conversations on the fringe

amplifying the cries of the unheard



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 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)


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.

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)

In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

Finding Value as God’s Beloved (youth pastor life skills series pt.7)

As God’s beloved children, we cannot begin to grasp the infinite worth we are to Him on an unconditional basis (Ephesians 5:1, 1 John 3:1,2). We were “bought at a [very high] price” (1 Corinthians 6:20), “chosen” (Ephesians 1:4), a “dwelling place in which God lives” (Ephesians 2:22), and much, much more. In fact, more than 200 descriptions of us in the New Testament attest to our unconditional worth because of Christ’s work. Let’s not deny his grace by giving in to untrue feelings of worthlessness.

In the spirit of Henri Nouwen’s great work “The Return of the Prodigal Son” take a moment from your busy day and meditate on the image below and bask in the knowledge that the Father loves you because you are simply His, and not because of what you do…

Thought this an appropriate post on World Suicide Prevention Day.

conversations on the fringe

Loving God, you made me who I am.
I praise you and I love you, for I am wonderfully made,
in your own image.

But when people make fun of me,
I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed.
So please God, help me remember my own goodness,
which lies in you.
Help me remember my dignity,
which you gave me when I was conceived.
Help me remember that I can live a life of love.
Because you created my heart.

Be with me when people make fun of me,
and help me to respond how you would want me to,
in a love that respects other, but also respects me.
Help me find friends who love me for who I am.
Help me, most of all, to be a loving person.

And God, help me remember that Jesus loves me.
For he was seen as an outcast, too.

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World Suicide Prevention Day

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.


If you are in crisis or thinking about suicide you deserve immediate support please call The Trevor Lifeline1-866-488-7386

Supervision in Youth Ministry

In most professions there is a level of supervision that is required to ensure fidelity to certain expectations.  To make sure that the company’s employees are “hitting the mark”.  At best, in many churches, there is the annual performance review but the one performing the review is either way too removed to be helpful or too involved to remain objective. 

Another problem we run into in youth ministry is that youth ministry and its staff operate on an island.  They are just out there, separate from the rest of the “real church” and are just making it up as they go along, not identifying best practices or even gauging if what they are doing is actually producing the fruit they were hoping for.

The following are suggestions for providing supervision in youth ministry.  These ideas will help whether it’s your Sr. Pastor doing your review or you performing reviews on your volunteers.  It is not meant to be a corporate exercise but one intended to provide a system of ongoing feedback that measures how well we are stewarding our privilege of pouring into the lives our youth.

  1. Care about their spiritual life first –  This goes without saying but it often takes a back seat to other “important” ministry stuff.  Make sure your team is serving from a cup that runs over not a cup that is nearly empty.  Spend time communicating with them the importance of their own spiritual health.  The principle “You cannot transmit something you don’t have” applies here.  If our volunteers are operating out of a deficiency then they will likely burnout and be ineffective.  Make this a priority.
  2. Review all curriculum used – Most volunteers are not trained in theology.  Most volunteers are not even aware of the doctrinal positions of their church yet they are given free reign to teach.  This is not a mandate to micro-manage but it is a strong encouragement to know what is being taught in your ministry.  Countless problems can be attributed to well-intended, untrained volunteers teaching conflicting material to their youth.  The number of call from parents or elders concerned about non-biblical teaching can be reduced by training your volunteers on how to use the curriculum.  More importantly it will allow you the opportunity to teach your volunteers how to “handle the word of God” appopriately.
  3. Develop training opportunities – Time-pressured volunteers do not have the luxury of escaping for a weeklong conference on youth ministry.  Most can barely squeeze in their kids softball games into their already busy week.  Use technology to share relevant information such as webinars, articles, and self-study courses.  Pick up the tab on these if your budget allows.  And schedule regular one-on-one time at least monthly.  Let them know up front that this is an expectation for all volunteers so they can make an informed decision from the get-go.
  4. Direct observation – There is no better way to provide feedback to your volunteers than by observing them in action firsthand.  When was the last time you were able to sit in on their small group?  When was the last time you were able to give them immediate feedback on their leadership?  There are multiple ways to do this if you can’t be present.  You can Skype into a group meeting, have them video record group meetings for training purposes.  How cool would that be if you happen to have a “star” volunteer and you can capture them on video and use that to train other volunteers with?
  5. Develop policies and procedures – This seems very corporate but it has saved our butts on more that one occasion.  Do your volunteers know what to do if a student discloses that they are being abused at home?  Is there a reporting structure in place that they are aware of?  Do they know they expectations and safety guidelines in place to protect them and the students?  If not it would be wise to invest in developing these.  You could even do it with your team.
  6. Develop a resource bank – This could be a library with hard copies available, it could be a list on, names of others in the community that specialize in certain areas of need.  This should include other youth workers in the area for collaboration.  Is there a Youth Ministry Network that your volunteer can access?  Are there professionals that work with youth in other arenas that can sharpen you and your volunteers? (i.e., teachers, social workers, counselors, legal professionals, health care professionals, etc.)
  7. Collaborate with others to equip your team – You do not have to be an expert on all things.  There are plenty of others who can contribute to the training of your team.  several years ago we had a rash of teenage girls engaged in self-injurious behaviors (cutting).  At the time we knew nothing about this behavior.  But, we did know a few others that did so we invited them to come work with our team.  They provided an understanding of cutting that removed some of the shock for us and we were able to better engage the girls in ways that made a difference.  Identify the assets in your congregation and community and invite them to share with your team.

