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Teen Dating Violence

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth


Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

carl-jung

This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter they mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry


I went to a training on creating trauma-informed systems of care. I was impacted by the implications on schools and youth ministries. People often took to the church for hope in the midst of tragedy. The church can be a place of good new and healing if they take steps to be trauma-informed in what they do.

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Trauma studies report 70% of all adults have experienced some form of trauma. Trauma experiences can range from a simple car accident that results in injury, to gang violence in the city, to physical or sexual assault, to repeated name calling, to being in high stress environments such as jail or prison. 90% of those people suffering from trauma end up in public behavioral health systems seeking support and therapy. 70% of teens who seek treatment for addiction report having traumatic experiences in their young lives, often repeated trauma. New research has revealed trauma can actually derail normal development of the body, brain, and cognition.

SAMHSA (2012) reports “individuals can be retraumatized by those whose intent it is to help”. Trauma clearly interferes with healthy brain development and coping measure become problematic (i.e., substance use, avoidance, aggression, risky behaviors).

As we engage youth in our programs (especially schools and churches) we must understand the principles of trauma informed care.

Understanding attachment theory should be required for all who work with children and adolescents. Attachment theory is best explained as the type of connection (attachment) one has with their primary care givers as a child. When the infant/child is cared for and nurtured the growing infant develops a sense of security that their needs will be taken care of. As a result, the child will likely develop into an adolescent/young adult who is autonomous, self-controlled emotionally and behaviorally, well-formed identity, and can adapt to changing circumstances.

A child who experiences high levels of stress or trauma is more likely to develop insecure or avoidant attachment styles of interacting with the world around them. If they are victimized, they will likely be extra weary of people and see the world as unsafe. Due to this worldview, the child has to develop maladaptive ways to interact with the dangerous world they live in.

When a child experiences trauma the architecture of the brain is changed and emotions and cognition are not integrated. The separate regions of the brain do not communicate effectively with one another so, when something triggers a memory of trauma that fear signal cannot be challenged with rational thought because the pathways have been disrupted. This means everything is a potential trigger for re-activating the trauma.

One example of this is when a young person, that has been sexually abused and threatened or coerced into not reporting the abuse, is told by a well-meaning youth worker that she cannot have her cell phone on the retreat away from home. The reason for this is so the student can focus on God without the distraction of modern mobile technology. Unfortunately, a trauma-impacted student may experience this as a loss of safety that reignites the feeling of being powerless to call for help if needed.

Children and youth are vulnerable populations but there are intersections that increase their vulnerability because we live in a society that marginalizes anyone that is different from the norm (i.e., LGBT, people of color, disables, gender, religion, class, etc.). The greater the number of identity intersections the higher the likelihood of victimization and trauma. Think about the homeless black teenage girl who was kicked out of her house because she identifies as a lesbian. She also recently dropped out of school because she has a learning disability. Now, in order to survive on the streets, she resorts to survival sex with strangers just for a warm bed and a hot meal. This is traumatizing if it happens just once but for many marginalized youth, this becomes a way of life.

If a young person is handled with care, healing can occur. Our school or church can help this precious child begin the healing by creating a trauma informed program or ministry. This starts by educating staff and volunteers. Bring a local therapist, who specializes in trauma, to speak to your team about the impact of trauma and how to be more informed as a team. There are also plenty of resources on the web. Conversations on the Fringe has several blog posts dedicated to trauma.

Another way we can help a hurting student is by creating safe spaces for them to walk with Jesus. Their journey may not be as linear as most of their peers. Cultivating an environment for vulnerability is of the utmost importance but remembering the classroom or youth ministry room is no replacement for a qualified and trained therapist.

Trauma impacts whole family systems. They will need support as they begin the journey to freedom and healing. Trauma alienates and can lead to isolation for families who are ashamed, embarrassed, overwhelmed, and hurting themselves. They need your friendship more than anything. Be present. Sit quietly. Cry with them. Bring meals to families sorting out their trauma stories. Incarnate real love and support. Prayer is good and essential but no replacement for a hug or wiping away tears or a warm dinner.

Lastly, creating a trauma-informed program is a justice issue. If a traumatized young person is to ever recovery a sense of goodness and justice in the world, if they are ever to let go of the natural anxiety of being victimized and move out into the world a whole-hearted person, they need to know and experience goodness that brings balance to their life. Trauma leaves such a powerful and deep impact on the mind and soul that it will take good people doing good to re-establish equilibrium to their mind and soul. The issue of justice cannot be avoided in human service or ministry organization because, it is the heart of why people seek help for trauma in the first place.

What does justice work look like for victims of trauma? What does it look like for perpetrators of trauma?

Eroticizing Power


I came across this article about clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seemed relevant to the current blog series on sexual abuse in the church.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following in the comments.

