teens

Last week I shared some perspectives from my story as a gay teen. This week, I would like to continue offering some perspectives that I hope help youth workers understand how most gay teens feel inside church settings.

As an “out” gay teen, I was never invited to youth group or church. Instead, my peers who were Christians ignored the fact I needed Jesus and focused more on telling me (and my gay friends) how we were going to hell. My perceptions, then, of all church people were formed by those interactions.

Since the only thing people saw was my sexual orientation, I lived as though this was the only definitive part about me. When I walked the school halls, I heard more names like “faggot,” “homo,” and “queer,” then I did my own name. And though at times I flaunted my sexuality in order to live up to the “fanfare” I received, I knew there was more to me than my sexual orientation. I just wish others knew this, too.

However, I felt, when I walked into a room – either in school or other places where I was known, I was met with eyes that only saw my sexuality.

When I became a Christian after high school, I started attending a church where some of the people knew about my struggle with same-sex attractions. Some people even attended high school with me and were surprised to see me at their church. Though I was greeted with smiles and casual hellos, I felt I could never escape the perception of “the gay guy is here, again.”

This uncomfortable feeling caused me to not share about my gay attractions and experiences when I gave my testimony or met new people. In fact, the church where I grew up in the faith, for the longest time, only knew of a few details about my past – homosexuality not being one of them. The main two reason why I did this was: I wanted people to not reject me, and I wanted people to see me, and not my sexuality.

While this may seem harmless on the outside, I battled my attractions, addictions, doubt, fear, anger, etc, inwardly and alone for too long of a time span.

When gay teens walk through the doors of your youth room, how will you see them? How will your students see them?

I love this quote by Darrin Patrick on what it means to truly see people: To be on mission is to have a heart full of compassion for people – to see them the way Jesus did … When we look – not glance, but look – we see the person, not the problem. When we look at the person, we see that he or she matters to God and ought to matter to us. When we look, we see a person to be loved, not a problem to be handled. Only when we look can we experience compassion (Church Planter, pg. 174-175).

How we see teens who are either openly gay or questioning their sexuality deeply matters. More than anything, as youth workers – as Christians, we need to see these students as made in God’s image and as ordinary teenagers.

I am often asked by youth workers if there are specific ministries that need to be started when ministering to gay teens. Beyond forming mentoring relationships with them, gay teens need to be treated just like other teenagers in your group. Talk about Christ. Invite them to a bible study. Visit them at school, or stop in at activities outside of school. Invite them over for a meal. If they are talented with music, ask them to join the worship band – if you have one. Or if they have a gift of leadership, ask them to serve as a student leader.

[Yes, teens willingly engaging in sin shouldn't be in leadership roles. However, a teen with same-sex attractions does not automatically mean they are engaging in sin, and thus discounted for leadership.]

One of the greatest things you can do for gay teens in your ministry, church, or community, is to see them beyond their sexuality. Another great thing is to help your students to see their gay peers in equal ways, too.

Thoughts?

With you and for you,

Shawn / @611pulse

P.S. Be sure to attend my workshop, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” at this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!

Got a chance to interview Jeff Foxworthy, host of GSNTV’s American Bible Challenge! You can read part 1 of the interview right here, here’s part 2! Be sure to tune in Thursday night for the season finale!

Q: Are your kids involved in a youth group?
Jeff:
Yeah, but they’re 18 and 20 now.  My youngest is a senior in high school.  Just won homecoming queen Friday night, but asked me on Saturday, “Hey dad, will you go with me on a mission trip to Kenya.”  She’s been 3 or 4 times.  That’s how they spend their spring breaks, working in a slum in Kenya.  She’s popular and she’s pretty, but she’s been to Africa, Russia and China.  She and her sister have partnered with Compassion International and have helped raise money to help more kids.  They’re living it out.

JG: Love it! Tell me more: how have you gotten your own kids to study the Bible?
Jeff:
Well, my kids went to a Christian school, so my wife and I figured they got most of the formal stuff, there in the classroom.  We kind of wanted to make sure they ‘see’ it in action.

