Adam Mashni joins Kenny and Elle to talk about navigating students through tragedy in youth ministry.
When the news is filled with stories of tragedy, violence, and trauma, Briana (Snohomish, Washington) is wondering how to respond when students ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?” In this episode, Adam Mashni from Willow Creek Community Church joins Kenny and Elle to share his own story of personal tragedy, what he learned from his experience, and how that experience helped him better navigate tragedy with his students.
HOW TO NAVIGATE TRAGEDY WITH TEENAGERS
1. EMBRACE THE QUESTIONS
In the face of tragedy, it’s okay – even healthy – for teenagers to ask hard questions like, “How could God allow this to happen?” If a student is already asking you questions like these, embrace it. It doesn’t mean they’ve given up on their faith, it just means they’re trying to clarify their faith. If they’re not asking questions like these in the face of tragedy, it doesn’t mean they’re not wondering. It may just mean you have to create a safer space for them to ask those questions.
2. MOURN TOGETHER
After a tragedy, don’t rush to move on too quickly. Create space and allow time to mourn together. Let students know it’s good to grieve and it’s okay to be angry, confused, or afraid. Don’t minimize their feelings or rush them to a quick or shallow resolution. Remember, the Bible is full of laments.
3. SHARE HOPE
Without minimizing the tragedy your students are facing, remind them that God can turn dark to light, death to life, and pain to healing. We can do this by helping students learn to take every thought captive, by sharing stories about God’s goodness in the midst of storms, and by providing opportunities to engage in prayer, meditation, and joyful singing.
4. PROVIDE ONGOING SUPPORT
After a tragedy, remember that a single conversation or sermon won’t resolve a teenager’s questions or heal their trauma. After a tragedy, watch for signs that students aren’t okay. Look for signs of anxiety, depression, or PTSD and seek outside counseling when necessary. Make sure every student is connected to a small group community, but don’t stop there. Some students may need you to connect them to additional adults or help them build greater connections with their peers for support.
5. OFFER PERSPECTIVE
This last one can be tricky, so practice this one carefully and with sensitivity. After students have had time to mourn and question, encourage them to look for purpose in the tragedy they’ve experienced.