The journey to inclusion is the road less traveled. It’s a road I didn’t even see until I had my own wrestling match with God. I’d been traveling a safe youth ministry road. This safe road led me to teens who were like me, where I challenged students and didn’t allow them to challenge me. This was a road with no room for detours or curves.
When I realized the road of exclusion I was on was a dead end, it broke me. All along I thought God led me to this safe road and that on it I was experiencing successful youth ministry. The heart of God was leading me to a different road, the road of inclusion. See, the safe road I’d been traveling meant dodging troubled students, neglecting hurting students, and being careful about attracting students to youth ministry that made parents feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Exclusion may be safe but it leads to a dead end. The road of inclusion starts deep within the heart of youth workers who want to be shaped by Jesus and demonstrate love that stands with teens, no matter who they are, who they love, or what they’re going through.
Here are 4 key things I’ve witnessed in people who live with a passion to lead inclusive youth ministry.
1. They experience God’s love through teens who challenge their personal beliefs orpreference.
Inclusion and acceptance cannot exist where the desire to be right is stronger than the desire to love as God loves.
2. They don’t just tolerate certain youth. They celebrate and support all youth.
Tolerating diversity is not the same thing as celebrating the individuals that make us diverse. When we see people as God sees them, there is much to celebrate.
3. The Bible is not used to hold kids hostage during their teenage years.
The Bible serves as witness of God’s active love for all people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Interpretation too easily becomes a way of holding people hostage where they should be held by the grace and love of God. Biblical interpretation led a man to verbally attack me at church because of his belief that scripture declares women should not have short hair. Inclusive ministry cherishes the Word because it is a love story, not because it supports their views.
4. They love generously, not sparingly.
Jesus loved generously and gave himself to the diseased, widowed, abandoned, poor, and lost. We simply do not see Jesus loving sparingly because he was more righteous than everyone on earth. Inclusive youth ministry workers loves generously, sparing the love of Jesus for nothing.
Inclusion exists where hearts are shaped by Jesus. Jesus who prayed, “God, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the center of his great love I pray youth who feel pushed out, abandoned, alone, or excluded on this earth, would begin to experience heaven and find that they are loved and belong.
Jesus healed and delivered many. But the real miracle Jesus gave was himself. Before Jesus did a miracle he first willingly and lovingly stood with those no one else would stand with.
He stood with the leper, and then he was healed. (Matthew 8)
He stood with the women at the well, and then she believed. (John 4)
He stood with Lazarus in the stench of his death, and then he brought him back to life. (John 11)
Who is Jesus asking you to stand with today? Where will your journey to inclusion begin?