Creating a Racially-Conscious Youth Group
First, let me state that I am very honored to be part of the Youth Specialties family, and I’m excited to go on this journey with each of you.
Second, a disclaimer: I don’t speak for every inner-city youth leader, and I’m not an authority on matters of race. What I’ve learned, though, is that when seeking the heart of God – especially when it comes to discussing race – one must always be open with grace and gentleness.
I am a black man that lives in the United States, so the idea of race never really escapes me (especially during times like these). But as a person who pours into the hearts of young people, I have a responsibility to always make sure that I respond to the things I see happening, in my community as well as across the nation, are always in direct connection to the Gospel. Two of the more popular notions that we teach our youth are “God doesn’t see color” and “he loves us equally,” and we point to verses like Galatians 3:28, where Paul tells us we are all one in Christ Jesus. While we are all one, and all loved equally, this picture does not present the full scope. God perfectly designed us as individuals with special eccentricities and unique characteristics that result in who He wants us to be.
1. Acknowledge that race exists.
I believe the first step to creating a racially conscious group of young people is acknowledging that race exists. I have white friends who believe if they talk about race, they are being racist, and that’s not a reflection of who they are. God honors Spirit-led discussions about our differences, and how we can use our individuality to glorify God. I know some of you reading this blog have young people that don’t interact with different cultures, mostly because there aren’t any in your area (and that’s okay!). God is calling you to reach out to people that are different than you and to join in partnership with them. Partnership is different than mission. A partnership is a give and take relationship, where both sides feel blessed by the other. A mission is where you are sent by God with the purpose of using your gifts to bless others. There has to be an attitude and a mindset adjustment to understand that we are all equal in the eyes of Christ.
2. Acknowledge that racial injustices fueled by racism exist.
I believe the second step – if we are going to create a racially-conscious youth group – is to acknowledge that racial injustices fueled by racism exist. Hate and intolerance are the results of our fallen nature. They serve as distractions from doing the work of God. Without being too political, I’d say that we are living in a time where we can’t even read our local newspapers or turn on the news without hearing about someone making inappropriate comments or there being a racial injustice happening to one of our sisters or brothers. Due to it being so rampant, we’ve almost become desensitized to it. How many time have we been guilty of turning a blind eye to these situations, simply because it doesn’t affect us? If we’re not careful, we can easily develop the attitude of “it’s not me or someone I love, so it doesn’t concern me.” If we are believers who are training up and discipling young people to be like Christ, then anything that breaks the heart of God should also break our hearts. Our responsibility as believers and youth leaders is to create a culture where we are vigilant to the struggles of others and receive their struggles as our own.
[bctt tweet=”Anything that breaks the heart of God should also break our hearts.” username=”ys_scoop”]
One thing I have learned is that when the issue of race comes up, immediately (as a result of our fallen nature) we start thinking of stereotypes. I remember being a young person in Sunday school and my teacher having us make snowflakes (I’m sure you remember this, too). The point was to show that while most snowflakes look alike, no two snowflakes are exactly the same. This is just as true for believers in the kingdom of God. We absolutely must avoid stereotypes! However, that starts internally. Once we begin to see the people of God as individuals, we can begin to teach our young people to love relentlessly while identifying individuality without prejudice or judgment.
3. Operate outside your comfort zone.
Finally, I believe that if we are going to be intentional about creating a racially-conscious youth, we must be willing to operate outside of our comfort zones. This is inarguably the most difficult thing to do, because it requires a level of vulnerability that may lead to hurt and rejection. I have learned in my pursuit of service to the people of God and discipling the younger generation that we can only do so much reading and studying. Reading and studying can be done in the privacy and comfort of our homes. In most cases, it doesn’t require us to do much (if anything). This creates distance and isolation. If you want to be more intentional about partnering with people that are different than you, you can’t do it from a distance! You have to roll up your sleeves and be willing to get your hands dirty. I have never heard of a vineyard worker who gets in the dirt and leaves clean everyday! A practical start to operating outside of your comfort zone is to designate a Sunday (every quarter) where you and the youth of your congregation visit a church of a different ethnic background than your home congregation. Then, ask your young people what they thought about the service and what they would like to emulate at your church.
Creating a culture of racially-conscious young people (especially when we as youth leaders need to develop a Kingdom mindset ourselves) isn’t easy work. There isn’t going to be a light switch that goes off and you suddenly get it! That’s why it’s important to get the conversation started (trust me – there are people willing to hear and interact). It’s going to require intentionality, acknowledgment that racism exists and a willingness to get dirty. I choose to believe that where there are willing hands, God can do His best work!
J.C. Carmichael is a youth leader at New Prospect Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been in youth ministry in some form for the past 10 years. He has a passion to see the young people realize their purpose to be world-changers. J.C. has had the opportunity to minister to young people all over the country and has also been instrumental in creating youth ministry models for youth leader to adopt in their own church. He believes that everything that is done is for the glory of God. You can connect with J.C. on Twitter @JCCARM.
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.