Youth Ministry Journal - Bad Communication
We live in a time where youth ministers have more access to their students than ever before. We Tweet, Snap, post, and DM on social media platforms with our students whenever we want. Maybe it is Sunday afternoon and you want to remind students about the awesome youth group you've planned. Easy, send a Snapchat message you all your students and you're covered.
You want to help students grow in their discipleship? Easy, Instagram devotions are all over the internet, pre-planned, and easy to schedule postings.
All of your students own a smartphone (probably nicer than yours), which means texting them to answer a question, remind them about small group, or to reach out after a long absence from church is as easy as a few clicks of your iPhone.
The resources made available to youth ministers, especially the free ones, are invaluable when it comes to building relationships with students. Never before has the local church had such a reach into the lives of students, and this means we have the opportunity to really make a meaningful impact on their lives.
We have the opportunity to make disciples in such away that we have moved beyond attractional ministry to building long-lasting relationships with those we are called to serve.
However there is a catch: Unfettered, 24-hour access requires establishing boundaries. After all, we as youth ministers are the adults in the relationship and if we cannot set healthy-boundaries how can expect our students to do so.
Communicate With Parents
I would not have said this 3 years ago. Camden has truly changed my outlook on youth ministry. You must be in conversation with your students' parents about what they believe are healthy communication practices. You are not the parent in these relationships. Parents do have the final say in who communicates with their children and when it happens.
Do you think most parents would be happy to know that youth minister was communicating with a student during school hours? Do parents want you distracting an already distracted student further in the classroom? Having this conversation with parents upfront allows them to learn about the platforms their children are using while at the same time establishing community boundaries and expectations for all participants.
Set Boundaries. Protect Yourself
Establishing a church social media policy is a must. The reasoning is two-fold.
First, it provides protection to you as the youth minister. A social media policy allows you, parents, students, Staff Parish Relations Committee, your Senior Pastor, and all other stakeholders know what the ground rules are. These policies will vary from community to community but are a vital part of a larger Child Protection Policy.
Second, establish appropriate boundaries.
Yes, communicate with and answer questions for students instantaneously is a great way to let them know you care about them. It is a great way to ensure they know they can always turn to you. But, and this but is big, appropriate boundaries must be established. Texting or Snaping with your students at 11 o'clock at night might not be the best course of action. Why you might ask?
For starters, if it is a school night, your students need their sleep. Encourage them to go to sleep. We all know how tired, overworked, and stressed out these kids are. A great service we can do for them is to encourage healthy self-care habits for them.
Second, you as a youth minister need a healthy work/home-life balance. Are you truly honoring your spouse by sitting on the couch at 10 o'clock chatting it up with high school students when you could be chatting it up with that person you promised to love and cherish above all others?
There is a grey area here. Students often do not understand why you need a day off. They do not realize why it is so important for you to take time away from them, and if you are available 24-hours a day via social media you are not giving yourself the opportunity to take a Sabbath day. I am not implying that if an emergency arises, a true emergency, that you should not respond. I am however implying that for your own health, the health of your spiritual life, and the health of your ministry taking time away from 24-hour communication lines is a necessity of any health ministry.
How are you communicating with your students? What's worked well? What blew up in your face? I'd love to hear about, and I'm sure others will too.