What youth workers can learn from Breaking Bad
Each summer, my husband and I binge on a TV series or two.
Last year, it was Friday Night Lights and Downton Abbey.
This year, it was Breaking Bad.
Now, I know we came late to the party & that the series finale aired Sunday. But we're actually still in the middle of watching Season 4.
I also know that other people have written a lot about this show. Among other things, I've seen lengthy discussions of whether or not this show is appropriate for Christians to watch.
I, for one, think it raises some fascinating questions about morality.
Beyond that, though, for reasons I have yet to clearly identify, I've also been extraordinarily entertained by this show. Every once in a while, I'll look at my husband and ask, incredulously, “Why does this show work?”
Regardless of why it works, this week I've been unable to stop thinking about one particular episode from Season 4.
The early part of Season 4 chronicles the rapid downward spiral of Jesse Pinkman. Jesse is one of the show's main characters, a meth-head who works with former chemistry teacher, Walter White to manufacture an incredibly pure version of blue meth. His downward spiral begins after he murders Gale Boetticher, another blue meth chemist and former assistant to Walt. In the midst of Jesse's downward spiral, he goes from sobriety to using again & in the process, becomes increasingly careless.
Despite this, Walt's loyalty to Jesse remains as the two work in a superlab producing enormous quantities of blue meth for drug lord, Gus Fring. Gus, however, believes Jesse's addiction to meth is a liability.
Eventually, Gus' henchman, Mike, warns him that something must be done about Jesse, despite the fact that he and Walt are a package deal. He suggests Jesse's addiction, depression, and carelessness are becoming increasingly problematic for their operation.
In the particular episode that intrigued me so much from this season, Mike picks Jesse up and takes him to retrieve several large quantities of money from dead-drops. It's clear throughout the episode that Jesse thinks Mike is going to kill him at one of these drops.
Instead, at the final drop, people attempt to rob them while Mike is inside a building, picking up the last of the drug money. Jesse reacts quickly, shifts into the driver's seat, and takes off, slamming into one of the robbers and his car. He prevents the robbery and in an instant, this screw-up becomes a hero.
Soon afterward, Gus meets with Mike and asks him how Jesse did. Mike tells him something along the lines of, “He responded just like you thought he would.”
In an instant, it's clear that the events of the entire day, including the robbery, were staged, designed entirely to give Jesse the opportunity to become a hero.
As I watched this, my mind immediately went to youth ministry.
Too often, I fear that when we deal with those in our ministries who are, in some way, troubled, we behave like Mike. We treat these students as problems that must be quickly dealt with before they spread to others in our ministry and as a result, create more problems for us.
But what if we instead dealt with our troubled kids – those who are often dealing with deep hurts in their own lives – as Gus dealt with Jesse?
What if instead of just trying to make the problem kid go away, we gave him opportunities to shine? Intentional chances to become heroes in our ministries?
Certainly, such an opportunity wouldn't fix the kid. It wouldn't solve their underlying problems. But could such an opportunity actually redefine a kid? Contribute to his self-esteem? Give him a new identity and purpose?
It did with Jesse in Breaking Bad.
And while I know Breaking Bad is a fictional TV drama, sometimes TV shows mirror real life.
Maybe this is one of those times.
Maybe giving our troubled kids the opportunities to be heroes is just what they need to set a new trajectory in their lives.
May we have the courage to find out.