Adolescents and alcohol–that is a bad mix. If a youth pastor is honest, probably 45% of his/her high school youth group is experimenting with liquor. Alcohol is a huge problem in America’s private (yes even “Christian” schools) and public high schools. Partying leads to drinking and drinking leads to sexing.
What does a youth pastor do? Obviously every great high school youth group student knows that drinking is not only illegal, but theologically wrong. The quit drinking sermon may not exactly work…..so what will work?
In Chap Clark’s book HURT, I learned that if there is a group of students (a student cluster), there will be at least a few students (if not all) drinking.
I realized that the desire to party goes beyond just getting drunk. “Drinking is not about drinking; it is about community” (164). Adolescents see being in the party scene not only as a social ritual, but also as a place where they can be involved and be accepted. At the core of every adolescent is the longing to belong.
The reality of the party scene, described in HURT, was not surprising, but affirming. It would be silly to deny the research, to not address the problem of adolescents and alcohol. The abuse of alcohol is a difficult problem without a simple solution.
How did I address the alcohol situation in my high school ministry? Honestly addressing the alcohol problem in a youth ministry is a step by step process. There is no perfect program, no overnight fix, or insightful teaching that will automatically get adolescents to stop drinking. It is imperative to remember (although I forget a lot) the transformative power that the Holy Spirit brings, not the youth worker! I handled this alcohol situation with three different techniques.
First, I needed to assess the alcohol usage in the high school ministry. I needed to know when the students were partying and who exactly was partying. I started by asking students a lot of questions both individually and collectively. I also spent time on their MySpace and Facebook pages. MySpace and Facebook are our friends! They give a firsthand perspective of what happens on Friday and Saturday night. At times I wonder if they add to the stories to glorify their alcohol consumption. I had access to the pictures, bulletins, and commentary that described the party from the night before. Oddly enough, my students did not have a problem sharing their alcohol experiences and party stories with me.
For the last segment of my alcohol assessment I gave a survey where each student anonymously answered questions (either in open ended or multiple choice format). Some of the questions were: Where do you get alcohol? How many parties are there in a week? How much are you likely to drink at a party? Why do you drink? Do your friends drink? Walking away from the assessment I realized that 65% of the kids in my group were “partiers” and they were partying on Friday and Saturday nights.
Second, I taught a series on the “Realities of Our Identity.” The goal was to communicate that who we are should not determine what we do to gain acceptance. We are the children of God; we already belong to the Heavenly Father. My students need to put value on their identity in Christ, rather than putting value on the identity imposed on them from the party scene. It is my desire that these students are authentic in who they are as followers of Christ.
Third, our high school ministry team orchestrated a variety of weekend activities that encouraged interaction and connection between the many student clusters. The students also had a chance to spend time with adult leaders. It was important to find adults who genuinely cared about the students; whom the students felt comfortable with. It was clear to me that student clusters party because they love social interaction, connection, and excitement; and these gatherings gave the students those outlets–without the alcohol. My amazing adult leaders were willing to open up their homes and their Friday and Saturday nights to be with the cluster that they were connected to. Whatever the clusters enjoyed doing, the adults would do it with them. For example, clusters could go paint balling, bowling, to the arcade, to a baseball game, to the movies, etc. The intention of these weekend nights was to demonstrate what authentic, sober connection looks like (with their friends and other adults who care for them outside of the church).
Above all, there are no overnight remedies to the alcohol problem. The problem lies not with the alcohol alone, but with a genuine longing for community. Assess your students’ alcohol consumption. Simply accept and lead the partying students from where they are at. Give them opportunities to find a place to belong apart from the party scene. Remember that the change must move from the inside out. We have to trust that God is at work inside of their hearts.