For me, it seems that in addition to all the practical procedural changes that COVID has pushed onto churches, it has also caused new stress points in people’s lives. Some of those stress points are related to the impact on their jobs and income, experiencing unhealthy isolation, and more.  These stress points didn’t only impact adults, but all ages.

I’m sure you, as well, have experienced additional stress points in your life. Often the result of this is to seek out trusted friends and professionals to talk with. Students often seek out their youth workers. We as youth workers should welcome these opportunities, have our ears open, and as needed, check-in on students that we are concerned for.

I want to share two things:

  • Some insights that Tiger McLuen shared at the CLB Biennial Convention’s youth workers training many years ago.
  • A story from my life about “confidentiality.”

Here’s some of the points that Tiger McLuen shared:

  1. We often get to be some of the first responders in a crisis and for a variety of reasons.
  2. A crisis is any situation that overwhelms a person’s normal coping mechanism.
  3. You help people, you don’t fix people’s problems and you can’t always fix the problem.
  4. Rarely does radical change happen overnight.
  5. Learn to pick up the cues that people leave us.
  6. Watch out for opportunities to get stuck between parents and kids (triangulation).
  7. Know the situations which make you a mandatory reporter. (Check local laws for correctives to those statements).
  8. Know your role and know your limits.
  9. Know when to refer and who to refer people to and know that you might just get used by God beyond your skill set.

That list appeared in a blog post a long time ago that can be found HERE

View the video above where I unpack some of these points.

About a year ago, I became aware that a friend of mine was struggling with substance abuse. In the process of reaching out to him, I checked in with his brother to let him know I was praying and that I was available. It turns out that his brother was not aware of the struggles.

In a moment of caring for my friend, I unintentionally broke confidentiality. I apologized to my friend for inadvertently breaking his trust, which he graciously accepted.

As students come to us and share their struggles, they have an expectation that we will keep the conversations confidential. For that reason, as soon as I am aware that one of those conversations is happening, I let students know that I will do my best to keep their matter confidential, unless I feel their life or someone else’s life is at risk (see #7 in the above list). 

Being upfront and honest about your role in that moment, and explaining “conditional confidentiality,” creates an understanding and creates an open door if that confidentiality ever needs to be broken.

When confidentiality is broken, a student no longer sees their youth worker as reliable. A worst-case scenario would be that the student shares this opinion with others, diminishing the credibility of their youth worker, impacting the effectiveness of their ministry.

My prayer for you is that God would give you wisdom and insight as you step into the lives of your students.
James 1:5 reads “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Note: My friend’s story was used with his permission

Pastor Mark Johannesen serves True Life Church, Rochester, MN, as Associate Pastor. He also serves as Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.

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