What Role Does Race Play in Youth Ministry?

Jacob Eckeberger
June 15th, 2014

1Q interviews are when we ask multiple youth pastors the same question and share their responses. In this 1Q interview we explore the role of race in youth ministry with 3 different youth pastors.

Original photo by writRHET

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legenday quote about Sunday morning being the most segregated time in America opened the eyes of the Church to an unfortunate racial legacy that still rings true and has a significant impact on our students today. I think that Youth Specialties and all other organizations like YS that seek to provide a guiding voice for youth workers can do a better job of talking about the significance of racial issues with our students. Of course, topics like this come with perspectives that are just as diverse as we are. So in an effort to get a snapshot of how different youth workers are approaching diversity within their ministry, I reached out to 3 veterans of youth ministry in this week's 1Q interview and asked the question: “What role does race play in youth ministry?” 

Coby Cagle Youth Pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, WA and co-founder of The College Consensus.

We need to step back from this question and talk about how one's race, ethnicity, and culture impacts how he or she reads and interprets scripture before we can address this question fully. But that discussion goes beyond the parameters of this assignment. To pastor well, we must listen well and stand in solidarity with the people God puts in our path. While there is certainly pain that my kids experience that transcends race (like the death of a loved one and breaking up with a girlfriend) much of the pain that my kids of color experience is a direct result of racially charged incidents that they experience personally and beyond. At least once a month one of my kids of color speaks about racist experiences that they personally encounter. Furthermore, when racially charged tragedies occur, like the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin, my students feel them deeply. Race is a part of our lives and thus it is a part of our conversations about how to follow Jesus.

Fred Oduyoye Director of Networks at YS and a long time veteran of urban youth ministry.

Race will continue to play a part no matter the strata, structure, or environment whereby there is an involvement of people. There will always be a tension between memory and identity. In youth ministry, it plays out in at least three areas: 1) the social context, 2) the ministry context, and 3) the leadership’s capacity to embrace the experiences relative to the cultures within their surrounding community. The ability to connect people and resources is based on the historical experiences of the youth leader. In order to transcend race matters for the liberal advancement of students, youth leaders will have to adopt similar cross-cultural spaces that their students frequent.

Irene Cho manager of the Urban Youth Ministry Certificate Program at the Fuller Youth Institute and youth ministry veteran.

I consider this an exciting time in history to be a person of color ​serving in youth ministry. As the US continues to see an increase in ethnic diversity, it is encouraging to be a voice that's invited to speak into important issues that students are discussing in their churches, schools, among their peers, and with their families. The more perspectives we invite to the discussion, the more holistic we are as the Body of Christ when sharing God's story with the world. God's story is fuller when together we study how almost every Bible hero had some kind of immigrant experience. It is fuller when we collectively wrestle with the Good Samaritan story about who our neighbor is, or Peter's vision from God showing that all people are invited to feast at the table. It is a marvelous time to celebrate with teenagers the full diversity of God's Kingdom.

Jacob Eckeberger

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.