To the passionate and missionally oriented youth worker, the answer is, “No! Never! Don’t even think about banning a teen from church.” To the youth worker who is driven by God’s unrelenting love for the outcast, broken and hurting there is no possibility that our love for teens would allow us to exclude them.
But then we read an insightful comment on Mark 10:17-31 by James Smith. He explains:
Specifically, after the young ruler has announced–quite sincerely, I think–that he has kept all the commandments from his youth, Mark tells us in his typically direct language:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
And because he loved him, Jesus then tells the young man something that shocks and dismays him, homing in on the “one thing” that is lacking.
In an age where love is often reduced to uncritical affirmation and unprincipled embrace, we might be stopped short by a love like this–a love that is strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the beloved, but is not for that reason any less loving. Indeed, it is more so, and shows up “affirmation” as a parody of agape.1
So it seems prudent that there is a tension that exists. Love doesn’t exclude while at the same time love creates boundaries for the sake of the beloved. How then do we practice this tension in youth ministry? How do we love in such a way that we are strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the teens we serve? And are we ever supposed to direct this type of action at the “bad” kid?