We are in the middle of a two part series on counseling on the Lifeway Student Ministry Podcast. (You can find episodes posted here and on iTunes weekly.) Jason Gibson is the Director of the Babb Center for Counseling here in the Nashville area and has been our guest for this series. He was such a great guest and the topics are incredibly timely. During the first episode in the series, Jason made a statement about how we need to “put away our junior Holy Spirit badge” when we are in a counseling environment with a teenager. This statement has stuck with me. I’ve thought often over the last couple of weeks about how many times I may have worn this badge proudly in an effort to help one of the students in my ministry through a struggle or decision of some kind. Chances are, I walked away from those conversations feeling helpful, and if I’m honest, even feeling good about myself as a student pastor. I wonder how many times I should have just kept my mouth shut.
I don’t believe student pastors put on the junior Holy Spirit badge in an effort to purposefully mislead a teenager. As a student pastor, you know God’s Word and you care deeply about the students in your ministry. You have spent time investing in them and their families and you want to help at every opportunity. It doesn’t take a strong nudge for you to move from listening to offering advice and instruction. I’ve been there before myself. Let me be clear on this because I can already hear the thought beginning to form in your mind: “Ben, are you saying it’s wrong for me to give advice and instruction?” No, I don’t believe it’s wrong. But I do believe we are generally too quick to jump on the advice and instruction train. Here are some things to consider that will help you put away the junior Holy Spirit badge and continue to minister to your students in a healthy way:
Slow down. If you don’t have time to talk to them in the moment, set up an appointment and find time where you can focus on that particular student and what they are dealing with. In a rushed environment you, are more likely to just solve the problem for the student when that’s not what they truly need.
Give them Jesus. You can’t bring about transformation in the life of a teenager, only Jesus can, and so the role of a student pastor is much more about helping a student to fix their eyes on Jesus at every turn than it is about solving their problems. Rather than giving opinions or advice based on personal experience or even personal Bible study, lead students to God’s word where they can fix their eyes on Jesus directly.
Be the navigator rather than the captain. As you focus a teenager’s heart and mind on God’s Word, try not to take control of the ship. Point them to Scripture, teach them how to study, memorize, and apply it but let them be in control. By taking this approach, they will learn what it’s like to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this is what we all want: for the voice of God to be the loudest voice in a teenager’s life, even if that means it’s louder than ours.
Ask more questions. This will help you avoid jumping straight into solution mode and will help them process and think more deeply about what their situation.
Refer to a professional counselor. Some of you may be trained professionally as a counselor, but many student pastors are not. If you fit the “not” category then you will do the student and their family a lot of good by referring them rather than trying to solve it all yourself. Referring doesn’t make you less of a student pastor because you couldn’t handle an issue. That’s pride speaking. Connecting a student and their family to a professional counselor is shepherding them well with wisdom.
You play an important role in the lives of teenagers during some of their most impactful years, and what you do matters greatly for the Kingdom and for the families of your church and community. There’s nothing better than being a student pastor, and with that calling comes a great deal of responsibility to teach them how to discover, listen, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than trying to fill that role ourselves. Let’s agree together, it’s time to put away the junior Holy Spirit badge.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. You can follow Ben on Twitter here – @BenTrueblood