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The First Shall Be Last…Shall Be First Again?

Last week we discussed the idea of challenging our students to perspectives of acceptance and love and, most importantly, not drawing distinctions between themselves and others.

However, we must be careful how we articulate that message, lest an equally strong reciprocal message be communicated.

What happens all too often in these situations is that a person whose eyes are newly opened to seeing and caring about socially labeled Inferiors in turn, eventually—though unintentionally—elevates himself or herself to a new level of superiority.

The enlightened person begins to look down on, disrespect, and rudely call out Superiors. So, what we end up with is an inversion of Jesus’s New Testament insistence of “the last will be first” (see Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31, Luke 13:30).

Our attempt to attain humility can backfire in a significant and damaging way. One possible model:

1)   We recognize the flaw in society’s superiority complex toward certain disadvantaged persons.
2)   We identify with the disadvantaged persons, seeing them as human beings, putting ourselves on their level in order to understand their struggles.
3)   Humbling ourselves in such a way can make us resentful toward those who continue to act superior.
4)   We may start to view ourselves as more enlightened, and therefore better Christians than, those who have not yet learned to humble themselves.

If we follow this dangerous progression, we enter a cycle of being first, becoming last, and making ourselves first again, oftentimes without even realizing it.

In demonstrating a theology of love and attempting to eradicate any structures of inferiority with your students, how would you combat the tendency to become—in a sense—born-again superior? What scriptures, prayers, moral truths do you draw on to keep yourself and your students grounded?


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The First Shall Be Last…

As youth workers, we try really hard to help our students truly see people who get overlooked by the rest of society. Types of people who are judged to be inferior in some way, whether because of socio-economic status, race, or whatever other arbitrary qualifications someone might apply. And this is good. Helping our students see human beings and not stereotypes is a good thing.

Consider a hypothetical situation involving the premise that a youth pastor has a group consisting of only white students. (This is neither to condemn nor condone such a context.) A group of all white students, by default, will likely come with some learned biases.

In our hypothetical scenario, imagine that the youth pastor, after taking the students through a fast-food restaurant—as youth workers are wont to do—overhears one of the students make a flippant comment to the other students about one of the employees: “I just wish they would learn the language of the country they’re going to live in.” More likely than not, the student means nothing malicious by the comment, but the statement illustrates a learned xenophobic bias.

The youth worker’s aim at this point is to guide the student into a more loving way of thinking. He or she might ask the student a few questions, such as:

  • Why do you think that person is living in this country?
  • What might have happened in her home country that would cause her to move to a country where she didn’t know the language?
  • Why might she be working a cash register job—probably part time—for low pay, instead of something that would come with benefits?
  • Do you suppose that person has a family, and children to care for?
  • What kinds of hindrances might she be facing that would keep her from fully studying and learning English?

Obviously the goal is to get our students thinking about people’s circumstances rather than making generalized assumptions. It is also likely that the student learned such bias from someone, whether it be a parent, peers, or someone else.

How do you handle situations like this in your youth group? Racial and xenophobic are not the only biases students bring to our groups. What other contexts have you encountered? What scriptures do you draw from to help your students understand that your goal is to challenge them to love, acceptance, and humble perspectives?


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It’s 9/11. So What?

The Challenger explosion. John F. Kennedy’s death. Pearl Harbor. As far back into time as we can reach, we can find nation-rocking events. Events about which people can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

And, if you’ve paid attention to today’s date, then you know where I’m leading you. The most recent [tragic] event that fits into this “know exactly where you were when it happened” category for U.S. Americans is the day the World Trade Center was attacked. September 11, 2001.

Where were you? What were you doing?

I was a senior in high school. I was in my first-period class, which happened to be American Government. My teacher had the news on when we walked into class. The first plane had already struck. The bell rang at 8:00 a.m. (CDT), and by that time all eyes in our class of 20-some students were glued to the TV. And so it was that a collective gasp went up at 8:03, when we all witnessed the second crash live.

2001. That was twelve years ago. Your youngest students may not have even been born yet. Your oldest students may not have started Kindergarten. So what do we do with that?

Depending on how long you’ve been in youth ministry, the Challenger explosion and JFK’s death might not hold a personal significance for you, and I’m betting Pearl Harbor really doesn’t, unless you’re a true youth ministry veteran. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been taught about them. It doesn’t mean you haven’t learned to understand the important places those events occupy in history.

But who taught you that significance? And when did you really begin to grasp it? My guess would be, not during your teenage years. Teenagers are, by nature, self-centered. It’s part of the growing-up process.

So how do you handle 9/11 discussions with your teenagers? How do you help them understand the significance of events that happened before there were smartphones? Before Twitter? Before the existence of everything that their worlds revolve around, namely themselves?

Join Us for #BFMChat

The best part of social media is that we can connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Sure, you’re welcome to stop by the office sometime and say hi, but that might not be the most practical thing for many of you. So let’s have a Twitter chat. How does Thursday sound?

Here’s how it’s going to work: Follow @BFMinistries on Twitter. Starting at 3PM Central, we’ll post three youth ministry questions. All you have to do to take part is tweet your answers using #BFMChat. Follow along with the hashtag and you’ll be able to see everyone else that’s participating as well. Make sure to include the #BFMChat tag so they’ll be able to find you too. Your answers may just spark some great conversations.

So let’s make some new friends while we’re talking about ministry passion.

Oh, and just to make it a little easier, here’s a live feed you can use to follow the hashtag once we get started:


Have any questions you’d like to discuss? Leave it in the comments below, and we just might use it!

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