At the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention, like many trade shows and conventions, there is a large exhibit hall of vendors and ministries. It’s a randomized mix of music ministry, curriculum resources, camp and retreat centers, seminaries, mission work opportunities and more. As you walk through “the gauntlet” of vendors passing out free t-shirts, stickers and pens in exchange for your contact information, it gets a little overwhelming and impersonal.
I walked differently this year. Instead of trying to figure out who had the coolest looking free t-shirt and how I could get it for myself, I took the walk as an opportunity to seek out good conversation with people passionate about their causes – whether or not I agreed with their theology.
A conversation that sticks out in my mind was with Christopher from The Exodus Project. I had never heard of this ministry, but his booth had a big sign about dealing with Gay and Lesbian youth. A lot of convention-goers would see the sign, avert their eyes and move on to the next booth quickly. I had to admire the courage of the men who’d work that booth at a Christian conference. Christopher’s story in brief is that he used to struggle with homosexuality, he was lost and now he wants to help minister to those who struggle with the same issues.
But what stood out was the averted eyes – that made me wonder how often we as the body of Christ would like to treat tough issues like Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transexual identity by averting our eyes instead of addressing the subject head-on. Certainly it is an issue that stands to deeply divide our denomination. Certainly it is an issue that teens face in their classrooms or in struggling to find their own identity.
When I reflect on my own youth ministry, I can think of two instances in particular where I failed to have honest conversations youth that were struggling with homosexuality. I avoided tough conversations for two reasons – to avoid taking a controversial stand as a representative of the church and to avoid stepping into a conversation I felt ill equipped to have. In both cases, the youth involved slipped out of our ministry…one slipped away from Christianity altogether. I regret that I didn’t handle things better.
So how do we in youth ministry address homosexuality with our youth? I’m not looking to stir up a controversial debate here – I’m just thinking there are real youth ministers out there looking for answers to questions their youth have. And how do we speak in love and truth in a way that honors our denominational stand?
Resources that might be helpful if you’re facing this issue in your youth ministry:
The Exodus Project. I personally might not agree with all the theology here, but there may be resources that would help you in your particular situation.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline/Social Principles. Youth often ask me, “what does the United Methodist Church believe?” Here’s a link to the church’s official stance on social issues.
Would love to hear about other resources you’ve found helpful.
Whatever your thoughts are on the issue, don’t just avert your eyes. Have honest, grace-filled conversation.
By the way, I didn’t even leave the convention with an extra 20 pounds of swag-filled luggage.
Erin Jackson is National Director – Community & Care for the Center of Youth Ministry Excellence and the YouthWorker Movement. She is a veteran & certified youthworker as well, and loving her current role as a volunteer Senior High Bible Study teacher. She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis, three kids and a dog. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/