So, when my oldest was 14, there was a group of guys, we all took our oldest kids with us on a mission trip.  So my shy little girl, who wouldn’t spend the night at her grandmothers house a mile away, went with me to Kenya to work with people there. She came back and said, “There ought to be something kids here can do. I know kids don’t have much money.”  So, she did some research online and learned that more kids die there of Malaria than anything else in Africa.  So she found a place where she could buy mosquito nets for ten bucks.

She started baking cupcakes and doing car washes and my shy child starting getting local restaurants to give her a night and she would set up a little table about it.  Then she made a little video and partnered with Compassion International.  By the time she was in 10th and 11th grade, she was flying around and speaking to youth groups about having been there and what she was doing. By the time she was a senior, she was invited to the White House to speak to a conference of kids who are changing the world.  Now she’s a senior in college and helps run the Compassion program at her college campus and has raised over $2M to buy about 200K nets.  I said to her, “That’s 600K kids that probably won’t get Malaria because you took one small step”.  She’s been to Africa 5 times now.  For her, the Bible is alive and in the doing.  That’s probably what she’ll end up doing with her life, working for a non-profit.

Recently, someone was interviewing her and asked, “Is it weird for you to be at the high school lunch room and they’re talking about what pants or sunglasses they’re going to buy, and you’re raising money for these nets”.  She said, not wanting to judge anyone, “Well, that’s not their fault.  I’ve just seen something they haven’t seen.  But because I have seen something, I have to respond”.

Q: You have the attention of thousands of church youth workers right now.. anything you want to share with them?
Jeff:
Well, for years and years, on Tuesday mornings I’ve led a small group at a homeless mission in my city.  (Jeff adds humbly, “not for publicity or anything like that obviously”).  We started out with about 12 guys, and now I have about 20 guys that help and it’s grown to 120 homeless guys.

There is probably a connection between where these guys are at, and young people today.  That message is… Everybody wants to be worth something.  You know, I think that’s the struggle for youth groups and teens.  ”Where do I fit in?”  ”Do I matter?”  ”Am I relevant?”  And GOD answer that he whispers and he showed it right there at the cross is that you’re worth EVERYTHING to me.  EVERYTHING.  Look right there, that’s what your worth to me.

If you could ever get that in the heart of a kid, then I think they would quit worrying so much, that I have to do this to be liked or do this to fit in.  When you start understanding really who GOD is and really how GOD feels about you, and it’s not based on your goodness, that it’s based on HIS goodness.  That’s what makes it a perfect love, because then the things you do, you do in response, not because you “love” so much, but because you’re “loved” so much.

(JG: Hear an incredible Bible story from Jeff and this group of homeless guys, watch this video on GSN’s website)

BONUS QUESTION: My blog is all about youth ministry being “more than dodgeball”. Do you have any horror stories from playing a particular game or funny memory from when you were part of a youth ministry or church?

Jeff: (Laughs…) Well… I grew up Southern Baptist… I don’t know that we had “youth group”.  We had Sunday School, Church, Sunday night service and Wednesday night prayer service.  I liked Wednesday night prayer service the best, cause they had really good hamburgers at my church for the Wednesday night supper.

I’ll tell you this… in terms of “more than dodgeball” and being more than a youth group, I have a story.  I came to my faith when I was 7 years old.  I remember being in church,  they were doing an invitation, and I said “I’m going”.  I remember my mom grabbed me by the shirt and said, “NO, you’re too young, you don’t understand what this is all about”.  And apparently, being Jeff, I argued about it all the way home, to the point that they had the preacher come to our house that Sunday afternoon.  He sat down and talked to me and on the way out told my mom, “He knows what he’s doing” so we went back to church that night so I could go down.  I just did a benefit for YoungLife in Knoxville, TN and that preacher was there and brought the bulletin from that Sunday, 40+ years later.

