A Theology of Discipline in Student Ministry [part 1]

Over the past 3 months one of the questions that I have been asked a lot is the question of “How do you handle discipline in youth ministry?”  I wish this wasn’t an issue in student ministry, but it is.  When I first started out in ministry, I read Doug Fields‘ book “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.”  That book was very formative for me in my youth ministry experience.  In the back of that book was an entire theology of discipline.  I adapted that for my own ministry… and then tailored it to fit me.  So this material is borrowed heavily from Doug… but it has been the way I teach discipline to my leaders for almost 10 years and it has worked well.

1. Expect Good Behavior

students will usually rise to the expectation of the leaders.  If you don’t expect your students to have good behavior, then they most likely will not have it.  We need to expect that students WANT to be at our programs and that they REALLY will like them and when they do not meet these expectations, we need to be shocked and appropriately communicate that to them.

2. Have Some Well Stated Guidelines

I’m not a huge “rules” guy in youth ministry.  My theory is this: the more rules you make, the more you constrain the heart.  That being said, I have always operated my student ministries with a few “Well Stated” guidelines.  These guidelines “guide” everything we do in our ministry.  I teach these guidelines to our leaders so that everyone is on the same page.  The guidelines are: Fun and Respect.  We want students to have fun.  If they are not having fun, then something is wrong.  I mean, this is student ministry after all.  We also want students to recognize that they are not the only ones in the building.  This is where respect comes into play.  Respect those who are your leaders.  Respect those who are on the stage.  Respect those who are sitting next to you, in front of you, and behind you.  If students can remember, “I need to have fun and I need to respect everyone,” discipline becomes a piece of cake!

3. Annoying or Inappropriate?  

We need to remember that we work with teenagers.  I don’t know about you, but I did some pretty annoying things when I was a teenager.  (my wife wants you to know that I still haven’t grown out of all of those 🙂 )  Talking, bodily noises, laughing during prayer at something that was only mildly funny, all of these most likely will fall under the “annoying” category.  We don’t always need to “lower the boom” when we are annoyed by behavior.  I teach my leaders to use discernment and ask “Has this crossed from annoying to disrespectful?” before disciplining a student.

tomorrow we will get into, “okay, what do you do if a student has crossed the line?”


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