If you haven't already, read the last couple of blog entries about a real life example of a behavior issue you might encounter at an urban youth ministry program.  This week, I will share with you an example of a more helpful response that you or a volunteer could make to Keisha's behavior.

Keisha:  Hey, I wanted to let you know that I didn’t smoke weed and went to school two days last week. 
You: Wow! I am really so proud of you for taking those steps of faith to not smoke weed for two whole days. That really shows growth in maturity and discipline on your part.  How do you feel about it?
Keisha:  I was really tired, but I kinda felt good you know, like I accomplished something.
You:  And you should!  This is a big lifestyle shift for you, I’m sure it won’t be easy.  I also appreciate the fact that you didn’t lie to me about the other 5 days you did smoke week.  When you smoked week for those 5 days, how did that feel compared to the other days of not smoking weed?
Keisha:  You know, the other days were “harder” because I wasn’t smoking weed, but I liked those days better.  You know how we were talking about conviction from the Holy Spirit?  I felt kinda mad at myself that I didn’t follow through on all of the days.
You: I’m really excited for you – I know that if you trusted God with 2 days, I know you are going to keep growing and eventually trust Him with all seven days.  That is really exciting that you didn’t like the other days as much.  Do you think that means you are ready for an even bigger change?  How can I support you in that?
Keisha:  Well, one of the things I am really struggling with is my friends that are skipping school with me.  I don’t want to abandon them, but I want to go to start going back to school.  I don’t know how to tell them I want a different life and not make them feel bad for the choices they are making.  What should I say to them?

Why would I consider this is a more positive response to Keisha's behavior*.  Let's ask some questions and discover why.

Where is Your Focus?

  • Lecture or Listening:  Listening. You were willing to take the time to listen to Keisha and uncover how she felt about herself on both the weed smoking days and the non-weed smoking days.  While you listened, you uncovered something very important.  Keisha already felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit on the days that she smoked weed.  Even though you know that Keisha is in danger of failing out of school and are concerned about her addiction to weed, you are also aware if Keisha is motivated from her own personal conviction to go back to school, you know the change will be real and will last.
  • Positive Growth or What’s Left to Go?  Positive growth.  You understand how hard it is to break a long-term habit.  You’ve imagined what it is like for Keisha to break this habit of something she has done every day, multiple times a day for years.  It would be like you not to brush your teeth for two days – it would be so hard and feel so bad.  You would be waiting for the moment you could brush your teeth and feel better again!  Your willingness to encourage Keisha and see positive steps in the midst of her addictive behavior brought down her wall of needing to be accepted by you.  She is ready to ask you for help and advice.  In the conversation you acknowledged both past and present steps of growth.   You also predicted future growth of the steps she will take.
  • Youth’s response?  Keisha feels affirmed and supported.  She knows that she needs to continue to pursue a complete cessation of smoking weed and work harder at attending school every day, but she also knows that she won’t have to figure it out by herself.  She sees herself in a more positive light, taking steps towards maturity.

What about you?  Have you ever taken this type of approach with urban youth?  I know when I have, it has always worked better to draw the studen closer in relationship with me and ultimately to Christ!  Share your story below...

*For the purposes of this blog entry, the response to Keisha is a bit simplistic.  Youth with drug addictions and serious educational issues need special attention and prayer that can't occur in just a single short conversation.

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