Training Video: Caring for Students in Their Struggles

4 Categories of Pastoral Care with Teenagers
By: Katie Edwards

Junior High Pastor Saddleback Church/DYM Webshow

Every student will face struggles at some point in their Junior High and High School years. It’s important that you feel equipped as a youth worker to walk with the students entrusted to you as these struggles arise. This training is designed to give you a basic foundation for pastoral care and hopefully give you some insight and understanding of how to walk with your students through certain scenarios. 


When you think of the multitude of areas that our students are wrestling through…areas such as...anxiety, depression, sexual identity, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, abuse, self-harm, bullying, grief, death, and more…these categories cover a large percentage of what you will be navigating with your students. Now, this does not cover every single possible scenario…but I do think an understanding of how to respond in these categories will give you the foundation you need to at least give basic care in most situations you will encounter. 

Category #1    Teenagers in need of Comfort. 
Category #2    Teenagers Caught in Sin
Category #3    Teenagers dealing with a Struggle

Category #4    Teenagers responding to a Struggle

1 Thessalonians 2:8

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 

Remember our role is to love students, journey with them through life, and point them toward Jesus at every turn. Our role is not to fix – or to heal…that is where Jesus thankfully comes in. Our role is to guide and fill them up as much as possible with the love of Jesus. 


#1 Caring for students requires us to be GREAT QUESTION ASKERS and GOOD LISTENERS

Great questions are the key to unlocking what is happening with a student. The right questions at the right time could be life changing for a student. Questions like: 

  • How are you? 
  • That must be tough, how are you dealing with this? 
  • I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately – is something going on? 

With asking good questions comes being a GOOD listener. This can be tough…because we do like to fix…but we need to really listen to have the best understanding of what is going on with a student. And DON’T be afraid of silence…it’s a way of creating space for students to talk and share. 

#2 Caring for students also requires us to RESPOND WELL

  • Respond with Love – remember students won’t always remember what you say but they will remember the way you made them feel. 
  • Freak out on the inside and be calm on the outside…inside we might be thinking, “Oh my gosh!” But on the outside we need to be communicating, “AHHH I see.” 
  • Speak the truth in a loving way…Jesus had his theology and he had his ministry. He loved people no matter where they were at…but he was also not afraid to speak the truth in a loving, thoughtful way. 
  • Be cautious about jumping in with “What you think.” It can be so easy to jump in to “advice” mode….not everything needs to be resolved in this one conversation. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to talk with them.


Category 1: Teenagers in need of comfort

There are a number of our students who need comfort due to a situation that is out of their control. They are dealing with their parent’s divorce, they are dealing with grief, their mom has Stage 4 cancer, they are working through rejection or abandonment, they have been abused…and so on. These situations require care…but there are not always next steps or anything tangible that we can do. However, offering comfort is a powerful tool that we can use when students are hit with some of these tough circumstances. 

Here are some ways you could offer comfort:

  • Be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.
  • Make it a point to check in as often as they will let you – through text message, social media or a face to face interaction.
  • Point them toward scripture that will fill them up.
  • Laugh – and play and make memories.
  • Pray for them or pray together.

**Some areas of comfort – do need a next step response. In some cases you will need to report something or professional counseling might be needed beyond the initial comfort conversations. 


Category 2: Teenagers caught in sin

As humans we are constantly faced with the temptation of sin …and we are constantly giving in to it. Teenagers are not exempt from this. When a teenager opens up to you about a sin they are tempted by or a sin they are currently caught in…here are a few things to think about. 

  • listen and ask good questions.

Say things like:

  • “I am so glad you told me – that took a lot of courage.”
  • “Did you know that God loves you so much – and that no matter what you are facing He loves you.”
  • “Is this something you can talk about with your parents?”
  • “Are you open to talking about what the Bible says about this – or can we explore what God wants for you in this area of your life?”
  • “Since you brought this up--is it ok if I check in with you every once in awhile? Would you like accountability?”
  • “Can I pray with you?”

*These are just questions designed to begin conversation. Ultimately we want to speak the truth and we want to do it in a direct loving way. 


Category 3: Teenagers facing a struggle

Students who are experiencing depression, anxiety, or some form of mental illness are facing a very real daily struggle. Remember, we do not want you acting as counselor…or trying to fix…so ministering in this category is going to require partnership with parents and professionals. Here are a few things to think about when ministering to students in this category:

  • Ask good questions and listen well – gain an understanding of the journey they have already been on.
  • Meet them where they are at. 
  • Remove any stigma by normalizing the situation.
  • Talk with parents about ways you can come alongside of their student.
  • Pray with students and fill them up with scripture.
  • Spend time with them…often times students in this category feel alienated – so bringing them into life giving situations…can be just that…life giving.
  • As you know them deeper – listen for next steps you can point them toward…professional counseling, conversation with their parents, or a support group might serve as a great next step.

*This category is broad – and case by case. So, talk with your pastoral staff if you have any questions…or you need guidance on ministering effectively.


Category 4: Teenagers responding to a struggle

When students are struggling with something in any of the aforementioned categories there can often times be a harmful response. Teenagers can respond in any number of ways to a difficult situation in their life….an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, self-harm such as cutting, or potentially harming someone else. 

Again this is a category that we need to lean into partnering with the pastoral staff, the parents, and professionals. When you encounter a student who is responding to a struggle by wanting to or by actually harming themselves…here are some things I want you to think about:

  • Listen well…and assess the situation…pay attention.
  • Respond lovingly and remain calm.
  • Don’t take any of these situations lightly…there may be some situations that are further down the road…but there is a seriousness to every self-harm scenario.
  • Involve/Inform parents immediately…parents are the primary care giver and decision makers for their student – no next steps should be taken until they have been informed. An exception to that would be if parents are the source of harm…then we need to report the situation to the authorities.
  • Do not minimize what they are going through. 
  • Ask them if you can pray with them? Ask them if you can check in with them? Ask them if you can walk through this tough time with them? Ask them if you can text them? Ask them to spend time together?

*Refer to the “STUDENT MINISTRY PASTORAL CARE TRAINING on SUICIDE” if you have students struggling in that area.