Stopping the Shootings – Youth Workers Can Help | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
February 2018

Stopping the Shootings – Youth Workers Can Help

By Scott Meier

​Another school shooting. Another tragic event. Lives forever changed. It really doesn’t matter where you live, if you have any interaction with students, especially those in middle school and high school, the news of another tragic school shooting causes one to pause and ponder, “What is wrong?”

​Like with so many other events in our world, the news cycle will quickly move to the next hot topic. And unfortunately we often move on with it. It’s easy to understand. It’s easy to get mentally worn out when we stay focused on all the tragic events that unfold around us.

​In actuality, youth ministers are in a unique position to help combat many of the ills that face our nation. Instead of waiting for politicians or national leaders to combat issues, we can have a much better chance of “fixing” them by focusing on them at the community level.

I have never met a youth minister who isn’t well ingrained in a community. Even though our titles contain words like “youth” or “student”, all of us interact with people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We do so with the authority that comes from the title “Minister.”

What do we do with this? How do we combat the ills that lead to tragedies like school shooting.

1. Claim our voice and speak with authority.
Conversation with your students, conversations with family members, conversations with church members, and conversations with community leaders about dealing with the situations that lead up to tragic events.

So much of the talk in our country turns away from solutions towards the polarizing and divisive. We in the church must be the voices that bring people together. This is not to say that we have to water down what we say, but we can have hard conversations around tough topics when we do it with honesty, integrity, and, most importantly, love! Don’t stop talking about the issues that face your community. Claim your voice and speak with authority.

2. Love kids and families like it is the most important thing in your job description.

Many people want to simplify the causes of tragic events like school shootings. It is easy to say, “Gun control is the answer” or, “Social media is the culprit.” But we in youth ministry know the reasons for events like school shooting are far more complex.

I am not suggesting that simply loving students and families will stop all school shootings, but when we focus on loving and caring for the people in our flock, we go a long way towards creating better communities, better churches, and better schools.

Over and over again through the Gospels we see Jesus loving all; and doing so with integrity and accountability. If we model this same thing, I believe we can turn the tide in our communities. And at the same time, help people look once again to the Church as a place of leadership in the community.

3. Report what you see: the next tragedy could be sitting in your youth group.

How many times have I been in an airport and read a sign or head an announcement over the PA that says, “If you see something, say something.” In this day and age, even the slightest of situations can lead to the biggest of tragedies. As youth ministers, we are all connected in to kids in unique ways. You hear what is going on! You know what kids are talking about. We must not be afraid to say something when we see or hear something!

This is not easy to imagine, and it may even be a bit controversial on my part to say. But the reality is, the kids sitting in your youth group could be involved in some way in the next tragedy. But that doesn’t have to be scary, it can be hopeful because it also means the kids sitting in your youth group could be part of the solution to the next tragedy.

I find myself thinking about tragic events as happening far from my home, in another community that is nothing like mine. Yet, we all know deep down inside that our town or our schools could be next. We must provide lessons and discussions with our students that deal head-on with preventing and dealing with tragic events. These aren’t scare-tactics. They are living into the reality of what could be. Focusing on Christ-like love and accountability becomes more important if we stop and imagine one of our own is capable of carrying out a tragic event, or if one of our own has the opportunity to stop a tragic event.

We always want to have your back. We have another article specifically on shootings called Responding to a School Shooting: Three Approaches for Youth Workers

Discipleship Ministries has a video focused on engaging unchurched in the community during times of tragedy. It was developed during the Hurricane in Houston last year, but can apply to a range of tragedies.

Chris Wilterdink also has a prayer that you might be able to use as well.

Scott has served in student ministry for over 30 years, the past 24 years at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Having grown up in an incredible and life-changing youth ministry at Pioneer United Methodist Church in Walla Walla, Washington, Scott got his start at Simpson United Methodist Church in Pullman, Washington while a student at Washington State University. Scott has a passion for missions and leadership development, and desires to create life-long disciples for Jesus Christ. Scott and his wife Kristin have a little girl, Laurel Kate.