We are all welcoming…but not affirming

We are Christians, of course we are nice to everyone! There are few members of our congregations who would say that they are not welcoming and nice to ALL people who want to come to “our” church. The kids in our youth groups would say the exact same thing because that’s how we raised them. That is…until someone who isn’t like us walks through our doors. That “someone” could be of another ethnicity, another race, another socioeconomic background, another sexual orientation, then we may be welcoming, but only to an extent. Let’s be honest. Anyone different than us is welcome to come to “our” church, and we will even allow them to become a member(after all, it could mean more money in the plate each week to help us pay the electricity bill), but when they start wanting to join committees or lead our children,  or join our Sunday school, that is where we draw the line. You see, it is time that we realize that just being nice sometimes isn’t enough. After all, Jesus went above and beyond just being nice. He had conversations, He sat down and ate with those who others dismissed. Even some of His inner circle of disciples could be seen as “less than.” So, let’s dig deep and really evaluate the difference between being welcoming and affirming. This podcast is an honest conversation on just that and what it means in our churches/youth groups. For more information on the Trevor Project 

Info about United Methodist Church’s advocacy for justice is here.

Moving Forward…Through Hurt

We have all been hurt one time or another by people (those we love or perfect strangers). Sometimes those that hurt us do it intentionally; other times, it is inadvertently. There are times people hurt us, and they never realize what they have said or done affected us at all. So what do you do? How do you handle hurt that comes from another person? While there are lots of options, ignore, confront, talk through it, move on, hurt them back, your decision has the biggest impact on yourself and your own mental health. As a United Methodist, I am navigating life post-general conference while trying my best to rise about the hurt, move on and find ways to focus on the things that matter most. This podcast addresses the pain that has been felt on all sides. What I have come to realize since general conference is NO ONE is going to “win” no matter the direction our denomination decides to take. Someone (many people) will be hurt. So, I am choosing to start asking God to direct my actions, my path, my decisions in ways that don’t cause pain for someone else. My prayers are not about denominational decisions, my prayers are about people. God, help me see people the way you do, love people the way you do, treat people the way you would. God, help me be more like you, help me make this the most important thing in my life today.

***Picture credit: http://www.freepik.com

A Way Forward While Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Navigating through the messy waters of where we are as a United Methodist Church is not easy for any of us. However, it is especially difficult for youth leaders. Young people today ask tough questions, mainly because they can investigate anything with their cell phones and Google. So when we try to answer off the cuff or if we are not open and honest about the knowledge we lack, they will tune us out. This generation is searching for truth and are bothered when there is inconsistency in what we preach and how we act or what they feel in their hearts. So, no matter the trial that you face in your church, your community, your area or in our great country…keeping Jesus the focus of our teaching should be at our core. This podcast is about youth leaders wrestling with this very issue, what is our main thing? What are we focused on? Where are we spending our time? All questions we need to ask ourselves as we begin to move forward.

***Picture from http://www.freepik.com

Moving Forward

Those of us in the United Methodist church have had a hard couple of weeks. In the last week of February delegates traveled from all over the world to meet in St. Louis for a special session of General Conference to decide the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. If you have paid any attention to the news/social media, you know by now that the decision was made to adopt the Traditionalist Plan. While it still has to go to the Judicial Council for review, it has left our church numb, confused, and angry (just to name a few emotions). It does’t matter where you opinion is on this matter, things got ugly, people have been hurt. There are a lot of untruths being thrown around and assumptions being made. So, where does this leave us? It’s difficult being a youth leader in this mess. Some of our teens don’t care and haven’t paid any attention, some of our teens are thinking, “You’re arguing about what?” and some of our teens are so overwhelmed with their own lives that even trying to breech this with them would put them over the edge. And then there are the LGBTQ+ teens that we are trying to reach…

This podcast is an open and honest conversation by veteran youth leaders who are struggling together to move forward. We all come from different perspectives and serve in different areas. What we know for sure is, we love Jesus, and we love young people. And sometimes, that is enough.

