A Youth Pastor’s Day in Court- Part Two

This is the second article in a two-part series. Read the first article here.

As I shared in the first part of this series, Rick (one of my students) got into some bad legal trouble last year. In walking with him throughout this difficult time, I learned that God can use the sobering and often terrifying experience of legal troubles to powerfully illustrate the blessing that Jesus is our advocate (1 John 2:1). 

In this post I want to speak to parents, especially to fathers: please, do whatever it takes to stand by your children at their worst, even if that’s in a court of law.

Rick’s case proceeded in the juvenile court, meaning all the defendants were youth, most of them 12-16 years old. In the seven court appearances I made with Rick, I saw about 40 different cases presented to the judge. To my shock, no more than six times did a defendant have their father with them. Most only had their mother, and many appeared without any parents at all (in one case, a mother was there alone with both her daughters as defendants in separate cases). 

Going to court became a living illustration of the fallout from Genesis 3; fractured lives, fractured families, sinners, and victims.

There is a tremendous amount of shame associated with legal proceedings. Strangely enough you don’t see many selfies or Instagram posts from the courtroom. This experience becomes a part of the accused’s life they want to bury and conceal. In Rick’s case, there was the real potential that his sentence could radically redefine and reshape the future of his life, vocation, and freedoms. Fortunately for him a huge plea-deal was stuck with the prosecutor and the sentence was far more lenient than it otherwise could have been.

How parents support and relate to their teens in court is a unique opportunity to teach them something about the nature of God. If we will stand by their side, we can illustrate that no matter how “bad” they are, no matter what the accusation, God does not disown his children. But if we are absent during what feels to teens like their point of greatest need, we tarnish the image of God our kids see through us. The natural line of thought becomes: “If my parents claim to love me, but abandon me when I need them most, what’s to say the God ‘who loves me’ will not do the same?”

It is a profound form of love to stand beside your students and walk with them through what is probably one of the hardest, most earthshaking events in their life. We don’t have to be legal experts, or even convinced of his or her innocence. But we do need to model for them the unconditional love God has for us – for all of us.

Even if the defendant’s father can’t be present, we can point students to how God is a Father to the Fatherless (Ps 68:5). We don’t have to be the perfect father, because our Heavenly Father is. In the most ultimate sense, he protects and provides for us. He paid the highest price to hire the best defense attorney in the land: our advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

As youth workers, we can serve our students through being there, showing up, through patience, through supporting their family. In some cases, our students jump into a pit of legal trouble; and in other cases they are pushed in by circumstances seemingly outside their control. It isn’t necessary that we come to a decision about innocence or guilt. What’s most important is that we physically show them they aren’t alone, and remind them that spiritually they aren’t alone either.

Be prepared though: youth in legal trouble don’t always think clearly, and are prone to responding quickly and poorly. In the majority of the seven court appearances, Rick didn’t express gratitude or thanks to me or his parents. Most of the time he was rude and disrespectful, but under the circumstances we gave him extra grace. But his appreciation wasn’t a requirement for our presence. What kept us there was the unending love of Christ for all who turn to him.

As Scotty Smith said at the Rooted Conference last October, let us remind anyone in court proceedings that “God didn’t send into the world a second chance…” (as if Rick’s primary “going forward task” was to try harder next time), “God didn’t send into the world a second chance, but the second Adam.” Rick’s primary task now is to marinate in that great Gospel of grace, and our job as parents and youth workers is to stand by their sides as they drink it all in, even in the messiest parts of life.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

David Brashler lives in Vancouver, WA. He entered vocational ministry in 2007. He was a Youth Pastor for over 11 years and was part of the Youth Ministry Steering Committee. Currently, he is the Associate Pastor of Saving Grace Church in Milwaukie, OR. He holds an engineering degree from Oregon State University and is currently pursuing an M.Div from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). He and his wife Claire have been married since 2005 and have four children. True to the Northwest, David enjoys the outdoors and high-quality pour-over coffee.

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