Today the students of Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio are in shock. Although details are still coming in, we do know that at least four other students were shot and a suspect is in custody.
So how do we deal with our teenagers in light of this tragedy? Here are five truths to remind the teenagers in your home, church or youth group to remember during this painful time:
1. Pray because God is still in charge and your prayers make a difference.
I'll never forget when, just 20 minutes down the road from where I sit right now, the Columbine shootings took place. April 20th, 1999, marked a day of personal tragedy for me as I knew a lot of students at Columbine. I was shocked and felt helpless. Over the next few days I traveled down to Columbine High School and the adjacent Clement Park to pray for the school and with shocked and bewildered students and parents.
Although I felt helpless I really wasn't…because I was praying. Kneeling is our position of strength as believers. When we pray we move the hand that moves the world and it makes a difference.
Challenge your teenagers to pray for the teenagers at Chardon High School. Consider having a prayer service for them in youth group this week in lieu of your normal mid-week program. Let us intercede on behalf of, not only Chardon High School, but our own schools in our own communities. Let us pray for revival, healing, the victims, the families of the victims and the shooter. Let us pray that the message of Jesus would advance and the hope of Jesus will overcome and overwhelm this school and our schools.
2. Don't freak out because the worst thing that can happen to you is the best thing.
Last year there was a shooting in the building adjacent to where my kids go to school. The first day of school after the shooting, as I was driving my kids to drop them off, I asked my son, "Are you afraid to go to school because of the shooting?" He answered "a little bit." I asked, "Jeremy, what is the worst thing that could happen to you?" He answered, "I get shot and killed." I asked, "What's the best thing that can happen to you?" He thought for a moment and blurted with a smile, "I die and go to heaven." I reminded him that we as believers cannot lose when it comes to life or death. Jesus has won for us.
Let's remind our teenagers of this truth in Hebrews 2:14-15, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."
We have been freed from our slavery to the fear of death through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As a result we can say, along with the apostle Paul, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" Philippians 1:21.
3. Listen to the hurts of your fellow teenagers deeply and give them hope.
School shootings often trigger emotions amongst teenagers that just spill out. This is an opportunity for your teenagers to, "be quick to listen" and "slow to speak" James 1:19.
Perhaps you can model this for them this week by asking your teenagers questions like, "How did you feel when you heard about the shootings in Ohio?" and "Have you ever wondered or worried about a school shooting unfolding at your school?" After you ask the questions just listen to their answers. Don't critique their comments. Just listen to them and love them. After they have been fully heard take them to the cross and help them find their healing in the shadow of the ultimate tragedy and triumph.
Then challenge your teenagers to ask these same questions of their friends and classmates at school. Encourage them to ask questions and listen deeply before they attempt to evangelize. When they are quick to listen and slow to speak in these situations it helps the gospel go deeper when they do share this message of hope.
4. Rally other Christian teens to pray with you at school and to join you in reaching out to other teens with the hope of Jesus.
This is a time to rally and not retreat. It's time to get other teens praying at school for each other and for the victims of this tragedy. Maybe have teens crack open a yearbook and begin to pray for their fellow students by name. As they do this have them also begin to reach out to their friends, classmates and teammates with the hope that only Jesus can offer.
For help in these prayer and outreach efforts check out www.everyschool.com. This powerful website is packed with tools (some of which are from Dare 2 Share) which can help your teens adopt their school for prayer and reach students with the message of Jesus.
5. Sit at a different cafeteria table.
Challenge your teenagers to sit at a different cafeteria table at least once a week. Have them sit with a new group of teenagers to get to know them and build relationships with them. As they do, their prayer should be to lead these new friends to their best friend, Jesus Christ himself.
I can't help but flashback to the tragedy at Columbine High School (it seems like yesterday.) I wonder if the Christian teenagers at Columbine would have reached out to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with the love of Jesus on a consistent basis whether or not the outcome would have been different. Maybe, maybe not…but in either case we must unleash our teenagers to reach out to "those teens"…the "un" ones, the loners and "losers." Why? Because this is the exact pattern of Jesus and, if the love of Jesus can't prevent school shootings, there's not a metal detector in the world that will.
Let's keep the teenagers at Chardon High School in prayer. Let's unleash our teenagers to do something to prevent future school shootings.