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Compassion in Crisis

By Carey Huffman

In a way, the circumstances are not unusual. Kids’ attitudes change as they approach their high school years. Their expectations become unreasonably high as to what is worth their attention. Some feel as if they have seen and done it all—that they’ve gotten what the needed from the youth group and it is no longer relevant. Perhaps they are just busier and more discriminating with their time. Sad, but youth ministry involvement takes the brunt of many schedules.

Sunday school is not exempt. For some it happens sooner than for others, but it’s always difficult to accept. You hate to see her check out now—after all, she’s only 15—but it seems that the decision has already been made. Is she beyond some of the stuff we deal with? Or maybe it’s the way we deal with it. Are she and a lot of others are more mature than we realize. Well, under the circumstances she’ll have to be—you see, she’s having a baby.

In many ways she will be way beyond her peers. Now her work schedule may be a legitimate excuse for pulling out of activities. From her standpoint as well as ours, some of the ministry involvement she has enjoyed in the recent past will not be appropriate in the in the immediate future. The same goes for the young man—if he is still anywhere in the ministry picture.

But now more than ever, ministry to these young people and their families is absolutely critical—or we may lose them altogether. Grace and truth must be evident, and ministry to the individuals must be as personal as possible. For this reason and many others, your Sunday school can be the ideal means for ministering to the urgent needs of families in crisis. Your class can be the avenue for keeping tied into the fellowship many of those who would otherwise slip away—only to face their most difficult trials without the love and support of Christian friends.

A Fleeting Opportunity

This is a serious situation, constituting a real crisis for more than one family. But in the midst of trial, a great window of opportunity is opened to administer God’s grace and compassion, peace and understanding. It is an opportunity to reach out in time of need to several families (the mother/father of the unborn child as well as their extended families). It is also an opportunity to demonstrate to your students an appropriate measure of grace toward those who have strayed from God’s command but never from His compassion.

An Effective Means

Sunday school can provide one of the most effective nets of ministry support for individuals in crisis. It’s smaller, more intimate, age and sometimes gender-based setting provides a greater level of peer connection. And even if the student tends to pull out of ministry in other contexts due to inconvenience, or self-consciousness, it is likely that they will still be available on Sunday morning.

The Necessary Precautions

Before digging too deep into the matter, it would be wise to seek advice from the pastor or youth pastor on how to approach the situation. Of course you may have to guard the confidences of those involved, but try to encourage complete openness between students and parents. Depending on your relationship with the family, you may volunteer to be there for support when students confess their situation to parents, if they have not already done so. Throughout the process, refrain from making promises you cannot morally or legally keep.

Be careful not to glorify or validate the circumstances by preferential ministry treatment or inordinate attention. If families of both the boy and girl are involved in the church, don’t take sides one way or the other. Reconciliation should not be pressed if relations are tense. Avoid taking on any more than you can handle, or should handle. You will not be able to fix things, but simply to provide support, encouragement and practical help. Appropriate ministry relationships should be maintained at all times. If you are male, absolutely no closed door counseling should take place with a girl. In fact, your spouse or member of a student’s family should be involved in any such meeting. Know when to defer assistance and counsel.

One more thing—avoid using the occasion to grandstand on moral issues which you should be dealing with already on a regular basis.

Some Practical Assistance

Make sure, whether from you or someone else, they are receiving wise spiritual counsel regarding the pregnancy. Since they are likely to be confronted with the option already, abortion should not be presented as an alternative. However, if they make that decision despite counsel to the contrary, it should not change your willingness to be there after the fact. Without casting a hopeless picture, be completely honest about the inherent difficulties to be expected in the months and even years ahead.

Although personal ministry contact with the students may need to be heightened to keep them involved, your treatment and attention toward them in the public contexts, services and class should not be altered. Stay in touch with the families of the students and work with them to encourage the student’s continued involvement in the fellowship.

If you are welcome, try to be there during or following the delivery. If the young lady keeps the baby, whether or not she has stayed involved with the church, have a few of the girls help you organize a basic, discreet shower—outside of class—where willing girls can, for minimal or no cost, help with some of the new mother’s basic needs. Some girls’ gift may be to volunteer childcare so the mother can attend a particular ministry event at church.

Lead Them Back

From the outset, lead the student to seek and accept God’s forgiveness. Your demonstration of grace in action should provide a tangible basis for their understanding of God’s restoring nature. Encourage students to stay involved with peers. Gradually, help the girl and/or guy find a way back into appropriate outlets of ministry and service within the fellowship.