Friday, March 9, 2007
Last May, the teens at the Contact Church had just about finished a good evening of fellowship on a Friday night. Then chaos broke out over some trash talk about who won or lost the last basketball game. In the process, two teen guys got up in each other’s faces, ready for who knows what. What eventually happened is that one of the guys made a serious threat toward the other guy. The words “I’m gonna shoot you if…” flew out of the mouth of one young man. This was new territory for me. In all my days as an urban youth minister, I had not encountered this kind of threat on another teen. The teen admitted that he said it. For the safety of others, we told him to stop coming to Contact.
What didn’t stop was the development of a game plan to help this teen get restored back to a right relationship with the other guy, the Contact Church, and the Lord. I contacted an organization called Urban Youth Worker’s Institute and asked if anyone in this field of ministry had ever encountered a similar situation. One person replied that something like this happened in California. Two guys got into it with each other, and a youth leader stepped in to help resolve the situation. He ended up taking the two teens on a boating trip to help do something fun together. In the midst of the trip, there was some stormy weather. The boys were desperately working to get water out of the boat, and needless to say, their relationship grew in that moment.
One youth worker named Detra sent this to me:
Furthermore, when we talk about apologizing, this youth also needs to know that he should be asking for forgiveness not just saying “I’m sorry.” He also needs to know that in spite of the discipline he will get, that the ministry still loves and forgives him as Jesus does. My biggest concern is that if you decide not to let him back into the ministry, there may be some unresolved issues that could result in future problems. Win him over as Jesus did, with lots and lots of LOVE. If he trusts you or one of your youth leaders enough, you will be able to win him over.
I thought that she said well the things that we (Contact Staff, parents of the two teens, and myself) were wrestling with in this process of restoration. What does true repentance look like for the teen who made the threat? He and I talked about that. He was getting anger management counseling at school that helped him to develop an approach to fights at school that was way less reactive. At one moment last fall, he seemed ready to ask for forgiveness. When I went to pick him up to meet the other guy and his mom, I asked if he was ready. He said, “I guess so,” with little or no interest in going to make things right. I was not about to drag him off to apologize, so he stayed home that day to mull it over some more.
Restoration does happen. A few weeks ago, the two teen guys sat with me in a Braum’s restaurant parking lot to get right with each other. The teen who made the threat said what he needed to, and the other guy apologized as well. The following Sunday they stood up in front of the church together. The first teen said that he made a big mistake, regretted it, and had learned what to do when there’s a fight. The other teen stood by him and apologized because it “takes two people to have a fight.” The response was overwhelming from the adults in the church. Many came up there to pray with them. After the prayer, I got to see adults hugging this teen who had made this threat. As we hugged him, we got to reflect the unseen God in a visible form with lots of LOVE, like Detra suggested. He got to meet the God who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6: 35). The one that I have met and known along the Way.