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Disciplining The Dudes: Dealing With Disrespectful Guys In Your Youth Ministry

I don’t mean to be favoring the dudes in our youth ministries, but from my experience and gut— getting the disrespectful dudes to follow Jesus is an on going battle.  Back in 09, I extensively argued (in the post titled:  Youth Ministry Male Mentorship) that:

Talking to a teenage dude about spiritual stuff is like basically talking to a wall…..And trying to motivate a dude to pursue righteousness is a tough-tough task.

Attracting disobedient and disrespectful dudes in your youth ministry is a great and bad thing.

The great thing—- is getting unchurched influential guys in the doors of your church so they have an opportunity to encounter Jesus so their lives can be changed by Jesus.

The bad thing is—- they are highly disruptive, exhibit horrible behaviors and manners, quick witted, love to talk back using expletives, always hitting on and disrespecting the good Christian girls and everything (and I mean everything) is overtly sexual for them.

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Think about all those gnarly and disrespectful dudes who have showed up to your youth ministry.  How did you discipline them when they were disruptive?

Right now I am struggling with trying to figure out how to discipline dudes who are highly disrespectful but are somewhat wanting to follow Jesus.  For some odd reason, God keeps giving me trouble makers who annoy a lot of other adults.  How do I show love while laying down the law to these dudes?

This is how this post is going to work—  I am going to share my discipline tactics and you will share yours in the comment section.


I need a lot of help thinking about different strategies on how to deal with these difficult dudes.

Here are my tactics:

–  Make sure the rules, expectations and consequences are clear.  With unchurched dudes, they  don’t know the rules.  So every month during small group time I remind them of what is expected out of them. Some of my expectations are:  integrity all the time, no cell phone usage, respect me and others, listen when others are talking, and what is talked about in group, stays in group.  Some of the consequences are:  a private convo with me after group, help clean up all the trash after youth group and a phone call to mom and dad.  I have never banned a dude from youth group.  However I have come really close.  I joke with my dudes that if they break the rules, I will make them do an insane amount of push up or wall sits.  Disrespectful dudes need boundaries and structure.

–  Be confident and consistent.  Disrespectful dudes are typically pretty arrogent and cocky so you will need to confront them with confidence or else they will dominate you and destroy the youth group’s culture.  Being consistent with your consequences shows your dudes you are serious about your expectations and you will reinforce consequences every time they break the rules.  If you don’t reinforce the rules and consequences your dudes will even disrespect you more.

–  Have a private conversation.  If things get out of hand during youth group, make sure to talk to them one on one.  Don’t rebuke them publicly.  This is highly embarrassing for them.  Disrespectful teens are great at running their mouth they will make it their mission to show off in front of everyone by refuting your public rebuke.   So get them behind closed doors with no other people around and have a private-2 way-honest convesation.  During this private chat, reinstate to them you really like them but you really don’t like their behavior during youth group.  Help them see the difference between their identity and behavior.  Communicate clearly who they are is not associated with what they do.  When disciplining disrespectful dudes privately, they always counter your discipline by saying:  “You just don’t like me.”  Ensure to them you like them, but dislike their actions during group.  There is a big difference.   Opening the lines of communication, privately, allows them to express their point of view, shows them you are a listener and enables you to brainstorm a course of action.

–  Treat them like adults.  Disrespectful dude are just wanting to be respected.  When they feel disrespected they will put up a tough and nasty fight.  So make sure to  treat them like adults which means they will have to take full responsibility for their actions because that is what adults do.  Tell them to act like adults and you will treat them like adults.

–  Keep your cool. Don’t show your anger or resentment.  Trust me…there have been times where I wanted to strangle some of these disrespectful dudes but you cannot react.  Stay focused and respond in a gentle and tactful matter.  Don’t let your frustrations overtake you.  When confronting and disciplining dudes model a tone that reflects the fruit of the Spirit.  Be calm.