“A power imbalance is easily sexualized or eroticized. Carolyn Holderread Heggen notes that: The imbalance of power between men and women has become eroticized in our culture. Many persons find male power and female powerlessness sexually arousing. In general, men are sexually attracted to females who are younger, smaller, and less powerful than themselves. Women tend to be attracted to males who are older, larger, and more powerful. Male clergy have a great imbalance of power over their congregations, which are often predominately women, therefore, the stage is set for a sexually inappropriate expression of this power differential.
 
In some instances, misuses of power can be sexualized in situations that begin as mentoring. This could happen in the case of an older man or woman taking an interest in a younger person of either gender for the purpose of encouraging that youth’s development. Youth activities that begin as play can become a context of power and authority when youth leaders do not understand the power they possess simply by virtue of their age, authority and gender.
 
Because they have greater power, the leader always bears primary responsibility to protect the boundaries of the relationship. The person with the greater power must act in the best interests of the person with lesser power. This holds true even when the person with less power makes sexualized advances. A leader is the keeper of a trust and, as such, is responsible to ensure that no sexualized behavior occurs, “…no matter what the level of provocation or apparent consent.”

Keeping Children/Youth Safe From Abuse In Church: Best Practices


In our last post we looked at what faith communities need to know and think about regarding sexual abuse. In this post we will look at very specific behaviors churches/ministries can take to reduce the actual risk of sexual abuse occurring in their buildings and programs.

  • Do the hard work of developing policies

Many churches or youth and children ministries already have policies on how to address abuse when it occurs. It would be prudent to develop an abuse prevention policy as well. For example, have a 2-1 adult-child ratio at all times would be a safer practice that allowing 1-on-1 adult to child ratio. If a child needs spiritual counseling or is in a mentoring relationship with an adult, restricting physical touch to only public spaces or simply minimizing (side hug vs. full frontal, prolonged hug) is also a best practice.

  • Identify and question confusing behaviors

This will take an environmental curator, who is skilled at communication, to shape the culture and make it safe and acceptable to talk about confusing or uncomfortable behaviors. Nobody wants to accuse someone of sexual abuse but having a climate that identifies behavior that could potentially be misconstrued as inappropriate is a good starting point.

  • Don’t wait! Address inappropriate behaviors

Speaking up about your concerns is not the same as accusing someone of sexual abuse and could serve to keep unhealthy or dangerous behaviors from occurring in the first place. The very nature of prevention is to act before the illegal sexual behavior occurs. Drawing a boundary of safe and appropriate behavior early is the important work of prevention. Don’t wait until the line is crossed, be proactive.

  • No hide and seek

When planning for child/youth space, we often look at it through the lens of the child or physical harm to the child. We should also be looking at our physical spaces through the lens of a potential perpetrator; where are there blind spots, hiding spaces where abuse might occur. Be mindful of the activities you play, such as; hide and seek, sardines, etc. Consider adding windows to interior walls for safer viewing and higher levels of accountability.

  • Plan for messy people

The church is and should be a place of restoration and reconciliation. People who have sexually abuse others in the past often look to faith and religion as a means of overcoming their problem. What are your protocol for how they can navigate your community? Are certain areas off limits? What legal restrictions do they have? Who is meeting with the abuser for counseling and accountability? Thinking this through ahead of time will give you the opportunity to be proactive and decrease the likelihood of unwanted difficulties.

 

In our next post we will look at best practices for responding to a sexual abuse crisis should it happen in your church/program.

Church Readiness for Sexual Abuse: Reducing Risk


Churches that care about children are an important part of our culture. The need for spiritual and moral development is imperative for our future as humans and also for the future of all faith traditions. The significance of growing into a community of people that love and support you is essential for a successful transition into adulthood as well. Unfortunately, any community can be vulnerable to sexual abuse, especially when adults interact with those children on a regular basis.

  • It can happen in your church.

“It won’t ever happen here.” Famous last words. There is no such thing as a “typical” sexual predator. They come in all shapes and sizes. We can’t afford to live in denial about the possibility that sexual abuse can happen in our ministries. Talking about it won’t make it happen. Talking about it publicly will help keep it in the forefront of your minds and will communicate a sense of safety, that this issue is not being ignored. Parents are always thinking about the possibility so your ministry should as well.

  • You’re as sick as your secrets.

Should sexual abuse occur in your church or ministry, you might be tempted to avoid the public scandal. Don’t! Nothing feels worse to the victim than brushing abuse under the rug. Don’t minimize or victim-blame. Speak out directly to your community, cooperate with the police, walk alongside the victim, and walk alongside the abuser. This will be messy but it will be worth it in the end as it will give everyone a sense of security that this issue is taken seriously and that we (the church) is in it for the long road to recovery.

  • Background checks – it’s a good start.

