Good Cop, Bad Cop
Discipline vs. Fun in Youth Ministry
By Daniel Johnson | First Baptist Church | Dover, Arkansas
“Youth Pastor” and “disciplinarian” seem to be two mutually exclusive terms. The general mental image of a youth pastor usually goes something like this: a young, at least semi-hip, videogame playing, fun guy who has at least rudimentary guitar skills. There isn’t much whip cracking in that image. No one worries about incurring the wrath of a Bible toting, fun loving, guitar minstrel who hangs out with teens. And seriously, what teen likes to spend time with the parole officer-type anyway?
However, good youth ministry cannot be done without effective, restorative discipline. Such discipline ensures that teens listen when someone is on stage speaking or leading worship singing. Such discipline ensures that students are able to share vulnerabilities in a safe environment – a small group’s ministry impact will go no deeper than the respect level found in the room. And such discipline ensures that the youth pastor will be able to recruit quality adults to form the important relationships with students that help change lives. No adult wants to volunteer his or her time in an atmosphere of uncontrolled, disrespectful chaos.
In addition to getting all the new music, Youth Leaders Only members get great insights like these with every edition of YLO. Click here and let us serve your ministry!
So, how is discipline incorporated into a youth ministry setting? It is rooted in relationships. The difference between a crotchety old deacon scaring the skateboard kids off the sanctuary steps, and a youth pastor maintaining an atmosphere of fun in a safe setting is the relationship the precedes the discipline. That relationship is important since it determines both how the discipline is meted out and how the discipline is received.
With a relationship firmly in place, teens are more likely to understand the reason for discipline and to respond positively to it. Similarly, the adult providing discipline is more likely to have caring, corrective action and restoration in mind as opposed to “getting rid of the bad kids.” Relationships are vital and are encouraged during the fun activities of youth ministry.
Adults who take advantage of the fun times to get to know the students and enjoy experiences with them, while modeling a Christlike lifestyle, are the adults who will earn credibility with teens. Each time an adult shares an enjoyable time with a student, he or she makes a deposit of trust into the life of that student. Then, when the times of correction come, those “deposits” can then be drawn upon with less risk of alienating the student.
Restorative discipline is not as effective if it is not founded on a preexisting relationship. The trust and familiarity of adult/teen relationships are formed during the fun times of youth ministry. So, do not over-discipline; make sure the vast majority of a teen’s experience in your student ministry is positive. However, do not under-discipline. Keep in mind that the fun times cannot exist without the discipline that preserves a safe environment.