For all of us involved in youth ministry, we would have had youths coming to us with all sorts of issues, seeking our advice and counsel. In my time in youth ministry, I have come to realise that our youths today face a multiplicity (by multiplicity, I mean a huge plethora of issues, the range of which continues to boggle my mind today) of challenges and issues that bombard them, and as shepherds over them, they look to us to bring a Godly perspective on these matters and perhaps some practical advice. Over the years, i’ve had youths come to see me for BGR issues, family issues, issues with their studies, BGR issues, financial issues, BGR issues, dietary issues and medical issues among many others. Oh, did i mention BGR issues?
But before we go on, I would just like to state on the onset that to have the opportunity to speak into the lives of young people is an absolute privilege and one that we, as pastors and leaders must not take lightly. We live in a day and age where information is instantly available, answers can be sought immediately on the internet and relationships are forged on social media. Although more often than not, these sources lie at the heart of many of the issues our youths face, it is a prevailing trend for them to look to these avenues for counsel and answers. So in light of this, I count it an honour and privilege when they choose to come to me for counsel and help, and an opportunity to bring across a Godly perspective to their issues.
Perhaps the biggest question we ask in relation to counselling youth is this — Our youths have now come to see us to share their problems, issues, thoughts and challenges. What do we do? This challenge is compounded by the fact that most of us are untrained in counselling and apart from some comforting words, we do not know what else to say. So here are 6 principles I abide by whenever I counsel youths. They are by no means exhaustive, but provide a basic framework that would help you in your ministry.
1. Depend On The Holy Spirit
In counselling, every counsellor must be keenly aware that the healing and restoration does not come with the experience of the counsellor, adept employment of the various techniques and resources but from God Himself. We have access to the ultimate counselor — the Holy Spirit(John 14:26), and we must depend on Him for wisdom, strength and help.
2. Always Provide A Godly Perspective
We must understand that our roles, more than anything, are first and foremost spiritual leaders and mentors of our youths. Therefore, in every counselling case, we must help our youths to see God working in and through the situation. Our aim consequently must always be to point them to God, their ultimate help in times of need(Hebrews 4:16) and to help them understand their problems(and their entire lives) in light of their identity in Christ. Furthermore, our advice and counsel must be firmly rooted in the Word of God.
In my own experience, the Bible is one of the most dynamic and important resource available as it helps our youths to understand the truths of God and how it applies to their lives and situations. To this end, we have some tremendous resources at our disposal including Scripture, prayer, devotionals and mentorship. Each when used appropriately aids in their spiritual growth and helps in the healing and restoration process.
3. Build Relationships
It might seem obvious, but a key factor in the success of counselling is building relationships with our counselees. In the realm of counselling, this relationship is known as a therapeutic alliance. Though seemingly obvious, this is often missed in our attempts at swift solutions and resolutions of their problems. Without a genuine relationship, it is impossible for us to be truly empathetic to their situations and blinds us from the real needs of the person. Moreover, as we build relationships with them, trust develops and it opens their hearts towards us.
As youth leaders, we have the unique benefit of already having a relationship with our youths and this enables us greatly to grasp the issues at hand and deal with the person in a more targeted way. It is therefore imperative that we aim to develop strong relationships with the youths under our charge, and not wait till they see us with a problem before attempting to understand them.
Many times, I have had youths tell me at the beginning or end of counselling sessions that I must keep what they have told me a secret. As a principle, I never promise secrecy, and I encourage you not to too. As leaders and counsellors, we can and must promise confidentiality, but never secrecy. Both are significantly different and have massive implications in their applications. While we must respect and honour the privacy of our youths, we cannot promise to keep secrets especially when their lives may be at stake. Also, should we promise secrecy and break it due to necessity, we risk jeopardising the therapeutic relationship and trust formed between us and our youths. Furthermore, we must, as youth leaders, recognise that we are accountable to our Youth Pastors who are appointed as shepherds over the youths and thus have every obligation to be accountable to them for the lives of the youths because they are the ones who must give an account to God(Hebrews 13:17).
5. Go Pro If Necessary
There have been times, that in the process of counselling a youth, I realise my limitation in experience, ability and tools necessary to continue to help them. In such occasions, I refer them to professional counsellors, psychologist and psychiatrist for further treatment and help that is necessary for their condition or situation. While this is happening, I am extremely conscious in continuing to maintain that relationship with them so as to not make them feel abandoned. It can be stressful, trying and extremely nerve-wracking for youths to go through the tests, examinations and procedures that these professionals would administer but our presence and support strengthens them as they go through these necessary processes. There is no shame in acknowledging our limitations and in some cases, referring them to such professionals may be the best thing you can do for them. If possible, enlist the help of Christian professionals who can continue to encourage them in the Lord.
6. Establish Clear Boundaries And Guidelines
The last and certainly not the least of principles in counselling is to establish clear boundaries and guidelines. These boundaries include counselling only members of the same gender in private and limiting the number of counselling sessions, among others. These boundaries and guidelines are extremely crucial to help both the counselor and the counselee, and provide protection so as to preserve the integrity of all parties and to reap the full benefits of the counselling. It is thus important to establish them clearly and resolutely at the onset of the counselling and to commit to them throughout the duration of it.
These are the principles that I abide by as I minister to youths and I pray that these principles would help you as you counsel your youths. May the Lord continue to grant you His wisdom and strength as you minister to them!