Background checks should be required by now. If not, you’re already vulnerable to predatory individuals. While background checks are essential, law enforcement says that 88% of sexual assault goes unreported. That means 9 out of 10 offenders will not have a criminal background. Proper vetting, relationships, ongoing supervision, accountability, and policy are necessary to reduce the risk of abuse happening in your ministry.

  • The importance of policies and procedures.

Beyond background check, extensive and comprehensive policies and procedures are going to be your best defense against child/youth abuse in your community. Good policies make clear that your ministry is committed to nurturing safe spaces for your kids to explore faith and tradition.

 

Abuse Defined


If we’re going to dig into this messy and difficult topic then we’re going to need to define what abuse is and identify the different types of abuse a child/young person can experience.

Abuse Defined

Child abuse and neglect are defined by Federal and State laws. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides minimum standards that States must incorporate in their statutory definitions of child abuse and neglect. The CAPTA definition of “child abuse and neglect,” at a minimum, refers to:

  • “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”

The CAPTA definition of “sexual abuse” includes:

  • “The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or
  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children”

Types of Abuse

Nearly all States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands provide civil definitions of child abuse and neglect in statute. As applied to reporting statutes, these definitions determine the grounds for intervention by State child protective agencies. States recognize the different types of abuse in their definitions, including physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Some States also provide definitions in statute for parental substance abuse and/or for abandonment as child abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is generally defined as “any non-accidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child. In approximately 38 States and American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, the definition of abuse also includes acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare.

Neglect

Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision such that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 24 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect. Seven States specifically define medical neglect as failing to provide any special medical treatment or mental health care needed by the child. In addition, four States define as medical neglect the withholding of medical treatment or nutrition from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

All States include sexual abuse in their definitions of child abuse. Some States refer in general terms to sexual abuse, while others specify various acts as sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation is an element of the definition of sexual abuse in most jurisdictions. Sexual exploitation includes allowing the child to engage in prostitution or in the production of child pornography.

Emotional Abuse

Almost all States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include emotional maltreatment as part of their definitions of abuse or neglect. Approximately 32 States, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico provide specific definitions of emotional abuse or mental injury to a child. Typical language used in these definitions is “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition,” or as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”

Parental Substance Abuse

Parental substance abuse is an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in some States. Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some States include:

  • Prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother’s use of an illegal drug or other substance (14 States and the District of Columbia)
  • Manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on the premises occupied by a child (10 States)
  • Allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used or stored (three States)
  • Selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child (seven States and Guam)
  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver’s ability to adequately care for the child (seven States)

Abandonment

Approximately 17 States and the District of Columbia include abandonment in their definition of abuse or neglect, generally as a type of neglect. Approximately 18 States, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands provide definitions for abandonment that are separate from the definition of neglect. In general, it is considered abandonment of the child when the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left by the parent in circumstances in which the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Protecting Against Sexual Abuse in Youth Programs


6 Stages of Child Grooming

Wikipedia defines Child Grooming as befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions for child sexual abuse. It lures minors into trafficking of children, illicit businesses such as child prostitution, or the production of child pornography.

Child groomers are often drawn into roles such as youth ministry or other positions where they have access to children and youth like teachers, coaches, mentors, etc.

A child groomer is often methodical in their strategy and the grooming process can happen quickly, depending on the response from the child, or over a number of years. It can happen in person, online, or a combination of both. Most offenders are someone the youth and family know and have a measure of trust.

There are 6 common stages of grooming and it is important to be aware of for those of us who work with children and youth.

 

Stage 1: Initial Contact: If an abuser does not already have access to a child they will often target children that are unaware of sexual abuse, are shy, insecure, or children considered ‘weird’ or ‘needy’. They want: access, trust, and ability to control.  Often children with a single parent, or children with busy or inattentive parents are targeted and are increased risk of grooming. The reason for this is that there is a perceived likelihood that the child/youth will desire the attention and affection of an adult because of the deficiency in their primary relationships.

Points of contact include:

  • Church/youth group
  • School
  • Shopping Mall
  • Movie theater
  • Bus/train stations
  • Athletic activities/events
  • Parks
  • Anywhere a child/youth might gather with minimal direct supervision

Stage 2: Gaining Trust: The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his or her needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. Often, offenders fly under the radar in youth oriented programs because, on the surface, they look like and act like the ideal staff/volunteer.

Stage 3: Befriending the Victim: Once the individual groomer begins to meet the emotional/relational needs of the child, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Often gifts, extra attention and affection may be a red flag for one adult in particular and they should be monitored closely at this point.

Stage 4: Isolating the Child: The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This private, one-on-one time further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation. A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship; grateful that their child has someone in their life that understands and cares for them. Parents can be manipulated into thinking this individual is a conduit for the parent to understand their own strained relationship with their child.

Stage 5: Sexualizing the Relationship: Once there is sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations hugging more frequently and for longer periods of time. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. When conditioning a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms. For a child who has yet to reach identity achievement, sexualization like this can disrupt and distort that natural process.