Here is the link for information about the special session of the General Conference

Here is the link to the post-General Conference gathering that was held in East Ohio.

Kavanaugh Hearing Sparks Critical Teaching Points for Teens

Decency~Respect~Dignity: Talking Points around the Supreme Juridical Confirmation Hearing

Introduction: This confirmation hearing has been just one more thing that separates our country.  In an effort to show our young people that even if we disagree on issues, we can find common ground somewhere and walk away from discussions agreeing to disagree, still respecting and speaking to one another.  This particular discussion is not political. No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself, the testimonies hit on topics that were relevant in 1982 and are still relevant for our teens today.  I implore you as parents, educators and spiritual leaders not to shy away from such topics as sex, under age alcohol consumption, and poor decisions.  Research shows that the teen brain is not fully developed and therefore, teens lack cognitive skills such as problem solving, memory, emotional expression, judgement and sexual behaviors.  It is our job as adults to help them work through cause and effect situations PRIOR to them having to make decisions.  So, it is important, no matter the subject, to present facts (this also means both sides of an argument) and allow teens to work through their own thought process to claim their own opinions, conclusions and convictions.  The more you force your beliefs on them, the more push back you will get.

Also keep in mind, no matter how well you know a teen, they may be hiding something, so precede with caution, assuming that there is someone in your youth group, or your teen’s friend group that has been a part of an unwanted advance or have made a mistake and is feeling shame.

Resources: Here is some information on sexual assault and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center is also a good resource for information or to report an incident.  Please share this information with your students. Stats shared in Podcast can be found here.

Audience: We recommend this discussion for high school students.  If you are a parent, you may wish to discuss the topics with your mature middle school children.  For our youth leaders, be sure parents are aware that you are discussing sensitive subject matter ahead of time.

Biblical Context: John 4:1-26“The Woman at the Well.”  Click here  or here for background information and commentary on these verses.

Matthew 7:12  “The Golden Rule”

Title: Decency, Respect and Dignity

Begin with the following questions:

Are you paying attention to what is going one right now in current events?  How do you get your information? Do you talk to parents at home about current events?

We are going to talk about three specific words today: DECENCY  RESPECT DIGNITY

Who would like to look up the definitions of these words?

Let’s think of some examples, it could be someone famous, or a situation with a friend or family where actions show decency, respect or dignity.  (This could be as simple as helping someone pick up books they’ve dropped in the hall.)

Where or what are the areas of your life, where you perceived that decency, respect, and dignity is lacking?

What are areas in the larger culture where you notice a lack of decency, respect and dignity?

Let’s take a look at John 4.  Have students read aloud, and if there are different versions of the Bible, have students read the verses more than once. Help them understand the context and culture of the time.

Why is she an outcast? (Her multiple marriages) Do you think the community treats her ex-husbands the same way? Why or why not?

So, why would Jesus interact with her?

Have you ever been made fun of for interacting with an “outcast”?  Do you put yourself in the shoes of that person?

Is there a situation where we should excuse lack of decency or respect?

What behaviors do you excuse?

What are ways that you respect yourself? Respect your friends?

What is the Golden Rule?

How can you show “love” to your neighbor?  What if they have wronged you?  What if they don’t agree with you?  (Be sure that you help them understand that our love for one another comes from God’s love for us, we love because He loves us.)

What is a scenario at school where you have seen OR could be the example of The Golden Rule?

In the story of The Woman at the Well, how did Jesus’ actions support The Golden Rule?  

How does Decency, Respect and Dignity play into The Golden Rule?

Is there a difference in the way boys interact with one another?  What about girls? (When the other gender is not around.)

The incident that is under investigation with the Confirmation Hearing for Judge Kavanaugh happened in the early 1980’s when he was 17 and Dr. Ford was 15.  For her, the assault she is claiming has affected her all of her life.  In his case, the claim could ruin his career.  What situations do you see teens in, or what decisions that teens make, could affect them the rest of their lives? Be sure they see one big difference in teens today compared to 1980’s being social media, and the fact that posts do not go away.

