1. Don’t Foster ‘Us and Them’ Language
One way to enable a culture of bullying within your youth ministry is to passively allow students to disengage entirely with a large or small group in your ministry. We should be fostering the understanding that we are all members of the youth ministry and of the kingdom of God. The Bible often warns of allowing division to come into the church, even in small ways. Allowing students to begin to divide themselves, even naturally, can cause students to begin to see themselves as more or less valuable than other members. Remind students often that everyone has a place in God’s kingdom.
2. Encourage Teens to See God Given Abilities
If we really believe that everyone has a place in the kingdom of God, we are often drawn to Paul’s description of the church as a physical body. We all have different gifts and abilities and no one part is more important than another. Encourage your students to take spiritual gifts tests and talk to them about the different gifts needed to build the kingdom of God. Have your students share these gifts with one another and have students with different gifts serve alongside one another.
3. Talk Through Issues
When an issue does arise, don’t allow it to grow into a bigger issue. Begin speaking with the students individually and then have them talk to one another if at all possible. Forgiveness may come over time, but don’t allow the students to break down the lines of communication if they still have to spend several more years together. Again, teach them that God desires unity in the body of Christ and that we have to be able to function together even if we aren’t best friends. If you don’t address problems head on, the bullying narrative will be passed down from student to student until sides are chosen and the youth ministry becomes divided.
4. Pray for One Another – Often
We know to pray for our students, volunteers, parents, and others that we work with. However, the students can easily forget what it means to pray for one another. Engage your students in the corporate act of prayer. Allow them to lead prayer over one another and to care deeply about one another’s lives. Share with them the importance of prayer requests and how each of us needs to be in constant communication with God. Prayer changes hearts, minds, and attitudes. It can be hard to hold a grudge against someone that you have prayed for.
5. Build Up More than You Tear Down
I have seen it too often where the people in a youth ministry can be so comfortable with one another that the adults and students can say more negative things to one another than positive things. Share with your students the importance of building one another up. Share with your students that each person was made in the image of God and deserves a level of respect. Bullying can start even in the simplest joke that wasn’t meant to hurt so remind your students that building one another up can be a better way to encourage one another without running the risk of hurting someone we love.