BY ALLEN MERTES
"Can you take a call from Mrs. Williams on line two, Allen?"
"Sure. Hello. Pastor Allen speaking. Can I help you?"
"Allen," a voice tinged with despair begins, "I need to see you right away. Can I stop by this morning for a few minutes?"
"Sure, I'll be waiting for you."
After I hang up the phone, I wonder . . . Mrs. Williams' son was at Bible study last night. Maybe he's in some kind of trouble. My pulse quickens and my neck muscles grow taut. Am I ready to handle what she's about to tell me?
Parents often look to youth workers for advice and counsel, especially when there's a crisis at home. Sometimes they're looking for a magic formula that will solve all their problems. Sometimes we can offer an easy solution. But most of the time the answers don't come easily.
That's why it's important to know your capabilities, then direct families to the proper "helping" resources. Remember, you don't have to know all the answers. But you do need to know where to find help for families. I follow four principles in my efforts to serve the families in my church.
1. Know your community. If you're new to your church and community, learn about public and private services offered to teenagers. Create a list of community resources that includes:
*counseling services-including psychiatrists, psychologists and family therapists
*psychiatric hospitals-including specialized units for adolescents
*drug- and alcohol-abuse programs-including support groups
*specialized adolescent stress units and support groups
*eating-disorder treatment programs and support groups
*social-service crisis-intervention teams
*community- and mental-health centers
*police departments-particularly officers assigned to juveniles
*hospital emergency units
*christian legal services
*high school counseling programs
*suicide counseling-and-recovery programs
*crisis telephone lines including:
- Cancer Information Service-800-422-6237
- Child Find of America-800-I AM LOST (assists in locating missing children, promotes child-safety, awareness, provides confidential family mediation when a parent abducts a child)
- Cocaine Hotline-800-COCAINE: (a 24-hour information and treatment referral service that also offers information on support groups)
- Homosexuals Anonymous-800-253-3000 (information on care and counseling for those seeking freedom from the gay lifestyle)
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children- 800-843-5678 (a registry of missing children, offering preventative and educational materials)
- National HIV and AIDS Information Service-800-342- 2437 (24-hour information and referral service for HIV and AIDS)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment Referral; Hotline 800-662-HELP; Spanish speaking people; call 66-AYUDA; (information about and referrals for drug and alcohol abuse)
- National Runaway Switchboard-800-621-4000 (counseling and referral for runaway young people, including delivering messages to kids' parents- a 24-hour service)
- National STD Hotline-800-227-8922 (referrals and general information on sexually transmitted diseases)
- New Life Treatment Centers-800-227-LIFE (professional, in-hospital, Christian care for people suffering from emotional, psychological and physical problems)
- Parents Anonymous-800-421-0353 (self-help for parents of abused children)
It's important for you to call each local agency, then visit each one to establish a contact person. Make sure you list names, extension numbers and areas of expertise. Your local police department can assist you in finding other agencies and individuals willing to help teenagers and their families.
2. Be familiar with current books on family and teenage issues. Set time aside in your daily regimen to read books that directly apply to your ministry. Begin developing a personal library, and get acquainted with the books available in your church's library (or the personal libraries of church staff members). Here's a short list of family ministry books I think belong on every youth leader's shelf
- Adolescents in Turmoil, Parents Under Stress by Richard Parsons (Paulist Press)
- Beating the Blues by H. Norman Wright (Regal Books)
- Building Stronger Families by Royce Money (Victor Books)
- Family Fun Times by Wayne Rickerson (Standard Publishing)
- Five Cries of Parents by Merton Strommen and Irene Strommen (Harper & Row)
- Five Cries of Youth by Merton Strommen (Harper & Row)
- How to Live With Your Parents Without Losing Your Mind by Ken Davis (Zondervan)
- How to Really Love Your Teenager by Ross Campbell (Victor Books)
- The Hurting Parent by Margie Lewis (Zondervan)
- Ministry to Families With Teenagers by Dub Ambrose and Walt Mueller (Group Books)
- Parents in Pain by John White (Inter-Varsity Press)
- Try Being a Teenager by Earl Wilson (Multnomah Press)
- What Makes Your Teenager Tick by Dr. G. Keith Olson (Group Books)
- Why Teenagers Act the Way They Do by Dr. G. Keith Olson (Group Books)
- Youth & Parents Together: Facing Life's Struggles by Mike Gillespie (Group Books)
3. Know your video resources. Often, video resources are the best way to get parents and teenagers talking about important issues. Here's a list of resources I've used with or loaned to parents:
- Everything You Need to Know About Rock Music by Al Menconi, available from Al Menconi Ministries (a six-session series on secular and Christian rock, with curriculum guide)
- Fractured Families produced by New Life Films (explores communication problems facing parents and teenagers today)
- If I Had It to Live Over Again by Tony Campolo, available from Family Video Plus, Inc. (addresses issues and questions about what's really important in life)
- Parenting Teenagers produced by Group Video (two four-part series on parenting that work well as a seminar)
- The Question produced by Mars Hill (a hard look at teenage suicide)
- Who Do You Listen To? by Josh McDowell, available from Gospel Films (deals with making responsible sexual decisions; includes a study guide)
- Wounded Lovers available from Video Research Institute (a real-life look at teenage sexuality)
4. Be a "linker." As an electrician plugs in an extension cord to "link" electric current to his equipment, so you are the "link" among parents in your church. Help them network together in prayer and sharing groups. Use every contact with parents to affirm them-parenting is a tough job, and they need to hear praise for their hard work.
Also, it's important to hold monthly meetings with parents. Currently, we're running a "Parentline" program. It meets the second Sunday of each month before our evening service. In these meetings, I spend 15 minutes bringing parents up to date on fund-raising projects and future events.
We spend the next 45 minutes discussing a topic pertinent to raising teenagers. Sometimes we bring in a guest speaker; sometimes we show a video. One warning: Make sure you have an agenda for the meeting-know what you want to say and what you want to cover. Don't let the meeting turn into a gripe session. Keep it moving, positive and informative.
If parents and teenagers see you as a primary resource for help in times of trouble, you'll amplify and multiply your ministry efforts. And you'll fulfill your clear call to serve the struggling families in your church (3 John 1:5-6).
Allen Mertes is a youth minister in British Columbia, Canada.