4 Lies We Believe About Belonging In Youth Ministry

Tim Balow
November 16th, 2020

It is no secret that our current social and political situations are, well, let’s say a little contentious. The loudest and most prominent voices are the ones from the political polarities and most moderates are tried for treason by their own parties. Our political culture has ingrained in us a, “if you are not 110% for us then you are our enemy” mentality.

Homogeny has become a prerequisite for affiliation and a marker of true faithfulness. To offer, what once was considered faithful descent, has been made equivalent to treason. And an honest inquiry of your own affiliations are answered with a fearful and indignant “et tu, Brute?”

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

The other day I was observing an online Facebook exchange where one person was talking about a person of Muslim faith whom she regularly saw and conversed with.  The person posting said they were sad for her and wanted to reach out to console her and let her know that she was loved and should not feel badly for being a Muslim.

By the way, the person posting is a conservative Christian.

Almost immediately What was an overtly Christian action (reaching out to someone who is feeling alienated, isolated and in obvious pain) was met by other Christians with disgust, accusation, and vile ridicule.

Point. Any step out of rank and file is met with fear and anger.

In recent months, I have heard from a number of people in my consulting work, in my church, and in my personal acquaintances who are pondering the question,

“If I do not line up in totality with the religious institution or faith leadership I am involved with do I no longer belong with said institution or leadership?”

Or more plainly,

“Can I belong in a community that has a diversity of thoughts and opinions on subjects that matter deeply to me?”

The roots of these questions are based on a series of lies that we have been cajoled into believing about what it means to have community, dialogue, and ultimately belong. I believe, if we can reexamine our assumptions of belonging and broaden our definition of community, we can begin to leave the questions of exclusion and move into larger ecclesial communities of openness, diversity, and embrace.

The Lie of Homogenous Community

There is a belief that has permeated our collective psyche that in order to belong to a group you must either adopt to or subvert to change all of the group’s ideas, methodologies and beliefs.

While there are certainly “ties that bind” all groups, the number of these ties are far less than most people believe.

The Lie of Tension is Destructive

Many people will leave a community that has a richness of thought and diverse opinion simply because of a disdain for the tension that it sometimes creates. For many, “tension” is a negative word whose incarnation should be avoided at all costs.

In Tom Rath’s book Strengths Based Leadership, he notes that conflict or tension is a crucial component for teams to reach their full potential. Patrick Lencioni comes to much of the same conclusion in The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni takes it a step further and says when an individual avoids tension at all costs, tension that arises from diversity of thought and opinion, then there is good chance that person is not really committed to the team (or community).

Tension is not destructive, it is the fertile seedbed of creativity and growth.

The Lie that Minorities are Unwelcome

I want to broaden the scope of what I mean by minority here. This can be anything from a demographic minority to a person with a minority belief or opinion. Unfortunately, this is a lie that often times the institution can knowingly or inadvertently perpetuate.

If a community is functioning under the guise that tension and diversity make us whole and homogenous belonging makes us rigid and feeble, then minorities are not only welcome but are seen as a valuable and integral part of that community. 

The voice of the minority, whether it is demographic, minority belief or opinion, speaks balance to the majority thought (if there even is a majority thought, I believe this is assumed more than it is an actuality).  It also gives those not in the minority an incredibly needed and meaningful vantage point that they otherwise could not see or appreciate.

The Lie that Majorities Have Rule

Like I said earlier, I am not sure really how many times “majority opinion or thought” actually coalesces around an opinion. What is important to remember for any majority of opinion, demographic, or thought is that they will be the majority only until they are not.

What I mean by this is that majority thought or opinion is not eternal, it is temporal. The only guarantee is that it has not always been the majority belief and it will not remain the majority belief.

A healthy community will not find themselves threatened by refusing to believe the above lies. Rather, they will find peace and greater understanding and power by embracing and listening to minority voices who bring forth new perspectives and thoughts and challenge what we thought we knew and understood.

Tim Balow

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.