It’s that time of year when students from all around the country are competing in their district’s Fine Arts Festival. Over the past few months, these teenagers have spilled blood, sweat, and tears to compile dramas, songs, monologues, and sermons in hopes of achieving the ultimate prize—a chance to travel to Orlando, Florida for this year’s national competition. For many, their hard work, forged in the dim-light of church sanctuaries, fellowship halls, and even undersized classrooms, has finally paid off.
But what about those students who didn’t advance to Nationals? Those teenagers who too, spent endless, grueling hours (or at least the night before) performing their routines in front of both mirrors and critical siblings. They just missed it, and now they are left alone to watch the taillights of a crowded church van full of their friends ride off toward the Sunshine State. Orlando or bust? No, for them it’s just bust.
Inevitably, as a youth worker, you will have to console these grieving individuals. Hours of counseling over cheap pizza await you and your ministry. How will you ever be able to help these students put back the pieces of their shattered soul? How can you transform Fine Arts from a contest of broken dreams to a celebration of determination? By understanding the five stages of Fine Arts grief, you will be better equipped to help these students who came up a little bit short this year at Fine Arts.
During the first stage of Fine Arts grief, students are unable to admit the reality of their situation. Someone must have made a mistake, because any score less than “36” is philosophically impossible. This has got to be some sort of joke, my performance was flawless. It is easy to spot students experiencing denial. They are usually clutching large calculators, double-checking a judge’s math. Scrutinizing each page, teenagers will interpret the number “5” into a sloppy written “6.” A “2” is really just an uncompleted “3.” Rulebooks will be consulted, loopholes explored. I know I wrote my drama last night, but this can’t be right. It had to be the sound system.
This is the most dangerous stage for any youth worker. Now that a student has come to terms with the gravity of their circumstances, they will more than often lash out in anger at those involved. Those judges don’t know what they are talking about! What do you mean they didn’t understand I was portraying the prophet Nahum in my human video? Caught in the crossfire, youth workers can often become the object of their student’s rage. That practice you cancelled because your child was being born? Mistake. I mean when you think about it, why didn’t you take enough time to adequately prepare them for their event to begin with? I wish that merit group’s youth pastor was at my church. The situation can become even more dangerous if students start asking about the location of a particular judge’s home.
Students have now accepted the shortcomings of their performance. During this stage of grief, participants will cling to the hope that they can still find a way to advance to Nationals. They will try to bargain their way back to the table. If I could just do my performance again I would prove to you that I have what it takes to go to Orlando. This is when teenagers begin making promises to the Fine Arts coordinator and DYD. I promise to participate in the AIM Outreach. When that doesn’t work, the student will come to you. I would still like to attend the National Youth Convention. Bargaining often turns to desperation. If someone drops out of the choir, I could take their place.
After realizing that there is nothing more they can do, students will eventually sink into a state of depression. If my guitar solo didn’t even advance to Nationals, what’s the point even playing in the worship band at youth? Students who are passing through this stage of grief can usually be found sulking in a dark corner during the award’s service. They are silent and unresponsive. Each teenager must be allowed to work through this stage in their own time. It’s usually best to send your know-it-all youth leader to go talk to them.
Students have now fully accepted the reality of their situation. They didn’t get an invitation to Nationals and they understand that they’ll be spending the first week of August at home, not at Disney World. Students might not be ready to congratulate their peers who have received a passing score, but they realize there is nothing they can do to change what has happened. Teenagers who’ve reached this stage are ready for the real world. I’m going to start preparing for Fine Arts in September this year!
As exaggerated as this post might be, we all know how easy it is to forget the goal of Fine Arts. As youth workers we must teach our students, and even remind ourselves that Fine Arts is not the end-all, but a tool to prepare them to develop their God-given gifts. 1 Peter 4:10-11 says this: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (ESV). So in reality, an invitation to Nationals isn’t the prize, serving others and bringing God glory is. When students understand this concept, they will be better prepared for whatever happens during the competition. As a student I won best video in the Short Film division a couple of years in a row. Sure, it was a great feeling, but years later those trophies are left collecting dust in my parents’ attic. The real joy has been using the skills I honed and developed while in Fine Arts to bring God glory and extend his kingdom around the world. That is the message we need to pass on to those who will be attending Nationals and those who may not have advanced this year. By doing this early and often, we’ll find that the five steps of Fine Arts grief will be just a bit easier to walk through.