jr high ministry chaos

How to be the bad guy when it’s time to be the bad guy

Last week, I had to step in and deal with a few students who were consistently causing problems in the eighth grade small group.

I had to be the bad guy.

Don’t worry, I’m good at it. In fact, I’m so used to being the bad guy that it doesn’t even bother me anymore.

But there are plenty of other youth workers who don’t know how to have behavior-related conversations with students…

…and plenty more who just avoid those situations because they can be awkward and uncomfortable, and that’s not okay.

Sometimes you have to deal with problem students, and you’ve got to know how to do it.

Let me assuage you just a little bit. In twelve years of ministry, I’ve only had one student quit coming to youth group because she didn’t like that I dealt with her behavior.

In fact, most of the time, students were likely to become more involved after one of our tough conversations and were likely to develop a stronger relationship with me as a result. That’s one of the problems with running a large youth ministry. Sometimes, it’s the behavior-problem students who necessarily get the most individualized time with the youth pastor.

When it’s time to be the bad guy…

The most important thing that you can do is to help students understand that you are being serious about their behavior problem. We spend so much time nudging students, shushing them, and telling them to point their phones away that they’re used to us being annoyed or frustrated with them. Your job now is to communicate that you are beyond annoyed and frustrated.

Here’s how to do it, after a brief disclaimer-

As much as you can, try not to raise your voice with a student.

I raise my voice when I’m at home. It’s an effective tool to get my children’s attention and immediately cues them in that daddy is serious right now. But they also know that they’re always safe. You can’t know which of your students will associate a raised voice with abuse, and you don’t want to risk triggering that kind of a thing.

In my discipline arsenal, I have exactly three tools. Take them. Use them. They’re yours.

“I am very disappointed.”

Classic dad move. We all remember how much worse this speech was than even a loss of allowance. If you have a solid relationship with a student question, a one-on-one conversation where you voice your disappointment is usually sufficient to keep the problem from happening again.

Of course, if it’s a new student, a student you don’t know well, or a student who doesn’t admire or respect you, this strategy is not going to work.

Call parents.

Again, if the purpose is to help students understand that their behavior is a serious problem, a call to mom and dad is usually an effective way to do that. Besides that, a real conversation with a parent might cue you in to new strategies for dealing with specific behaviors that you hadn’t yet considered.

Then there’s this. Imagine your own child was exhibiting behavior problems somewhere. Wouldn’t you want to know about it?

Issue consequences.

I’ve suspended students from youth group for a week. I’ve docked students’ swim time. I’ve removed vending machine privileges. It’s up to you to decide what appropriate consequences will be for specific behaviors, but here’s the right way to lay them down-

Provide warning. Voice your disappointment, then explain that if the behavior continues, you will have to issue a named consequence.

It helps immensely to have policies in place ahead of time.

That way students don’t feel like you’re judging them as individuals or just making things up as you go. You can state clearly:

The punishment for X is Y. You did X. You get Y.

That’s it. The three strategies I use for being the bad guy. You’ll need at least one of them someday. Now you just need the courage to use them.

Liked this blog post? How to Balance Family and Ministry with Jonathan McKee

Aaron-HelmanAaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”