After the Vote: Caring for our Teens

Many of you have contacted me and asked what Youth Pastors might

do in response to the decisions made at the 2019 General Conference

of the United Methodist Church. Youth Ministry is complex and we

must work diligently to find better ways to help all teens find the love

and peace of God. The rising suicide rate among our teens, the

increasing need for psychiatric help, and the general feeling of being

overwhelmed by life that our teens share openly about, are all

reminders of how desperately they need the love of God and

acceptance the church offers to all of them!

Thank you for accepting the challenge of holding sacred space with our

teens! Below are a few of my thoughts about how we move forward.

• Hold Sacred Space and do not let your Youth Ministry become a

battle ground.

o Set rules for how we will talk to one another.

o Always use a talking stick. This allows control and as a teen is

coming forward to get the stick, it gives a brief moment for

them to think through what they are about to say. Most

hurtful things are not intentional, they are slips of the

tongue and attempts at being funny or getting attention.

o Name that teen years are difficult and everyone has

struggles, everyone wants to fit in and be liked. Declare your

youth ministry “Sacred space,” and when someone violates

it, pull them aside quietly and remind them. We do not need

to embarrass anyone, but we do need to invite them to treat

the others as Christ treats them.

o Do not make any topic, THE topic of your youth ministry.

Use scripture as your base and I suggest following the

lectionary so that lots of scriptures are used and lots of

topics get covered as they emerge through the stories of

God. If you use scripture all of the “topics” we usually want

to cover (relationships, heart brakes, lying, cheating, sexual

immorality, family stress) will all be covered through the

year. And who knows? Maybe something will emerge which

you did not think of, but that God needed to have spoken.

• Be honest, be open and tell the truth, but no need to vomit.

Youth are on the look for hypocrites and fakes! This is simply their

stage in life and more than ever, they need to know that what you

are saying is your authentic truth. Speak honestly, be prepared to

speak your truth (really think it through and even practice if you

need) but do not vomit on them. Your personal anger, too many

details, etc. risks placing the attention on you and your life rather

than holding sacred space where we are all looking to God.

• Have an anonymous box for prayers and where they can ask for

help. Many teens, who need God the most, will be afraid of

rejection or feel too vulnerable to say it aloud. Make sure there is

a way for them to reach out quietly and anonymously. And I am

sure you don’t need reminded to check that box every day and

respond to any needs immediately.

• Empower them to action, but remember, not one size will fit all.

Teens need to know that they have a right to speak out in the

church and be heard. But assuming that all teens are unified on

topics is naïve. I have heard people saying that, “Sexuality is not

an issue for teens.” Not true! Teens will have differing opinions,

just as adults do and they must all be heard and respected. Let’s

create sacred space where we can be who we are without shame.

Let us read scripture together, pray together, share whatever is

on our minds and then move into action. One teen who feels

powerfully about the LBTQIA issue can make pins of support to

hand out at school, and another teen who loves children can

receive training to teach the, while another can simply hang out

with friends and decompress. Let’s create less programs and

activities and more Sacred Space so that whatever they need and

feel called to do happens organically and with God’s help.

• Provide “Listening Spaces” where trusted adults are available to

meet one-on-one with a teen who needs to talk. These should

not be in closed rooms, but in the open. A blanket or table and

chairs off to one corner, with a simple cross and lit candle will give

teens a place to chat and share feelings. All teens understand that

others have struggles. Bring it out into the open and demonstrate

that their feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.

• Bless them every time! You might be the only person who sees

the value in a teen in your program. Let them know that you see

their value and God loves them and that they are a blessing to

others! Tell them! Look them in the eyes as they leave and tell

them! This is the good news: that you matter and that you have a

God who loves and blesses you so that you will do the same, and

bless others!

Thank you for being the ones called to hold sacred space with teens. I

pray that God will bless you as you bless our youth!

For more information about Leanne’s work and A Time for Children

please visit her website at: www.Leanne-hadley.com.

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