Steven: There are a few times in my group when my co-leader and I have realized we need to bring up something that’s a little more sensitive. It’s one of those discussions that you don’t really want to have at first, but you know it has to happen. When you realize you need to start the ball rolling on the discussion, you know some things have to look different for it to be successful. For us, some of those topics have been sex, pornography, issues with parents, and a few others. There are a few things we’ve done to be as successful as possible:
- PRAY PRAY PRAY – The best thing you can do to prepare is seek out God’s direction. Know where God wants to lead your students and how he wants to speak through you.
- Consider changing your location – In my small group, we meet at one of the guy’s houses every week. When we’ve planned these sensitive discussions, we try to go somewhere else that we won’t be overheard. This puts all the guys way more at ease and helps them be more open.
- Have a game plan – Don’t go into something like this without having some kind of plan set out ahead of time. If you go in blind, it could end up making things more awkward and then you flounder around looking for ways to move forward.
- Give students and parents an “out” – If we know there’s something coming up that’s out of the ordinary, we give parents (and our students) a couple weeks heads-up. This gives them an opportunity to opt-out if they’re not comfortable with what we’re discussing.
If you’re in student ministry, junior high or high school, a sensitive topic is going to come up at some point. Don’t freak out, don’t run away from it, and have some kind of plan.
Matt: I think a lot of conversations go unspoken and lessons go untaught because student ministry leaders are not sure how to begin the discussion, they are afraid they might do more harm than good or they just don’t “want to go there.” As leaders we need to sometimes have the tough conversations and we need to be there for students. It might be an uncomfortable lesson, but we probably have students who want to have that discussion and they have not communicated that to you out of fear of what someone might think of them. We’re doing them a disservice if we avoid the tough topics. I start out with small talk and get students into their comfort zone (that might be a different place for each student, keep that in mind) and once I feel like they are communicating and ready to be open and honest I just go for it.
Steven has listed some great suggestions above. I would also recommend that you keep your composure whatever students tell you. It’s during these tough topics that small groups can get “real” and students will speak from the heart. If they tell you something that might be shocking or something you’re not expecting your reaction to that will either keep the conversation going or shut it down. Just roll with it, don’t show alarm. Wait until the time is right to point out when students are doing wrong and do it in a loving, biblical way.
The biggest mistake we can make is NOT have a conversation or present a lesson because it’s a sensitive topic.