I once had a student almost run me over with my own car.

Yes, it’s true. And if you’re keeping track, I work with middle school students. Which makes it all that much worse when I say I was hijacked, had my keys stolen from me, and sprinted to my car just in time to see one of my 14-year-old boys trying to pull out of my parking spot with me squarely behind the vehicle.

Suffice it to say that no one got hurt, nor did my vehicle get damaged in any way. In fact, the expression on my face alone terrified this troublesome student so much that he immediately hopped out of my seat, meekly climbed into the back of the car, and remained silent the entire ride back–then wrote me an extensive letter of apology on Facebook that very night. We had a long and stern talk about his behavior, set some guidelines for future behavior in and around my car–and despite the fact that I was very angry with him and let him know it, our relationship today is better than ever.

Discipline. I cut my teeth on it as a resident assistant in college while disciplining my own peers, and now it’s a reality I deal with on a daily basis. Anyone who works with children or teens has encountered it and dealt with its alternately maddening and satisfying twists and turns. I’ve worked with dozens of great leaders over the last few years, but I do think that a lot of them have really struggled with the issue of discipline. In fact, I’d venture a guess that discipline is a tricky subject for most people. Here are several of the common myths I’ve run into regarding discipline:

Discipline happens only when there’s misbehavior.Often, I think people view discipline as a sort of “treatment” when bad behavior erupts. In reality, discipline should be a part of the fabric of our entire ministry–it should be a reflection of the pride and standard we have for our youth and in ourselves. And, properly placed discipline will lead to far fewer crisis situations.

Discipline is optional.At some point, we all experience situations that require a loving but firm dose of discipline. Turning the other cheek in regards to bad behavior does nothing but store up problems for the future. We can’t just walk through our lives thinking that problems will never arise–we need to have a cohesive plan together beforehand.

Discipline is just an excuse to get angry.  No, discipline is not an excuse to blow your top. In fact, the angrier you are, the less likely it is that you’ll actually discipline your students properly. Remember the old adage, “Count to ten before you react?” In youth ministry, sometimes it’s wise to count to fifty (just don’t leave them alone with glow sticks in your absence). Walk away, disengage, or do whatever it takes to calm yourself down if you can’t handle disciplining someone in the heat of the moment.

Discipline means you hate someone.We don’t discipline out of dislike, but out of love. The act of disciplining shows our students that we care so much about them that we’re willing to do something that might make us uncomfortable–yes, even risking a precious relationship–to help them grow into mature, responsible adults. And that’s a powerful statement–no matter how squirrelly the kid.

Discipline ruins relationships.  Sometimes we’re afraid of acting on our own rules and laying down the law because we’re afraid it’ll ruin our relationship with a student. We’ve all been there–“If I tell him to cut it out, maybe he won’t come back ever again!” However, if you lay your ground rules properly and discipline appropriately and sensitively, your relationship with that particular youth may oftentimes become even stronger than ever.

Discipline is not a perfect craft.  I think this is one of the most important things I learned in youth ministry education: you’ll make mistakes. Lots of them. Sometimes, your mistakes will involve overreacting and snapping at kids. I once had a very sweet and sensitive young lady wrong me while I was already stressed out while leading a large mission trip. She apologized to me, and I snapped back, “You better just pray that God changes my heart, because I’m sure not ready to talk to you right now!” Owch. Apologize, admit your mistakes, and move on. That’s the amazing thing about working with youth–they’d rather have honesty than perfection from their leaders. You’re human–don’t worry, they get that.

So, now the question remains: how do you build discipline into your youth ministry? Share your thoughts below, and I’ll share mine in my next post.