–  Students have 6 longings.  Teenagers want to be loved and supported.  Chap Clark in his book:  Disconnected states that all students have 6 longings:

1.  Long to belong

2.  Long to be taken seriously

3.  Long to matter

4.  Long for a safe place

5.  Long to be uniquely me

6.  Long to be wanted

So think about these longings as you deal with their defiant behavior.  A fist bump, positive words or reinforcement can go along way with your disrespectful dudes. Appreciation and verbal affirmation helps improve a teen’s self-worth and behavior.

So it is your turn.  And who knows…my discipline tactics can be completely wrong and I am doing the wrong things?  So please help.  What are your tactics when disciplining your disrespectful dudes who show up to your youth group?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. I have a group of guys who attend our Sunday night program who are pretty rowdy. I love that they’re coming to hear about Jesus, but man, you described these guys to a T. Some of the guys in my group grew up in church, too, and act more like this.

    Here’s the approach I’ve taken. I identified a few of leaders in the group, those whose influence carries over to the other guys in the group. They’re not necessarily GOOD leaders, but they are influencers nonetheless. I’ve been proactively spending time with them and having good 1-on-1 conversations about discipleship and sharing Jesus with the other kids who are there. This helps them frame their behavior in the big picture of God’s redemptive story.

    Sometimes the conversations pay off. Sometimes they don’t. It’s kind of a rocky road. I think guys crave that paternal attachment that Chap Clark talks about. They crave someone to believe in them, to tell them that they are men, and to be lovingly firm with them.

    Some these guys have really opened up in our small groups about drugs and abuse and it’s been really cool to see. I even heard from one of the moms that one of the rougher boys said, “I feel like I’m becoming a better person.” This is great news for the Gospel that is all about changing hearts.

  2. Bond – it took me a couple ministry terms to understand this. But it is so true. Disrespectful boys need leaders who will bond with them outside of youth group. I’ve facilitated skate park tours, camp outs, lock in, etc. When your male leaders bond with that group of boys, things begin to shift. What I found was important is bonding over their interest. A day trip from skate park to skate park, with shared meals, and conversation of their interest, with non of those girls to distract them, Now you are part of their tribe, Not just a youth pastor, or adult figure.

    Alliance/give them a job – I once took my most disruptive mid – hi boy and asked him if he would help me when it was time to get everyone’s attention. We started working together, he became one of our strongest leaders, and he and I had a great relationship. Instead correcting him all the time, we were team mates.

  3. all great tactics… been using them for years! Just add, Listen to them when they are being serious about something, praise every positive thing about them that you can, find ways for them to be leaders (heros) in your group (especially in the eyes of their peers). Love, Love, Love those trouble-mekers right into the church and the kingdom!

  4. awesome Jeremy! I have a bunch of disrespectful middle schoolers in my group (which definitely represents the great and bad) and it can be quite frustrating at times. But I loved your tactics and your 6 longs were great reminders of what they long for…thanks!

  5. It’s true that these dudes don’t follow any discipline and exhibit unruly behavior. But the good thing is that they come to follow Jesus, which is a positive aspect that these people can be taught to follow the good path. The church pastor ought to keep more patience and positivity towards these folks.

  6. I would just add that prayer for these really tough kids is a must. I have found that my heart is softer and more forgiving or less likely to lose it with them when I have been actively praying for them. Otherwise I think all the other tips were really spot on. Thanks!

  7. Great Topic! We are all dealing with this struggle on some level. I just take my city kids on a retreat and leave them in the woods… jking. I definitely remind my team that every problem is an opportunity, so when these guys make bad decisions it can provide rare growth moments if we are “leaned in”.

    The other thing that comes to mind is that sometimes the venue is working against their stage. “Sometimes” the problem can be that we are trying to squeeze those round pegs into square openings. My daughter has a learning disability and sometimes she just needs a different speed and environment. So engaging kids’ parents can be vital to understand them.

    Almost all the time, a key component is giving them time and attention. But also a warning here is some of my wounded kids will play the victim in order to get attention (oldest trick in the book). We have to be careful not to reward them as they are functioning in an broken system. Here’s where I’ve tried to express a loving boundary that reminds them to own their decisions/actions.

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