Whispering and pointing occurs almost every week. To already insecure middle-schoolers this is hard to handle. Are they talking about me? Are they talking about homework? Are they interested in the newest video game? Why is the whispering occurring? And why is it not stopped—Rudeness.
Will my friend be there this week? Will I be in here all alone? Will anyone else welcome me? Will they even care I am here? As a girl enters others stand in a closed circle. As she approaches, they don't give room for her to join in—Exclusivity.
Wait?! Didn't that just happen at school today? I thought church was supposed to be different?
Then add on the pressure of a disability. It gets even trickier much faster. What if someone has a mental illness swaying their perception of the events? What if they are over weight? What if they struggle with suicidal thoughts? What if they struggle with social interaction?
People struggle with so many unknown things. How can we change the above scenarios to develop inclusion?
For Scenario 1:
Identify and stop the whispering. Educate the kids that it is unkind to whisper in the group lesson unless its a sincere question. Then at that time raise their hand.
For Scenario 2:
Teach your kids the importance of an open circle in youth group. There is time for more intimate friendships at different occasions. Teach the the only thing acceptable is to be friendly to all. Especially those who are different than them.
It takes education. People left to themselves will gravitate to their own kind. But this is not the way of Jesus. And you can tell the temperature of your youth group very quickly at how they behave toward one another. Jesus says that people will know Him by how they love. If evidence of His love is not present then you probably have a worldly youth group. If behaviors are corrected toward love and repentance thrives you probably have a Christ-shaped youth group.
How do you get to the place of being welcoming to all youth? I think by biblical education, focus and redirection on Christ. More youth these days have the broadway play Hamilton memorized than Scripture. They need help knowing how to behave. How to look to Christ. How to cherish Him above all. And the parents are the ones who are carrying the main responsibility of this.
If you observe behaviors that are not in love then they should be deemed unacceptable otherwise we are deeming it acceptable (by our silence). We must be quick to point them to the characteristics of love. So what does love look like?
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." ~1 Corinthians 13:4-8
How do we walk this out? In repentance, grace, and faith.
What other thoughts do you have for inclusion in youth groups? How can we educate teens to love their neighbors?
Angela Parsley is a certified biblical counselor who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Tony, and their three children. They are members of Concord Baptist Church. Angela writes and reviews books at her blog, Refresh My Soul. You can follow her on Twitter.
Join Sarah Broady from Hope in Autism was on a recent Disability Ministry Video Roundtable, discussing How to Be a Special Needs Advocate in Children's and Youth Ministries. Learn what parents need from ministry leaders and share ideas for questions to ask families. The discussion will include strategies for building relationships with parents and handling conflict when it occurs.