My struggle was at that youth group age, is that I would look at the church people who were so straight-lined in their dress and the way they acted and I knew I wasn’t wired like that.  I would think you know I love them, but I can’t dress like that and act like that.  It took me a long time in life to feel like I heard GOD whisper, “I know you can’t, I don’t want you to be like that.  I knitted you together, I know you’re not a straight-lined guy.  You stay with me and we’ll go places that are perfect for the way you’re wired”.

So, I don’t speak in a lot of churches, but I love to speak at things like Wild Game dinners.  I bow-hunt, fish, I love the outdoors.  I’ll speak at one of these dinners where there are 3 or 4 thousand show up.  Half of them wouldn’t go to church if you paid them. But I can do comedy for half an hour and make them laugh and roll that over into a story of sitting in the woods and watch the sun rise and come to life, you have to say to yourself, this is no accident.  There are too many things interacting with each other, this had to have been created on purpose.  And if that’s created on purpose, then you’re created on purpose by a Creator and here’s his purpose.  Time after time, guys will come up to me and say “I’ve never heard it like that before, as a love story.  It’s always been you better quit smoking, you better quit drinking, you better quit…”

And with that … we had to quit, too! Don’t forget to watch the American Bible Challenge season finale tomorrow (Thursday night) on the Game Show Network!

JG



This weekend, we don’t have youth services. In fact, we don’t have any services at all! How awesome/bold/crazy is this idea: no services, but use that time to serve in the community, in your neighborhood or to your actual neighbor! You can read more about it on Kurt’s blog, and here’s some of the language that Saddleback is using to help people BE the church this coming weekend!

Did you know that serving those in need is an act of worship to God? Join us on the weekend of December 10th and 11th for “Good Neighbor Weekend” where, in place of our church services, Saddleback Church will be going out to show compassion to our neighbors as our act of worship. Since your small group is currently completing Bill Hybels’ “Just Walk Across the Room” curriculum, this will be a great opportunity to put it into action!

Here is how you can be a part of Good Neighbor Weekend:

Serve YOUR Neighbor – you and your family or small group can follow these 3 easy steps:

Step 1: See a Need – Talk together about how you could serve your direct neighbor, a co-worker, or someone else in need. You can discuss how you can serve them by meeting their physical, spiritual, or relational needs.

Step 2: “Step Across the Room/Street/Office” – Connect with the neighbor you have identified to let them know you would like to serve them in this way and schedule a time on the weekend of December 10-11.

Step 3: Serve – Gather with your family, small group, or some friends and go serve your neighbor.

Serving OUR Neighbors – We have also created several opportunities for you to help serve the neighbors of Saddleback Church. Do you have a heart for kids, seniors, the homeless, or the military? Join us at one of our “Good Neighbor Project” on December 10th or 11th.

JG

I’m not in ministry. I no longer work with today’s youth (I used to). In fact, I don’t even have any kids! So what insight could I possible offer to youth workers? A lot actually! I’m a professional money manager. I am managing millions of dollars in various portfolios for clients all over the country. It is stressful, it is rewarding, and it is also my calling. I love what I do.

I hear the same thing from youth workers, too. That is, they love what they do….except for one thing: raising money for support! In fact, I once heard a youth worker say he’d rather try to milk a wild bull than ask people for money! However, if you follow a few easy steps and make it part of your daily routine, it can be not only very rewarding, but very gratifying too! And you probably won’t get kicked by a bull in the process.

Would you rather be a salesman or would you rather just talk to a friend? I’d rather just talk to a friend. That’s really what it all boils down to…talking to your friends.

In today’s technology filled world, you can talk to your friends in hundreds of ways. In my practice, I use e-mail, newsletters, thank you cards, phone calls, text messaging, snail mail, and I’m probably leaving a few out. When I reach out to my clients, do I ever ask for money? Absolutely Not!! Do my clients send money in for me to manage? You bet! How is this done? Talking to people like they’re friends.

