Disagreement vs. Disunity: Thoughts from a youth leader

no-drama

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.

17 things I wish I’d known at 17

(C) 2010/Justin Brokie - via Wylio

I’m very close to yet another graduation.  May 14 will mark my third.  It’s easy to assume that because I’ve spent so much of my adult life as a professional student that I’ve learned a lot.  If that’s what you think, well…you’re right.  I do know a lot.  At least, I know a lot more than  I did 10 years ago when I was counting down the days until my high school graduation. Now, I’m counting down the day’s until I graduate from my Master’s program.  All the counting (77 days!) and the random Facebook messages announcing the coming together of my high school reunion have left me ruminating on what it is exactly that I have learned  over the last 10 years.  So, specifically to any of my youth who may stumble upon this blog, I offer a compilation of those things: the 17 things I wish I’d known at 17.

1.  I wish I’d known that I really would use math later. (I should have paid attention in Statistics class.)

2.  I wish I’d known that the high school friends that you still know 10 years after high school may not be the people that you expected to know.  The friendships that become the most meaningful are the ones that surprise you.

3. I wish I’d known that the seasonality of those other friendships didn’t devalue them.  It actually made them wonderful and good.

4.  I wish I’d known that  I’d value my college experience more for the friendships formed and the lessons I’d learn living with people than for what I actually learned in the classroom. (But, I’m glad I did known to take my college education more seriously than I did high school.  I actually learned something in that Stats class.)

5. I wish I’d known that “the good Christian boys” can still break your heart.

6. I wish I’d known that the dissolution of of friendships over the seasons of life can feel like the same kind of heart break.

7. I wish I’d known that it’s really easy to make really stupid decisions about how to deal with the heart break, even if you pride yourself as someone with their head on straight.

8. I wish I’d known that the heart break, though painful, wasn’t actually the end of the world.

9. I wish I’d known being honest with my friends and leaning on them even just a little bit would help ease the deepest of hurts and enliven the deepest of joys.

10. I wish I’d known that it was actually okay to talk to my parents about…everything.

11. I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to look like I have it together all the time.

12.  I wish I’d known that it’s possible to find a job that’s more than just a job IF you’re ear is consistently turned to hear from God about it.

13. I wish I’d known that having your ear turned to God sometimes means following in a way that looks foolish and feels risky…and it’s okay.

14.  I wish I’d known that other people’s approval didn’t actually provide fulfillment or lead to feelings of success.

15.  I wish I’d known that having questions about my faith didn’t make me a bad Christian.  I wish I’d known that having the courage to ask those questions, with a heart truly seeking to known God through them, could draw me closer to Him and strengthen my belief.

16. I wish I’d known not to waste so much time trying to be “right” all the time.   I wish I’d known that it could get in the way of building relationships with people and therefore serve to actually get in the way of my witness.

17.  I wish I’d known that at 27 I’d be writing a list of things I wish I’d known at 17 much more of aware of what I don’t actually know.  And I wish I’d known that would usher in a feeling of…freedom.

How about you? What do you wish that you’d known at 17?