Disagreement vs. Disunity: Thoughts from a youth leader


I’m a youth leader at my home church now.  I moved to the church when I was in 6th grade, went to every youth event until I left for college, and now I’m back in my hometown leading and teaching Sunday school to the same youth group I was a part of all those years ago. And I love it.

Being a youth leader is one of the most favorite pieces of my life. And I never saw it coming. When I was in youth group,  my heart’s desire was to move away for college and never look back. I wanted my own life, away from the walls of church and home and family that felt like they were closing in.  I wanted out of the drama, chaos, and frustration and I wanted to find adult relationships.  As an adult, though, I’m finding that many of my most favorite relationships are the ones I’ve formed with the youth that I teach, and lead, and mentor.  Some of my most favorite relationships now are brimming with drama, chaos, and frustration. And I love it.

As a youth, I would often rant to my mom after a particularly drama-filled event, “How did we get here? I don’t understand!” As a leader I now find myself saying to my youth, in much calmer tones, “Well, how did we get here?” when drama, chaos, and frustration rear their ugly heads in our group dynamics.  Recently, our little groups has faced the drama-to-end-all-dramas  that every youth group in every denomination faces: a break-up. It’s messy and unpleasant and has made things awkward.  It had left the girls and guys feeling like they need to pick sides, like they can only really be friends with one person of the disunified couple. But, as a leader and an adult who’s been in a similar situation that my kids are facing in the very same room that they’re facing it in, I know that the disunity that’s plaguing the split-up couple doesn’t have to disunite the entire group.

My response as a youth was always to pick sides, to choose a friend, to stand by that one person at the expense of relationship with the other.  I didn’t think I had a choice.  But, I’m not a kid anymore.  I’m a grown-up. I’m a leader. And my role is to teach them how to navigate conflict and disagreement well, because disagreement doesn’t precipitate disunity, and to teach them that they have a choice. My role is to talk to them about how they’re handling their conflict, and question them on whether it fits with the teaching of the Scripture.  Admittedly, such conversation is nuanced and complicated, but at least it gets them thinking about it.  Perhaps more than that, though, my role is also to model for them in the relationships that I have with other adults how to handle disagreements well, so disunity doesn’t happen.

See, these kids listen to the same pastor I listen to on Sunday mornings. They hear him speak against tattoos, and they see the tattoo I have on my wrist almost every Sunday when I roll up my sleeves to get into the Word with them as their Sunday school teacher.  They know that our pastor would probably like to sand-blast the ichthus from my flesh, and they know that I love my tattoo and that it’s meaningful to me and that I wouldn’t change having gotten it.  They know really clearly that this is a point of disagreement between my pastor and I. They know that we both have personal, vested reasons for the opinions that we have, and they know that we both get kind of passionate when we talk about things that are personal.  But, they also know that he shakes my hand every Sunday morning and asks me how I’m doing.  They know that I have a good relationships with his children, and that I’ll visit with him and his family in their home. They know that we disagree, but aren’t disunited.  We are in community together, loving Jesus and trying to share that love with the world.  And I love it.

More than that, I think God loves it too.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”  -Hebrews 12:14

*This post was written as part of Rachel Held Evans‘ RALLY TO RESTORE UNITY. Check out her blog to see other like posts.

6 thoughts on “Disagreement vs. Disunity: Thoughts from a youth leader

  1. Wow. My how you have grown! I thank God I have been privileged to see it all, well at least starting from 6th grade!

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