Ambassadors in Crisis: Caring for Youth.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). Essential to our role as kingdom ambassadors, among the cultural milieu of adolescents, is our ability to respond to youth in crisis. Whether during the current Coronavirus pandemic or its aftermath in the weeks, months, and years to come, there are two postures necessary to care for youth in crisis.
Posture: Be Present
The first and most important posture in crisis is to be present. Youth ministers, although not therapists or social workers, are sent by Christ, as caring ambassadors, to enter the world of troubled and hurting youth.
In Philippians 2:5-7, we read, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Into our hurt and brokenness, Jesus came to be present among us. He calls us to do the same as we listen and learn.
One of the earliest lessons I had in “presence-based ministry” was being present in the ICU when a family from my church lost their son to a brain aneurism. The events of that night have been seared in my mind. Immediately upon the boy’s passing, the nurse (knowing I was a minister) grabbed me by the shoulders and in a stern voice declared, “It’s your turn now.” She then grabbed the mother and forcefully placed her in my arms.
Soon after, she collapsed in my arms as I carried her into an adjacent room. At that moment I felt helpless and hopeless; I, too, was in shock! As a young youth minister, I was at a loss for words and had no idea how to respond to such trauma. However, the Holy Spirit gave me a calmness to be still in the moment, to listen with a heart of empathy, and cry with them in their grief. The power of the gospel is that Christ heard us and came to be with us in our suffering. As His ambassadors, we are called to do the same.
Regardless of the severity of the situation, the Spirit of God can empower us to take up an appropriate posture, one in which we listen with empathy.
As we listen to their stories – of shattered dreams or even disillusionment with God – being present in their suffering means we learn from them and from God. As caring ambassadors of Christ, listening helps us discover others’ deepest passions which were previously hidden at unexplored depths. As we listen to their stories, which are often shared in a raw, messy, and snot-inducing way, something beautiful happens – we begin to know them at a heart-level.
It’s also in this posture we discern how God has been working in their lives and thus how the Spirit would have us diplomatically direct our care (Prov. 15:14). For me, this process has meant I converse with God; asking Him what He’s doing and what He wants me to do and say. As we listen and learn, we can ask God to fill us with, “the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Col.1:9).
Posture: Present Hope
Being present then prepares us to present hope. Just as the Holy Spirit enables us to be relationally available, listening and learning from youth, Paul declares, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). Some years ago, one of the youth at church, a gifted musician, wasn’t accepted into the college of his choosing. He was devastated and told me he would never amount to anything in life. He was so discouraged, he told me his backup plan was to flip burgers!
After listening to him process through his grief, I was able to share my own stories of disappointment and how God, time and time again, closed one door to open another (often better) door of opportunity in my life. I reassured him that God could make a way for him to pursue his dream; he later applied and was accepted for a new music scholarship at a different university. God helps us offer hope to hurting youth by enabling us to love and lead them.
We love others by sharing in their story. Regardless of the messiness, God has called us to be a constant light, shining, an eternal hope in others’ life (Phil. 2:15-16). We also love them by sharing our own stories and how God has never left us alone in our darkest valleys (Ps. 23). Stories of God’s goodness provide much needed perspective, one that adolescents, especially during crisis situations, lack.
They need to hear from us that God walked “with” us “through” the valley, and that He is with them and will see them through their trials, too.
Most importantly, we love them by showing and sharing the greatest story of all, that salvation – everlasting hope – comes through faith in Jesus Christ. After all, it is this “appeal” for which we have been dispatched as Christ’s ambassadors.
We would do well to remember, it takes time to write a good rescue story. Loving youth while God writes a new story of redemption positions youth ministers to lead youth toward Christ.
As youth ministers we lead by example, showing young people how to lament yet lean into God.
We model “walking by faith, not by sight” in how we respond, in word and deed, to conflict and crisis (2 Cor. 5:7). We also lead them toward Christ by providing practical solutions to the very cares and concerns they’ve shared with us. Rather than trying to “fix” broken youth, God will show us how to prayerfully lead them to a greater depth of faith – one which prepares them to face life’s next challenge.
Two connected postures – being present and presenting hope – allow us to listen, learn, love and lead youth through crisis. This missional approach to crisis care is reproducible as youth themselves apply these same postures and practices with their friends. In fact, another name for this process of caring for others in crisis (by listening, learning, loving, and leading like Christ) is discipleship.
Now, let’s be caring ambassadors and make disciples as we care for them through crisis.