Here are 5 simple rules to follow whenever you talk to people who may be able to support you:

  1. Talk to them like a friend by showing them you care. I know you care about them. That’s one of the main reasons you went into ministry. Be sincere. Be genuine. Call them on their birthdays. Take an interest in their lives and their family. Simply put — show them God’s love.
  2. Tell them about what you’re doing in your career. Do not ask them for support. That’s right…do not ask them. People (for the most part) are intelligent. They know you need financial assistance. Tell them about how you’re trying to go to Africa, or whatever it is you want to do. Use the word “trying.” Tell them that you need their prayers. Leave it at that.
  3. Ask them for their address. This is important. Why? So you can send them a newsletter! At least once a month, hand-address an envelope in your own handwriting with a nicely written update (mass produced newsletter is okay) on what you’re doing in your ministry. They will enjoy reading it and you will politely be keeping your name in front of them.
  4. Tell them about how you’re winning in the fight for Jesus. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Tell people in your newsletter what your accomplishments have been and what your goals are for the rest of the year. They will want to join your team.
  5. Follow-Up!!! Josh knows that these are my 2 favorite words. If someone expresses the slightest interest in assisting you financially, call them! Don’t text them…too impersonal. Call your “friend” and see if the interest is sincere. If so….follow up! Collect phone numbers, addresses, build an e-mail list. Don’t ever say, “if you want to know what I’m doing, just visit my web page or see my facebook.” That is VERY impersonal, and besides, you’re violating rule #1 (above)! Don’t drop the ball here. This step is critical. Put it on your calendar. Write it down. Make sure you follow up, and don’t miss.

There are a few other things you could do, but most of them revolve around the above 5 steps. Show people you care. Send them a “thank you” when they do support you. Make it as personal and sincere as possible. If you simply treat others the way you would want to be treated, the financial support will come. Just be consistent.

Oh, and if you know of someone who needs a great financial professional to assist them with their retirement, please send me their e-mail address. I promise you, I’ll follow up!

Rob Vollmer was a long-time volunteer in the High School Ministry at Saddleback Church. He now works for First Allied Securities and can be contacted at rvollmer@msn.com.



This past Saturday I spoke my last message to the students in our youth ministry. At the end of the month, I’ll be leaving my current position as a youth associate to take my first official youth pastor position at a church plant.

As I reflect on my last 9 years of youth ministry, I started asking myself, “What were the most important lessons I have learned about youth ministry?” I’ve found that one of the most important lessons we can learn is learning how to earn influence with students so we can make a lasting impact in their lives.

So how do we do this?

You Earn Influencing by Caring – John Maxwell has taught us all, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s a fact. Students know whether or not we genuinely care through our words, eye contact, and the time we spend with them. Be intentional when it comes to caring for your students. Encourage them, pray for them, be there when they need you, and point them to Jesus every chance you get.

You Earn Influence Through Creating Memories - Every time I am with students, I ask the question, “What could we do right now that would create a memory that we will never forget?” The more memories you make, the more influence you’ll have!

You Earn Influence Through Leading by Example – It’s true that students will do what you do, not what you say. You can preach the greatest sermon ever, but if your life doesn’t back it up, you will not earn any influence with students. If you teach it, make sure you are living it.

You Earn Influence by Being Vulnerable – I’m extremely vulnerable with our students. I am myself around them, I share my weaknesses, and I share my hurts with them. I remember asking some of our core students this summer if my vulnerability made my influence with them more credible or less credible. Without hesitation, they all said, “more credible.” Be vulnerable. Be Real. Be You.

I have learned and I believe that if we’ll do these 4 things consistently with our students and continue our most important job, pointing them to Jesus, we will make a lasting impact in our student’s lives.

Bubba is the founder of OnlyGod.us! He lives for God, is in love with his wife, loves to workout using P90X and Insanity, runs marathons, blogs at BubbaSmith.net, works at a sweet church and has a passion for helping people live their lives on purpose and grow to their maximum potential.