Dear Youth Pastor (Because You Have Gay Students In Your Youth Group) (Part 1)
Dear Youth Pastor,
I get you. I mean, I totally get you. I’ve spent nearly the last two decades neck-deep in the loud, stinking, glorious, electrifying trenches of student ministry along with you:
650 Sundays, 1300 youth meetings, 35 weekend retreats,
15 leadership conferences, 12 mission trips
1 million slices of pizza, give or take a thousand, 1 very ill-advised lock-in, Too many ruined carpets to count.
I’ve rented the vans, and driven the vans, and sprayed out the vans. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night by frantic phone calls and urgent texts. I’ve been to hundreds of band recitals, soccer games, and art shows, of varying levels of tolerability. I’ve counseled, and prayed with, and laughed with, and served alongside thousands of incredible young people. I’ve cleaned up after them, and yelled at them, been berated by them, and been amazed by them. I’ve baptized them, and taught them, and grieved with them, and celebrated with them. I’ve officiated at their weddings, and at their funerals. So trust me when I tell you that I understand; that I believe in you and in what you do. And it’s because I know your road so well, and how critically important you are in the lives of young people, that I need to tell you this:
You have gay kids in your youth group.
Of course, there’s a chance that you may not know that yet. They may still not feel close enough to you, or trust you enough to share that secret truth with you. They may be sitting quietly at the edges of the room; watching you, listening to you, looking for something in you, that lets them know they’re safe with you, in a way that they’ve never felt safe in the Church. This week, they may be visiting your youth group for the very first time, or for the very last time. They may be giving you one chance, or one last chance. As they sit across the room from you; their faith, their hope for this life, and their belief in the character and goodness of God may be hanging by the very thinnest of threads—and you get to be that thread. So pastor: I need you to get this right. I’m not talking about “right theology”. I’m not talking about your exegesis of Romans 1, or whether you think that being LGBT is a choice or not, or about having a handful of Scriptures prepared that you can quote to them, should they come to you and come out to you. Most of them have already heard those Scriptures a few hundred times before, and they realized whether or not this was a choice, far before they ever met you. You see, this staggering revelation about them may be new to you, but it has been their story long before they choose to share it with you. And they need something more than your theology; more than a doctrine, or some hate the sin, love the sinner platitude. In fact, they don’t need something from you at all. They need you. They need Jesus, formed in your flawed flesh, right in front of them. Regardless of your faith perspective, or your hermeneutic, or your breakdown of the “clobber passages” of the Bible, they need you to make Jesus tangible and touchable, in real-time—now.
They need to taste the Grace that points them to the Giver, and you can whet their appetites. I’m talking about seeing them, knowing them, and loving them in a way that makes them feel truly loved; not in a way that claims to be love, or promises to be love, but one that simply is love. You know what it’s like when you are really loved; when words aren’t really necessary. This isn’t about having the right words. They’re pretty tough to come by anyway. This is about making one of those scared, hurting, wounded children feel that they matter, that they are valuable, that they are worth your time; about making them feel that when they are in your presence, that they are in the very presence of Jesus. He had a way of leveling, or rather, elevating the entire world that he encountered; of treating both beggar and priest as equals. He broke bread with religious leaders, and caressed the hands of the leper. The people in his path were all marked by the same compassion, and kindness, and closeness, and consideration. Let these young people be marked by those same things. Show them the greatest commandments over and over again, realizing that this is your most pressing calling, with them as with any student in your care; not fixing, or converting, or changing, but loving. I know you do this very difficult work because you do love God and because you love students; because you understand the great urgency, the confusion, the daily struggle with self-worth, the incredible vulnerability of this time. The LGBT teens you will rub shoulders with this week are experiencing this in ways that you can’t imagine. They live with a far higher chance of wounding themselves or killing themselves than other teenagers. They are likely to be straddled with addictions they’ve grasped to cope with terrible pain. They are far more likely to be expelled from their Christian homes. They rarely feel able to let the truest parts of themselves be seen, and so they spend much of their time hiding in plain sight, especially in the Church. They live in a place always kept largely in shadow, but you can let the light in. When Jesus sees the crowds in Matthew 9, he reminds his disciples that the people are “harassed and helpless” like sheep without a shepherd, and he calls them to go and to be the protectors, the caregivers, the holders, the defenders, the lovers of his sheep. Do that, pastor. (Part 2 to follow next week)
—Submitted by Jason Cruz