Youth Ministry. How do we define this? So many churches have youth ministry programs that they provide to members and their neighboring communities. These ministries involves bible reading, bible games, sleep-ins, trips, bean bags, church sports teams, arts & crafts, ring ceremonies for sexual abstinence and maintaining quiet with concerns for friends and classmates who sit in youth ministry along side them who are unable to impress who they are. They enjoy the times that they are with friends but youth ministry for them is a struggle.
As a black female preacher in my early years, who worked with young people, first serving as a youth choir director, then working as a youth director, my concern was that these young people, that God allowed me to inspire, that they would grow up to be anything they wanted to be in life and to be successful, living full lives themselves, that their children would grow to do the same. But I never had to consider or was aware that I should consider that their sexual orientation mattered in order to live productive lives. In the late seventies and early eighties, at least in the black church, that was never a thought. Sure there were members in our churches who we talked about being gay and keeping things hush, hush. We thought it was not important, this was an adult thing and adults knew how to handled any conversation about sex or sexual orientation. But now this is not an adult conversation. It is not a hush hush moment.
I work with young people today. Today is not like the seventies or eighties. And because gay voices are no longer hushed, because these generation of children have friends who have same sex parents, have teachers, principles that march proudly in their communities during pride month, who have teammates that stand tall and play in who they are, I wonder in youth ministry programs are we providing a space and safety for our children who identify as LGBTQ, do they feel safe enough to voice who they are without being rebuked or us going to get the holy oil to sprinkle their sins away? When in youth ministry we talk about dating and love, how do we speak on those subjects? What happens when a young boy or girl raises their hands at a sleep-in and ask the question, will God still love me if I’m gay, if I’m queer? The answer can’t be to say hush. Not this time.
Our churches look like the communities in which we live….or they should be. Working with young people today I can tell you that they are looking at the members in the churches they attend which look nothing like their communities. And they are beginning to ask the questions. Can I bring my friend to church? Can I ask my favorite teacher to my choir’s concert? Will the youth ministry support me when I march proudly in my local pride parade?
Love and acceptance has to be the overwhelming message in youth ministry today. To minister to a person is to minister to the entire person. I do know that there are some young people that are struggling with their sexuality and on Sunday mornings, in a worship service, can be one of the hardest things they endure.
Someone is probably saying right now that well if we teach Bible our children won’t be like this or like that. Let me just say this. I remember a relative who at the age of five we knew he was different. There was nothing evil about him, there was no demon embodying him. He was the most perfect five year old. He loved life and enjoyed helping him mom with his baby brother. He loved church and God. As he grew, the church and community began to distance themselves from him. He died of an AIDS related illness. His funeral was held in a church. But between the time of 5 and upon the time of his death which I believe he passed away in his late twenties, the church never served him any kind of love or care. Listen to me closely, his love for God never wavered. Nor did God’s love for him. God loves our loves our ALL CHILDREN! So should we.