt and shame, but words of life can change how they view God and how they view themselves. Our goal should be to point students further into a God’s arms. We don’t have to wait until they graduate to do that. When students discover who they are in Christ, they become more effective in God’s kingdom. Your encouragement could be the catalyst that unleashes their influence on the world.
About the Author
Dan Colwin is director of partnerships at LeaderTreks. He and his wife, Clare, live in West Chicago with their son, Everett, and little puggle, Roxy. They love their church family at Life Church in Wheaton, where they volunteer together in the youth group. He enjoys spending time outdoors, taking walks, having fires, reading, building Legos, working in the garden, and watching movies…. Read More