More and more students are having to deal with major life issues and struggles at a much younger age. And often times it falls on us as student pastors to be there for them in their hour of need and make sure that they get love and encouragement that they deserve. But sometimes these issues can be very big. Sometimes there are issues like suicide, abortion, etc., and we need to know what to do in those situations. We also need to be willing to admit that sometimes those situations are too big for us to handle and need to be passed on to someone else. This does not make us bad ministers. In fact sometimes this is the greatest way that we can love our students and can often be the safest way to handle these delicate moments. When these big moments come, and you are unsure of whether you should handle it or how you should, here are some practical steps to consider.
1. Is the student in immediate danger? - This would mainly apply to suicide but also could deal with abuse and other issues. You need to determine if there is a chance that the student's well being could be seriously threatened when they leave your presence. For example, if a student is claiming abuse you need to hear their story and call the proper authorities. And if need be, ensure their safety for the time being. Or if a student is threatening suicide, you need to take the threat seriously and discuss it with them. You should ask them if they have a plan. If they do you need to make sure they get the help them need, being put under suicide watch if necessary, and tell them you would like to talk to them again. Then make a specific appointment time for that discussion. Either way, if you feel a student is in immediate danger make sure that you do not dismiss the situation or think you can get to it later.
2. Prayer may not be enough. - I never want to diminish the importance of prayer. But in these situations, while we should pray for and with our students, we cannot think that this is all that is needed. Some students need serious professional help along with prayer and support. So do not just pray with the student and then not do anything else.
3. Do not dismiss the situation. - Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a student is just making an out cry for attention. They may be but it is not your responsibility to do that. You must take every situation seriously and take the proper steps to get your students what they need.
4. Do not be afraid to pass it on. - If you cannot handle the situation, or if the student is the opposite gender of you, do not be afraid to pass the situation on to someone who is better equipped to deal with it. For example, my wife is professionally trained in crisis counseling so I often hand situations to her that I know I am not as equipped to handle. This is not a sign of weakness or failure but instead is a sign of strength, maturity and love. But always make sure to follow up to see what has been done and actually take the student to the person.
5. You have to do something. - You are legally liable to take action. You can get into serious trouble if you hear of abuse and do not follow up and report it or if you hear of a suicide threat and do not take some sort of action. You need to know this and your leaders need to know this. Make sure that they are not only informed but trained in what to do in this situation so your ministry is prepared to meet students needs in all situation.
Maybe the most important thing in all of this came from Paul, where he basically says if he doesn't show love everything is meaningless. That is the number one thing you can do for students in these moments, love on them. And sometimes the greatest way you can show love is by getting into the muck in the lives of others, filing a report, or even speaking truth into the life of a student and the lives of those around them.