This past week I had the opportunity to equip youth ministers in their ministry to LGBT+ youth. I was at the National Youth Worker’s Convention in Cincinnati. One session was a 5-hour intensive; the other was 1.5 hour workshop. Both were with my friend, Julie Rodgers.
The experience is unique in many ways. Youth ministers are in the trenches. They are on the front-line of ministry. In fact, it was through my experience equipping them 3 or 4 years ago that I first thought about writing a book on Gender Dysphoria. Many youth ministers at that time were asking questions about transgender and gender-diverse youth, and I began to realize that if these questions were being asked in youth ministry, the experiences of transgender persons and the topic of gender identity was going to soon become part of a larger, national discussion that evangelical Christian were not prepared for.
Another way in which the experience is unique is that we really do not delve into doctrine regarding sexuality and sexual behavior per se. The NYWC is a big tent that draws representatives from many churches, including conservative and liberal churches. So rather than make sessions about what attendees may disagree on, such as the moral status of same-sex behavior), we focus on improving youth ministry within the context of their doctrinal position.
This year we focused on a ‘map’ for ministry to LGBT+ youth. That map plays off of the metaphor that teenagers are navigating difficult terrain, a metaphor I developed in the book, Understanding Sexual Identity. We discussed the importance of parents (‘base camp’) and how the quality of that relationship is the best predictor of a teenagers well-being over time. We also discussed common ‘markers’ along the train, which, in our work are milestone events in sexual identity development. Milestones include first awareness of same-sex attraction, first sexual behaviors, first disclosure to others, first attribution (about what experiences of same-sex attractions mean to them), first labeling oneself (privately or publicly), and so on.
My sense from the audience at both the workshop and the longer intensive is that they were going away with a helpful metaphor that can be translated into a helpful posture toward LGBT+ youth. These were big-hearted, kind, and generous youth ministry staff and volunteers who absolutely love their kids. My friend Julie says that the most frequently asked question by LGBT+ youth in youth ministry is, “Am I wanted here?’ This is a group of youth ministers who wanted as a group to say, “Yes, you are wanted here. There is no where we’d want you to be than in our youth ministry.”