Recently, three students met with me (and another leader) to share, for the first time, that they’d made a decision to embrace their transgender identity.
Let that sink in—instead of running from the church at a moment like this, all three felt safe enough to open up about their journey and seek out a closer relationship with Jesus, wherever that might lead them. They explained that they wanted to share this news with friends in their small group, and that meant the other leader and I needed wisdom… fast.
• Did their parents know about this emerging reality in their kids’ lives? If not, when should they be told, and by whom?
• Should these kids wait for awhile to let things settle down a little before they made this more public?
• What about the other leaders in our ministry—when and how should they be told?
• Should we suggest that these teenagers meet with a trained counselor before they take the next step?
Essentially, we were confronted with what to do in the aftermath of a confession. So I offered my best response:
“Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And thanks for seeing church as a community where you’d bring this up instead of hide it. So let’s hang out on that for a moment—you just exercised one aspect of your faith called ‘confession’—when we take the risk to say out loud something that is real, but hard to reveal, in our life. A lot of people stop there, but it sounds like you’re willing to go on a life journey with Jesus. When we confess our reality to Jesus, he’ll then help us take the next step into transformation by responding to our confession. We’d love to help you find his wisdom to guide you into every part of your life, including this. Are you up for that?”
Maybe you would’ve handled this situation differently. But I know one thing—confession and transformation work together.
- Confession: The word carries baggage, even though it’s freeing to tell others what we’ve been hiding. Confession has dark, scary overtones for many. In essence, it’s finally summoning the courage to say what we’ve been hiding. But that’s not the end of the story…
- Transformation: We’re all on a journey with Jesus that is leading us away from who we once were and into who we will be. It’s a slow process, marked by lightning-bolt moments. Sometimes, in our impatience, we turn spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and church attendance into surface benchmarks for transformation. Since we can’t gauge what’s happening inside of us, we settle for celebrating the religion we schedule.
So, what is our role in shepherding our students through these two things—confession and transformation—as mutually dependent priorities?
Using an analogy from my book Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side, confession is nurtured at the top of the “Relational Hourglass,” while transformation is the focus at the bottom of it.
The Path Into Confession:
- Ministry On-Ramp: Teenagers need some way to enter into your sphere of ministry—a weekly structured program or small group, for example.
- “Do you see me?”: Before kids open up, they want “proof” that you notice them. They feel it in the words, music, games and illustrations you use. If they feel seen, they’ll risk vulnerability.
- Social Connection: Youth eventually need an invitation into something social, such as food after youth group or an informal hangout time. It’s here where greater warmth is available.
- “Do you know me?”: Once kids feel like you know what they’re interested in or are working through, they’re more open to participating in conversations. You shouldn’t be the only one who does this with every teenager—other students and adult leaders need to own this.
- Personal Bonding: Sometimes it takes a crisis or confession for teenagers to feel like you’ve entered into their inner world. Other times it may simply require mutual transparency in a small group.
- “Do you get me?”: Eventually students will feel you know what’s happening in them—perhaps you see things in them even before they see them. This is where confession happens, where they move past “safe sharing” and general prayer requests to truly opening up.
- “Do I get God?”: As teenagers feel understood by us, they can open themselves to better understand God. It’s at this point that their questions seem to more intentionally deepen.
The Path Into Transformation
- Story Swapping: Every teenager walks in to your ministry with a story of who they think they are, based on life experiences or personal feelings. When a your ministry is anchored to the story of Jesus, we offer them a new (and epic) story to live in.
- “Do I know who I really am?”: Every person has a true identity that only God can reveal. The more teenagers hear how God is working in others, and the more they discover the stories of those who followed him in the Bible, the more they can sense him at work in them.
- Multiple Moments: Of course, our faith journey is not just a one-time salvation decision, but involves many defining moments along the way. We fan this flame through our events and retreats to help propel them forward into spiritual depth.
- “Do I see others like God does?”: As kids step deeper into transformation, they discover that being a Christian doesn’t mean they automatically see their friends as God does. At this point they begin to realize the significant role they can play in others knowing God better.
- Ministry Ownership: You not only will eventually see some teenagers own their own faith, but likewise help others through the process they experienced.
With the three teenagers who met with us to share their emerging transgender feelings, we’re living out the confession-into-transformation journey in real-time. We want them to do more than simply stay in our ministry—we want them to know Jesus better in the midst of their unfolding story.
Any pathway we offer will be flawed, but young people need something to hold onto. More clearly, they need Someone to hold onto. By valuing both confession and transformation, we ultimately invite them to dance with Jesus.