Stage 6: Maintaining Control: Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to keep the child in continued participation and silence—particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship. Children in these entangled relationships—and at this point they are entangled—confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the money, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The groomer creates a system of rewards for the behavior and the loss of those rewards becomes the consequences for ending the relationship. The child may also feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted by the offender, family, and friends.

 

Grooming for sexual exploitation purposes is a complex and effective strategy that we must be vigilant about. If you work with youth in any capacity, you are charged with protecting these precious children. Blaming them for the abuse will only render them more vulnerable to future attacks because it will further marginalize them from protective factors.

In our next post we will explore our response should we suspect grooming/sexual abuse is occurring and how we can work to prevent it in the first place.

Helping Teens Navigate Dating Abuse


National statistics on dating violence show a startling trend:

  • 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Girls between ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Three times the national average.

Teens are more than likely to first disclose abuse to a peer but if they chose to disclose abuse to a trusted adult we should be equipped to help them navigate the process. Below are some suggestions on how we can best help a young person begin the journey of addressing the abuse.

Barriers to Disclosing Abuse

Let’s start by looking at the reasons a young person might not say anything about the abuse:

  1. Fear of not being believed.
  2. Humiliation.
  3. They believe they are responsible for the abuse.
  4. Need to protect the abuse/family.
  5. Asking for help equals weakness.
  6. Fear of reprisal.

What Leads to Disclosure

  1. Anger
  2. Medical concerns
  3. Realizing implications of abuse
  4. Asked about the abuse by a non-family member
  5. Siblings are at-risk
  6. Abuse becomes intolerable
  7. No longer in relationship with abuser
  8. Safe relationships to confide in

How Best to Respond

  1. Empathy
  2. Don’t judge/Check personal bias
  3. Be direct but don’t force the conversation
  4. Manage your reactions (don’t overreact)
  5. Remember appropriate developmental expectations
  6. Be patient
  7. Consider gender/sexuality issues
  8. Follow-up/Take action

If you work with youth/teens in any capacity you are likely a mandated reporter (check your state guidelines). It would also be wise to develop a program policy specific to how your team should handle disclosure of abuse of any kind.

teen-dating-violence1

 

The Functionality of Sin


ducttapeTraditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started us on a journey of seeking to understand these fringe issues (which really aren’t fringe any longer), to be better equipped to love these kids that God was sending us. We believed we were called to be good stewards of the kids He sent us and that meant pulling our head out of the sand, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Sin is such a complex issue, everything from understanding what it is to what it isn’t, to what are the systemic causes of it, to how we deal with the fallout of sin, to how we put programs in place to create an environment that not only discourages sin but fosters the belief that everyone, EVERYONE, is a child of God and treated accordingly.

Dr. Brene` Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power explains her research on the subject of shame as a study on the power of connection and the dangers of disconnection. When one considers the process to the product that is a sinful individual we must first understand that our primary drive is to be connected. God first existed in community and we are created in Their image, aren’t we? The longing to belong serves many purposes; survival, fulfillment, success, and procreation. Growing up as blank slates our families, environments, and culture shape how we “learn” to connect. We are taught skills and styles of connecting to others. Sometimes these means are healthy and affirming, and God honoring, placing God at the helm and others accordingly. Other times we are not taught healthy ways of connecting. We are taught that violence, aggression, manipulation and other illegitimate means are what are necessary to get what you need and want.

When we are not affirmed as worthy of being connected to others we learn to see ourselves as deficient, broken, not valuable, insignificant, etc., but our need for connection doesn’t leave us, we simply learn other ways to get what we need.

If this is done well, as God first intended, then it significantly increases the likelihood of having generations of people who choose to enter into a relationship with Him, just as He ordained from the beginning of time.
When this doesn’t go as God intended the opposite result is the outcome. Brokenness in God’s creation exists. God’s children all fighting and pining instead of cooperating to satisfy the deepest longings of their heart. Longings placed in them to direct them to God and each other, in that order. We experience sin and its collateral damage when we invert that order, placing me and others before our relationship with God the Father.

This is where sin becomes functional. Sin becomes a means to an end. For a long time we have demonized our sinful youth as just giving in to their hedonic nature. What if there was more going on than just simple pleasure seeking? What is we began to ask the question, “What purpose does sin have?”. Would this change the way we approach our youth and their sinful behaviors? What if we started having conversations about other ways, more God-honoring ways, to meet the deepest longings of their hearts? What if we spoke the language of their heart and longings? What if we told them of a God who can satisfy these longings in real ways, so that it is God’s love that draws them not the fear of Him. What if we created space in our homes and gathering places where youth felt they belonged and mattered? If we could do this, with the help of the Spirit, would they drop their cheap substitute (sin) for the real deal (God)? What do we have to lose?

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