Addressing sinful behavior in the youth group

I asked you all on Facebook what questions you’d like us to answer and last week all of the Life In Student Ministry authors tackled the same question, but this week each of us are taking a different question that you asked.

Ministry QuestionsIf you have questions you’d like to ask of other fellow youth workers, post them at There’s a great community of ministry people there who regularly give input, advice, suggestions, and more to the questions that are asked. And while you’re there, answer one or two other people’s questions, as well. Follow MinistryQuestions on Twitter and Facebook for tweets and updates of new questions that are asked.

[ by Adam Wormann ]

Addressing sinful behavior at youth groupDisclaimer: This post is not being written in response to any specific situation, or one that I have knowledge of. I’m just going off the general question asked. As I write this, I don’t even have the Facebook post it came from, so I don’t even know who asked it. That is also intentional.

How do you address sinful behavior within the youth group without driving people away? (Especially when it’s something a lot of people are doing and the parents and even youth ministers are ignoring it.)

I had to put a disclaimer on this one, because I’m afraid it could get difficult. It always is when we deal with sin. Nobody likes dealing with it, with the exception of some sadistical people. Not sure I want them around anyway… :-)

Can you even do this?

So, first things first. I don’t know if you can do this. When there’s sin, it will often drive people away. People don’t like dealing with their own sin, and will often leave as a result (I’ve personally lost very close friends because of this). Sometimes others, who don’t have the whole story, will also leave. That’s sad too. Again, I don’t know if we can totally prevent this. I just want to be honest up front.

Our goal is restoration

The fact that the question used the word “address” implies to me that you do want to restore someone. That is a good thing. Please remember that. As our goal is restoration, make sure that when you talk to people in sin that they know you don’t want them to leave, you want what’s best for them, you’re trying to help them, and that you love and care about them. When this is communicated, it does lessen the chance of them leaving, as well as others.

Help them to realize it on their own

When we come to our own conclusions, we are much more likely to change accordingly. Yes, sometimes we need a “You are the man!” moment like David when he was confronted. More often than not, we need to address things like Jesus most often did – asking questions. Get people to think about what they’re doing. If you’re leading discussions/small groups, or even teaching a lesson, you have a great opportunity for this.

Point people to Jesus

The closer we get to Jesus, the more we see our weakness. This will lead to repentance or flight. Be prepared. I have found that things like worship nights do wonders for people becoming self-aware regarding their sin.

Follow Matthew 18

If someone is in sin and it needs to be addressed, gently talk to them about it. If that gets nowhere, bring someone else. Remember, this passage isn’t just giving a three step process. As long as the person is receptive to at least talk, keep doing that. Don’t keep challenging them (though do so where appropriate), but talk with them, work with them. Remember, if at the end of it they don’t repent, treat them as a Gentile – with love, respect, and pointing them towards Jesus.

Show a lot of love

The heart of the question wants to address sin, yet not lose people. There is concern here. Let that be apparent. Continue to show love. Make sure people know they’re cared for. We can’t stress that enough. One of the problems with confronting sin is that people often don’t feel the love in the midst of it… and are naturally going to be more defensive anyway.

All of this has been built on the prior understanding that the people involved have a relationship with Christ. If not, that changes everything. What the person then needs first is to know Jesus. You can’t expect someone who doesn’t know Jesus to act like they do. I would handle that situation much differently. If that were the case, I would be much more lenient. There’s smaller things that I would let go. Okay, if someone’s having sex in the bathroom, I’d address that. If someone has a little bit of a foul mouth, I’d let it go a bit. If it’s over the top, I’d say something like,

“Hey, we’re glad to have you here. There’s a lot of places that you could be tonight, and you chose to hang with us, and that’s really cool. We do have a couple of guidelines here though, and one of them is that we try to avoid some of the rough language. If you could do me a favor and just try to tone it down a little while you’re here with us, that would be really cool, I’d appreciate it. I get where you’re at, that would just be helpful for us here. Thanks so much.”

You get the idea.

The other concern I have, coming from experience over time, is that everyone seems to be letting it go. I would talk about the exact situation to people outside of the group (if you have a youth pastor friend in another town, etc.). The flag that goes up in my head very quickly is, “There’s probably not an issue here, just someone wanting to impose their subjective standard on the group.” That may not be the case here, but I’ve seen it happen. It’s the first thing I thought of when I read the question. When it’s one person that has the issue, and nobody else does, that tells me something. Make sure it’s a real battle before you fight it. It could be something that needs to be addressed in a staff meeting (youth min staff). You can at least hash it out a little there. I would try to address it with staff and parents first, and make sure I’ve done everything that I legitimately could. If it were me, and there was a strong conviction I had that nobody else agreed with, I’d probably start looking for another place to serve.

QUESTION: How would you answer this question? Share in the comments below and help out the youth worker who asked this.

Posted on September 19, 2011

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