Youth Ministry Basics: Change and Grief

Looking Backwards while Moving Forwards

Students’ lives are full of change. As with any change (big or small) there are new routines, patterns, and emotions that accompany it. Sometimes we grieve these changes. I don’t claim to have any answers, but some observations about dealing with those emotions.

Last year, one of our adult volunteers, “D” died suddenly. D had traveled to the National Youth Gathering with us in 2007, led a small group, and played drums for youth led worship. His death was a major shock, not only to his family, but to the congregation and especially to the youth who knew and loved him.

Last September, when D died the ripple effect through our congregation was enormous. I grieved the loss of a good friend, and adult leader. I felt for the family who had lost a father, husband, brother. I felt for our congregation who had lost someone who had loved the congregation, the church. I felt for our youth (especially those in his small group), who had lost a great leader. We all were grieving the change of what this loss meant to us.

D died on Friday morning. The rest of the day and that weekend are remembered in flashes and blips. By Friday afternoon, as students began to find out his death, text messages and phone calls bombarded my phone. I met for lunch with two students and a fellow co-worker and we sat mainly in silence trying to comprehend our feelings and this shock that had happened and how it had only begun to affect our lives, the family’s life.

A college student who had just moved away to school for her freshmen year called and we spent a tearful conversation talking and remembering our friend and leader. Saturday afternoon, about 25 students gathered in the youth room, crowding on couches and space on the floor. I answered questions to the best of my ability. Then we prayed. My heart broke as students offered up their heartfelt prayers for the family, thanksgiving for the gift that D was and for our group. We visited the family for a while, laughing, joking, and remembering.

Sunday a group of students piled into the church van and went to the visitation. Monday morning, we gathered for the funeral and burial. Tuesday, “real life” began again. Those first few weeks after D’s death, it felt as those we were moving forwards but looking backwards. Issues had to be addressed (what to do with D’s small group? How do we honor D?), but nothing felt like it was permanent. We were still looking backwards, wishing that things could go back to what they were.

As the days and months went on, we began to find constructive ways to look and move forward at the same time. D’s small group decided to serve with a group that feeds the homeless. We continued to take time to remember D, not only the sad things, but the good things. We began a new way forward, walking together as part of the body of Christ.

While not every situation that a teenager (or you) will face will be as big as this, all types of change can bring about grief. Whether it is an injury that causes an athletic student to miss their final game of their high school career, a pastor or DCE taking a call, or a student moving away to college, change happens. As youth workers, our call is to walk along side youth in any changes they face and help them grieve, celebrate, and share those experiences, and to remind them that Jesus walks with them. We also are reminded in these times of change of a God who is and was and whose love never fails and changes.

Published September 24, 2009

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