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
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
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.