The notifications came like a tsunami to my cell phone:
“Active shooter situation in San Bernardino”
“Unknown number wounded and killed.”
My first reaction: “Not again. I’m weary of this, I’m discouraged. How long will it be until this happens in my neighborhood . . . again?”
Perhaps you experienced those feelings too. I had to stop and wonder why I think so many other countries are dangerous to visit when my own is impacted weekly by active shooters in schools, churches, universities, malls and community centers. Sadly, it has become a new normal.
This weekend, in the context of the church, I will be debriefing with our gathered youth the events of the last week. In former days this would have happened rarely and only following an event I subjectively measured as “big.” Or, it might have happened if one of our youth brought it up as a prayer request or if the national news was covering it for consecutive days. It might have been perceived as an “option” but not likely a necessity.
I propose we are in a season where debriefing is now a necessity. With the frequency of terrorist acts and mass shootings now a regular occurrence – more than five have happened in the last two weeks alone – and how social media creates incessant communication, it is important for us as youth leaders to recognize that the trauma of these many episodes no longer lies below the surface for our youth and children. The smiles on the faces of our youth may be hiding anxiety they are feeling. And it is important for us, as leaders, to be honest with our youth in age appropriate ways when we are the ones feeling anxious.
Join me this Sunday or the next time you meet with your youth to reflect and talk as a “family.”
Here is a simple game plan you could adapt in your debrief time to fit your own context:
Make this plan your own. What other ideas would you add? What's worked well for your groups in the past?
Doug Ranck is associate pastor of youth and worship at Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, CA. With three decades of youth ministry experience, he serves as ICTG Program Director for Youth Ministry, as well as a leading consultant, trainer and speaker with Ministry Architects, the Southern California Conference, and, nationally, with the Free Methodist Church. He has written numerous articles for youth ministry magazines and websites, and published the Creative Bible Lessons Series: Job (Zondervan, 2008). Doug is happily married to Nancy, proud father of Kelly, Landon and Elise, and never gets tired of looking at the Pacific ocean every day.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.