Don’t Shy Away


dont-shy-away-30-hour-famineBy Brad Hauge

Lord, have mercy. What a heartbreaking, confusing, tragic week.

Typically for me, and probably for many of you, youth ministry in the summer is known for many things: Mission trips, water games, weeks at camp, time off, and dreaming, hoping, and praying about the coming school year’s ministry. Summer is also a great time for planning fall calendars and the teaching content that’ll be presented during our Sunday or mid-week gatherings when school is back in session.

May I humbly propose that right now, at this current time, during our current summer, this typical planning simply isn’t enough. In addition to planning this fall’s retreat weekends and kickoff extravaganzas, I believe we need to commit to creating space to talk about the complex realities surrounding the teens in our ministries. We know they’re already having these conversations online and in the halls of their schools, so it should be our mandate to provide a safe place to have these conversations in a way that oozes the love and grace of Christ. Not only do our students deserve a space for this, but through my experience I’ve learned they are craving it.

What might that look like? Well, it would look like committing to include topics like these as you plan your teaching calendar:

  • Race and the history–and present–of racism.
  • Privilege.
  • Sexuality and gender identity.
  • Doubt
  • Violence in the Old Testament; giving space to wrestle with its ugliness and how Jesus does (and does not) represent those stories.
  • Depression and suicide, taking care to equip students with practical ways to either get professional help for themselves or to help their friends in crisis.
  • The role of women in Scripture and what is and is not true of their roles in ministry.
  • Wealth, power, the American Dream, and the kingdom of God.

Daunting? Of course. Necessary? I think so. Creating space for discussions such as these is tricky, and we need to do so responsibly and with integrity. So as you plan your teaching calendars, make sure to take time to:

  • Talk with your pastor and include him or her in these discussions.
  • Include volunteer leaders in as much of the planning as possible.
  • Work hard to have people on your team that hold different viewpoints, and model what it means to disagree well.
  • Educate yourself. Read. Listen. Watch. Discuss. Listen some more.
  • Read theology that resonates with you easily. Read theology that pushes you. Read.
  • Choose to bring light to the dark spaces those in your group are experiencing. And realize that to do that, you first must know, or ask, where those dark spaces are.
  • Be a curator of stories and create ways to share them. Stories your youth aren’t exposed to on a daily basis in the halls of their school or the faces around their dinner tables.
  • Make sure your youth know (and that you know!) that God’s kingdom doesn’t have borders or status requirements, or race or aptitude tests, or personality requirements.

We know all too well that teenagers (and adults) are leaving the Way of Jesus due to (often) unexplored tensions concerning the honest questions they’ve been led to believe are off limits to talk about in church. Again, the teens in your group are talking about these things with their peers, Google, and Reddit. May we do the hard work of educating and equipping ourselves on the hard topics so that we can help create helpful discussions that equip our kids, all while helping them to understand that God isn’t afraid of these topics or questions. Because he isn’t. May we use our summer to be bold, to be brave, and to be not afraid.