Remember when, as the youth pastor, you could have a discussion with your youth ministry around hot topics and have the majority of the group agree with you or echo similar sentiments? Yep, those days are long gone to the point where many youth workers don’t want to have these conversations for fear of being cancelled.
The past few generations of students have grown in activism and has shunned conformity and they are vocal about it. These hot topics are important to our students and we, as youth pastors, should have a way of discussing these topics where students can share their opinion without fear of judgement and learn how to sit in and listen without eye rolls and sarcasm when someone disagrees with them.
Wether you’re an older youth worker with conservative views, like myself, trying to navigate hot topic discussions with grace and love or a newer youth worker who leans liberal and sees the world on fire, in desperate need of radical changes across the board, we owe it to our students to train them how to discuss biblical world views without demanding everyone else be shunned.
Let me offer a few key characteristics every small group leaders must have if they’re going to tackle the events and issues of the day without I turning it into a hand grenade festival.
You may have students from different walks of life with whom you cannot relate. Their experiences are different than yours and rather than angrily challenging them or being dismissive to that student, possible causing the rest of the group to gang up on them, be an example of how to walk in their shoes.
Recently, in a hot topic discussion, I allowed my emotions to surface over a certain topic. I was edgier than I wanted to be and it and, I believe, did not offer the best outcome the discussion we could have had.
It’s ok to have emotions about a subject, but if you’re leading the discussion, those emotions for the sake of the rest of the group have to be kept in check otherwise the discussion could turn into preaching or arguing. Neither are good if you are trying to teach on how to have a discussion while still loving your neighbor.
Be prayed up before hand, check your emotions at the door and let the Holy Spirit lead you.
Be Judgement Free
There are things students say that I, and the Bible, disagree with. These are teenagers, they have opinions. I cannot allow their freedom to share how they feel effect the way I treat them for the sake of being able to minister to them later on.
Good listening can be silence but it can also be head nods or repeating the question back to a student for clarity, “Are you saying, …” You don’t have to agree with your students, but if you want kids to feel save to share, the nee to know they are being heard.
I am not always right. You are not always right. We do not have all the answers. We have not lived everyone else’s life and we sure don’t know everything the bible says about everything. Quoting a scripture to answer ever argument undermines the authenticity of real discussion. If you all you want to do is quote scripture, preach, but don’t have a discussion trying to fool kids into thinking you care what they have to say.
Because of my recent experience with a discussion group, I developed group covenant I plan on using when I have another discussion with group around a hot topic.
If you’re interested, I have a free small group hot topic covenant you can download. The covenant can be read before a hot topic so everyone can agree to the rules of the discussion or, if the hot topic will be covered multiple week, give them a copy of the covenant and have them sign it as a promissory note to abide by for the length of the discussion.