Exodus is at Jeanne Mayo’s National Youth Leader Conference this week in Atlanta, GA. Please pray for us as we offer resources and help to those who stop by.
As we seek to equip youth pastors, take a look at this great article written by Jeffrey Wallace, a youth pastor himself. He offers up five great strategies in reaching gay-identified teenagers in your youth groups! The full article can be found here.
In early March I had one of the most intense ministry experiences of my life. The leaders of the Simply Youth Ministry Conference (SYMC), the same people who put this magazine together, asked me to help mediate a panel discussion at the conference, called “Ministering to Homosexual and ‘Bi-Curious’ Teenagers.” More than 100 youth workers crowded into the room, and I could feel the tension when I walked through the door.
The idea was to create a mediated space for healthy conversation, but the gathering quickly turned into an intense debate in a room filled with angry youth leaders. At the end, as people filed out, I overheard the sorts of remarks that leave a big stink on your soul: “This was a big waste of time” and “We accomplished NOTHING!” and “This panel avoided the real questions and issues!” I left the panel more discouraged than encouraged.
Looking back on this experience I realize it was simply a metaphor, or a prime example, for a broader truth: The youth ministry world is completely divided on a crucial and sensitive issue. Namely, we don’t agree on how to effectively minister to gays and lesbians. We don’t agree on the “right” biblical position on homosexuality. We don’t agree on the “severity” of the sin of homosexuality, or even if it is a sin. What we have is a big elephant in the room.
The tension that erupted into full-blown conflict at SYMC is just a symptom of a larger dilemma facing youth workers: We are caught between biblical imperatives about morality and biblical imperatives about compassion and acceptance. Meanwhile, teenagers all across America (both churched and unchurched) are inundated with visual messages about sex and sexuality.
The wider culture proclaims: “Any sexual lifestyle is okay” and “Be who you are” and “You were born this way.” But the church says: “Homosexuality is a sin” and “Live a life of purity” and “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The wider culture embraces and accepts, while the church makes jokes and callous remarks. And we wonder why our Christian teenagers are confused, and why the unchurched teenagers we’re trying to reach aren’t interested in what we have to offer.
The Church as a Hostile Refuge
Most social researchers say the percentage of gay and lesbian teenagers in the U.S. ranges from 4 to 10 percent. I’ve been a youth pastor for 15 years, and I can guarantee that you have teenagers in your group who are currently struggling with this issue in some way.
• Some have been molested, raped, or abused and they’re confused about their sexuality.
• Others have seen or heard things that have distorted their self-image and the way they see others of the same sex.
• Others have been raised to identify primarily with opposite-gender traits—the boy who prefers music and arts over sports and video games or the girl who’s more interested in sports and sneakers than make-up and high heels. Because their peers sometimes label them as “gay” because of these preferences, they can be shamed into experimenting with same-sex activities.
Unfortunately for these teenagers, their struggles and hurts must remain secret. Their church is supposed to be a place of refuge, but for many it has morphed into a place of isolation. A typical response to those who are struggling with homosexual thoughts or temptations is rooted in 1 Corinthians 6: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived; neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulteress nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkard nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (verses 9-10, italics are mine).
Our response so often stops with verse 10, lopping off the verse 11 postscript that is crucial for our ministry mindset: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
The Bible is very clear on so many things—in particular, it provides hope for every sinner. God’s grace can transform any situation, circumstance, or lifestyle. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 6 is that we ALL run the risk of being excluded from the kingdom of God by our sin, and each of us has an equal need for God’s grace. But gays and lesbians are often treated like modern-day lepers. They feel alienated, isolated, unloved, misunderstood, and unwelcomed in most youth groups. So they gravitate to others in the gay and lesbian community because it’s the only place where they feel loved and accepted.
Read the remainder of the article here.