WHAT’S AND HOW’S FOR YOUTH MINISTRY WITH LGBTQ STUDENTS
If you looked at the title of this post and decided to read further, I’m willing to guess that you fall into one of three categories. First, you might be someone working with LGBTQ students and are looking for new tactics. Second, you may be a person who disagrees with working with LGBTQ students, but feels curious about the topic. Or third, you are interested in gaining new perspectives.
I wanted to write this for all of you, but more specifically, for those of you who struggle with the thought of working with some of our most vulnerable youth. I’m not saying that you need to become LGBTQ affirming by the end of this blog, but my hope and prayer is that you will gain some new perspectives that will allow you to share the love of God with more and more students.
Generosity & Irish Monks
Biblical generosity has become extremely important for my ministry model. Worshipping a generous God allows us to be generous with those God has placed in our community. Generosity can be shown through gifts, and resources. More importantly, generosity can be shown through things like choosing to listen instead of speaking our opinions.
Often, generosity is best described as putting our needs/desires/opinions aside for the needs/desires/opinions of others. Saint Kevin, an Irish monk with a sadly non-monk sounding name, valued generosity when he built his monasteries. The monks living in the monastery were told to partake in spiritual practices like silence, and fasting, but if a guest arrived at the monastery, monks were told that hospitality trumped spiritual disciplines; caring for a guest through a hot meal was more important than continuing their fast.
Putting hospitality of strangers above spiritual practices is generous. Caring for students who we disagree with is generosity. Deciding to choose hospitality over our personal theological stances is choosing generosity with students who need it most.
All Christians believe that humans are made in the image of God. After all, God says it pretty clearly. What many people disagree on is what that means for people who live differently than we do. I think the biggest confusion is that imago dei means that everything is permissible.
I’m not saying that all sin is permissible, I’m saying that all humans are valuable, and value should immediately transfer to integrity and respect. I like what Gemma Dunning says, “…We talk a lot about the importance of having integrity and being open to the concept of being fully known to those who disciple us… And yet, often when our young people disclose who they are in all their LGBTQ-ness, despite modelling true integrity in that moment, we, the church, fail to thank them for that integrity and honesty.”
Put simply, we need to be reminded that despite living in a sinful world, all humans have a glimpse of God’s Image within them. This Godly imprint on our lives means that all human life is sacred, and all humans deserve to feel safe.
Here’s how you can do that for your LGBTQ students:
- Use inclusive language that doesn’t alienate students.
- Connect students with resources from affirming Christians despite your personal opinions (See the example of Tony Campolo vs Peggy Campolo)
- Remind them that they have value in God’s eyes. Then show them that they have value in your eyes too.
Before each Small Group discussion in our Youth Group, we go over the ground rules. One that rings true in this conversation is: “Listen when others speak. They may have a perspective that you need to hear.” Diversity is healthy. Actually, there’s a fascinating chapter of the Bible that challenges our assumptions on the voices God uses. In Mark 5, marginalized characters proclaim the message of God. Anna Carter Florence, puts it this way:
“It’s a funny thing: the church gives preachers the power to speak, but in Scripture, it’s different. In Scripture, the one who has the power to speak isn’t always the leader of the synagogue. It’s the marginalized person, the crazy person, the teenager you’ve given up for dead. And while you would certainly offer hospitality to a demoniac by inviting him to worship, this text suggests you invite him to the pulpit, too.”
Let me preface this by saying that I am not comparing LGBTQ students to demoniacs and crazy people (although some may). What I am saying is that God values the voices of those the world marginalizes and I think our LGBTQ students fit into that category, and I think God wants to hear their voices.
What are we more concerned about? That LGBTQ students will affect God’s plans, or that their voice will actually affect ours?
“Proximity changes our perspective. You can’t love who you aren’t willing to be near or engage with.” -Trillia Newbell
Here’s how you can do that for your LGBTQ students:
Empower students from all backgrounds and lifestyles to share their voice.
As leaders, we should listen to hear instead of listen to respond.
Choose long-term discipleship over short-term correction.
Lastly, I want to model something in humility: I don’t have everything figured out.
It is a beautiful thing to admit that we don’t have everything figured out. Admit that to your students as you learn to love more deeply, as God first loved you.
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.