The world is a restless place these days. In the last few weeks we have experienced everything from unrest and tragedy in the world to a new app-based game. If anyone is like me, it isn’t even that we don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to feel. Am I angry, sad, questioning, frustrated, apathetic, or confused? Maybe all of them. If I am feeling this as a woman in my forties, how much more are the teens we serve? They are thinking on the world around them, and as they process it is natural that discussions are going to arise. Students have come to trust us, and therefore it becomes easy to share our opinions with them. This can be true on topics in the media as well as theological interpretation. Being able to share these thoughts with teens is a rare gift, and we need to treat it with the weight it deserves. Since there are so many things to have opinions on we need to make sure to keep some things in mind:
Opinions Are Like Belly Buttons
My mother-in-law says often, “Opinions are like bellybuttons. Everyone has one.” We can say we are “neutral” on a topic, or we are just “reading God’s truth,” but we have to be very aware of the reality of our opinions. Many factors go into how we formulate opinions, and our students are in a vulnerable place where they are learning how to think critically. Often times they hear a news story or a parent’s opinion and are just repeating what they hear. If they hear us and we are not careful, they might go home and present our ideas as truth. We have to be very careful to present only facts as facts. Everything else we must preface with a statement like, “This is my thought on this, or the way I look at this situation is this.” When students ask, we have to think before we speak.
Keep An Eye On Perspective
We like to say we can insert ourselves in someone else’s shoes. However, we can’t ever truly put them on and walk around in them. We can never fully know what someone is thinking or feeling, unless we are them. Our students might formulate opinions not merely based on what they hear, but on their own experiences and pains. I can empathize but I can not sympathize sometimes. Before we start sharing our thoughts on a topic, we must take into account there may be reasons hiding in our hearts and the hearts of others why we each hold the perspective we do.
Opinions Can Hurt
In a social media driven world, we like to process private thoughts publicly. We have gotten used to sharing and venting without thinking about the repercussions, not merely online or in text but in person as well. This can make us accusatory, telling others how they should think or feel, or presenting an opinion incorrectly as truth. For example, my daughter had a friend whose small group leader told her that predestination is a fact. He did not present it as an interpretation of Scripture but as the way God wants it. This same friend struggled with some deep hidden shame. She admitted to my daughter she felt like the Lord could not have chosen her because she was simply too broken. There was no way a loving Savior would pick a wretch that was “that bad.” It has taken a MIGHTY work of the Holy Spirit to undo this lie, backed with a lot of grace and Scripture. While the young woman does believe now that Jesus would want her, she still grapples to believe that she doesn’t have to prove to him why he could. Be aware, be careful. Always lean more on the side of compassion and love.
Think Before You Share
Keep in mind our students may not be mature enough to handle our opinions. They may not be able to take what we say, process it against Scripture and the Lord, and think through it critically. We may need to just keep our thoughts to ourselves, or share it with trusted adults who can think with us. It might be best if we don’t rage on social media, but instead engage in face-to-face discussion. The written word does not convey tone, and students, their parents, and others can easily misinterpret our heart. This can unwittingly engage an online debate that isn’t healthy. In the same vein, at some point a student is going to share an opinion they hold. We might firmly believe it is WRONG. Be cautious on how you tread those waters. We can help students see OUR side but we have to be aware. Let’s not get caught up in “winning students over to our side.”
Finally, never be afraid to say, “I can’t wrap my mind around this, let’s pray.” We can say things like, “Injustice should hurt. Let’s pray.” Maybe it’s as simple as, “Let’s pray.” The circumstances might not change in a dying world, but we are reminded of who is the only one who can fix this. Compassion and love should always win before we point fingers in judgement. Everyone holds an opinion on nearly everything. It is not always an issue of right or wrong, but genuinely just difference in point of view. If God wants us or our students to change our mind, don’t worry he is big enough to make that happen.
LENEITA HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN YOUTH OR FAMILY MINISTRY FOR OVER 24 YEARS SERVING IN RURAL, SUBURBAN AND URBAN SETTINGS, CAMPS, SMALL AND LARGE CHURCHES AND NON-PROFITS. SHE HAS AUTHORED OR CO-AUTHORED SEVERAL YOUTH MINISTRY BOOKS, INCLUDING EVERYBODY’S URBAN UNDERSTANDING THE SURVIVAL MODE OF THE NEXT GENERATION AMONG OTHERS. LENEITA IS THE MINISTRY AND TRAINING COORDINATOR FOR BOWDOWN CHURCH, CO-FOUNDED A COACHING AND TRAINING ORGANIZATION CALLED FRONTLINE URBAN RESOURCES (EVERYBODYSURBAN.ORG) AND LIVES WITH HER AMAZING HUSBAND JOHN AND FOUR CHILDREN IN FLORIDA.