Peer Ministry: A New Trend in Counseling

These days, teenagers are faced with a plethora of obstacles and temptations that simply weren’t available or popular ten years ago. They attend school, church, and extracurricular activities, and at each of these places, there is someone waiting to influence them the wrong way. An uneducated, naÃ?¯ve teen will fall victim to this type of pursuit without questioning consequences, which is where societal responsibility comes into play.

A new program has been rapidly developing over the last three or four years, and it seems to be making an enormous impact on the teenagers of today. Peer Ministry was founded by Lyle M. Griner of the Youth & Family Institute in the late nineties, and today he is touring the entire United States, giving workshops and seminars on his revolutionary new program.

Peer Ministry incorporates the concepts of listening, talking, counseling, and peer-to-peer trust into a cohesive step-by-step class that teaches the factors in teens helping teens. When kids refuse to turn to adults or therapists for their problems, who will listen? That is why Lyle Griner is teaching teens to help each other on the road to success.

It might seem a far-fetched idea, but it is actually working miracles up and down the United States. Teenagers are taking their futures into their own hands by making responsible decisions and helping others to achieve their goals. This isn’t like the commerciails you see on television; this is real teenagers taking control of their lives.

The LYO (Lutheran Youth Organization) was one of the first groups to ever try Peer Ministry, and they are amazed with the results. The LYO already has programs in place to empower teenagers into leadership positions within their own community. Board members of the LYO are all youth – no adults are involved in the decision making – and teenagers are responsible for planning events, scheduling performances, and coordinating deadlines.

“We just think that kids are fully capable of handling adult responsibilities,” says Sally Ahrens, one of the youth directors for the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the LYO. “We can’t raise kids like children, and then suddenly throw them into the big, bad world. They should be prepared, and we do our best to guide them in that direction.”

Peer Ministry takes that concept to the next level. Rather than training therapists to talk with teens and assist with their problems, Peer Ministry teaches teens how to help each other. “If we have the right tools, we can make a difference, “Michael Jacobson, an LYO senior told me at an event. “If the problem is really serious, then we take it to a qualified adult, but we like to help kids [who] will confide in us.”

The Peer Ministry training program takes anywhere from two to six weeks, and covers all of the basics of listening-based counseling and troubleshooting. It teaches teenagers how to communicate with one another, how to dispel an argument, and how best to advise their fellow students.

It also shows teens how to get involved with the community, and be available to those in need. “If you’re walking downtown and you see a kid who’s crying, stop and ask what’s up,” says Jacobson. “If he doesn’t want to talk, he won’t, but maybe he just needs to get some stuff off his chest.”

This program can also prepare teenagers who are interested in going into psychology, counseling, or therapist careers. They can learn the basics in high school, and build the foundation for future education. But even if kids aren’t planning on pursuing counseling careers, the basics in listening and communicating can be used for any endeavor in life. They are the fundamental skills needed to survive in this world, and to be the best friend possible to everyone you meet.

Lyle Griner is the National Director of Peer Ministry, and he has degrees in both middle school education and youth leadership. His main goal is what he teaches those who direct and lead youth groups: Give Them A Purpose! He works at the Youth & Family Institute, and tours all over the United States giving workshops on Peer Ministry.


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