Lying is another big topic in this situation.  Some people say she is lying others think he isn’t telling the truth.  Have you ever been accused of not telling the truth?  What did that feel like?  How does decency, respect and dignity play into truthfulness?

Do you have a trusted adult, someone you could turn to if you get into a situation where you need help?

Do you have “safe words” with this person if you have to call them in the middle of a situation? (i.e. I have a headache, can you pick me up?)

End with some like: No matter how this Confirmation Hearing ends, it has brought up some important topics for us.  It is important for all of us to treat one another and ourselves with the decency, respect and dignity that we, as children of God, deserve.  And when/if someone defies you, tell someone.  Never forget, that actions speak louder than words, and our actions, for good or ill, can have lifelong impact.

 

It’s Brewing

Do you feel it?  Do you smell it?  You know the feeling you get, the chill that is in the air when a summer storm is brewing?  The smell of rain.  The wind turning over the leaves and the sky turning shades of green or yellow.  The ground will rumble, and you know it’s coming.  That is exactly how our country feels right now.  After reading Steve Argue’s blog “When their storms become ours: closing the distance between leaders and young people,” I just had to share and include my thoughts.

I love the storm image he uses because, as I stated at the beginning, I feel it, don’t you?  No matter where we stand politically on gun violence, these teens have an opinion, and I don’t think it is political, just ask them.

It’s vital that we do not stand back and watch the storm from a distance.  I would add, it is not just the youth leader/pastor, but the church that needs to engage teenagers in their storms of life.  Not only do we need to engage in discussions at youth group, but also pastors need to address these things in sermons.  It’s not pretty, but these kids are having the conversations, with their peers at the lunch table, or on social media.  They WILL go there WITH or WITHOUT us.  What we have to give them is a safe space to talk and offer a way for their faith to intertwine with these real-life answers to their tough questions.

Steve offers three suggestions for youth workers to enter into a more engaged relationship with their teens.

  • “Moving closer means letting your heart be broken.” Friends, we need to stop comparing ourselves with any other ministry in our community. For those who are paid workers, you worry about how “cool” your youth ministry is, so that your numbers can continue to grow, so you are not out of a job.  I get it. But guess what?  If you are not engaging this generation in meaningful conversations, it doesn’t matter how many pizzas you buy them or how much laser tag you play, they need you to truly get to know them, their fears, their passions, their hurts.  Take the time to allow your heart to be broken for them.
  • “Moving closer demands that you look beyond excellence toward empathy.” This goes back to pizza and laser tag parties.  I love the questions Argue asks here, “What do young people need from us?  How do we shift to ensure we are addressing the most essential needs of our young?  Where do our young people need support, protection, education or resources?  Who must we partner with and who must we confront?”  This is a shift in thinking.  Can you answer these?
  • “Moving closer requires you to stop collecting and start emptying.” This is a hard one.  Steve says in the blog that we need to empty our ministry of the systems and accolades we’ve worked so hard to earn.  We can no longer fit youth ministry into a neat little box.  It can’t happen in your time, on your schedule, with your programs.  We must go to them; we can’t expect them to come to us.  I love this quote, “Your job is to shrink the distances between young and old so that young people are seen, understood and supported.”  He says we are bridge builders, not wall builders. I would add, it is also our job to help teens understand the older generations in our congregations.  It is a two way street, we must be the bridge.  Be their advocate wherever you are, whatever meeting you attend, and whenever you are in conversation.

So, it is our move.  “Let’s build storm-chasing youth groups.”  If we do not give them the spaces and places where adults are engaging in their lives, teens will go elsewhere to find it.  May young peoples’ storms become ours.

The Youth Leader’s Network in East Ohio is working to help you do just that.  April 15th is a day for youth leaders to come hear a panel discussion around responding to tragedy.  Youth Annual Conference will have break-out sessions for teens and leaders on how to have hot topic discussions with people who disagree and still love one another.  In the fall, we are planning on another day of training on how to create a safe place to initiate and dive into these topics.