This is not an exhaustive list but maybe a good start.  As we still struggle to be taken seriously in the ministry world orchestrating systems of supervision will definitely increase the potential of our ministries.  What are other ways can we provide support to those who serve alongside us?

Your Youth Group Sucks! – Building Rapport with Difficult Students

There are good reasons why competent adults find themselves uncommonly baffled when working with adolescents. As winsome as they may be at times, teenagers present youth workers and volunteers with challenges that other age groups do not.

First, teens are often an involuntary participant. They are in your office, groups, outreaches, programs, etc. because somebody else – parents, friends, grandparent, sibling – has thought it necessary that they be there. They often see their life as none of your business and their difficulties as not of their own making, and would much rather assign blame to the very people that make them attend your groups, to other’s misguided thinking, and to the wind and tides rather than assume accountability for their problems that you could assist them with.

Second, the symptoms with which reactive, angry, acting-out adolescents present can be very intimidating. They storm out of rooms, run crying into bathrooms with and entourage in tow, they cut their arms, punch walls, drink and drive, refuse to go to school, provoke arguments, and the like. If they’re really mad, they show it by locking themselves in their room, threatening suicide. Sometimes they don’t eat enough for their bodies to function. Sometimes they refuse to say anything at all. Adults often feel an enormous pressure to make the scary symptoms stop. Right away!

Third, teenagers – especially those who do not want to be in your youth group – don’t necessarily adhere to common social protocols that grease the sticky interactions that occasionally occur in first meetings between people. These students don’t care if you are more uncomfortable than they are in getting a conversation going. The look on their face just tells you that they think your youth group sucks. Some adolescents don’t want to make a good impression, or care if you like them (some would prefer that you didn’t), or be interested in what you have to say. This is in marked contrast to the encounters we have with more accommodating students, and it especially blindsides the adult volunteers who historically have banked on influencing students through the authority bestowed on them by age, status, or title.


“You go into this room with this person and a of kids you go to school with and you’re supposed to start telling them about your personal stuff. They always want me to talk about God and stuff but I don’t even know what I think about any of that stuff. I can barely get through each day. It’s so stupid, I mean, like, who is this person anyway? And they always act so caring and everything and they don’t even know you.”

– Michael, age 16

“They’re always asking you things like, ‘Do you know where you will go if you were to die tonight?’ and ‘What would God think about that?’. Dumb stuff like that. I mean, what did they think I would say after I got into a fight with my mom this morning? God, it’s just so frustrating to be asked these questions instead of having a normal conversation.”

 – Kim, age 14

“It’s like they try not to have any feelings themselves or something. I don’t know – it’s weird. It’s, like, they can’t just be normal people. I’ll be sharing something in my small group that was really funny and they will look mad because I’m not saying what they want to hear. Once, I was crying about when my boyfriend broke up with me and all she could say was how sad I must have felt. Yeah, like no kidding, lady. Couldn’t she have thought of anything better to say?”

– Angela, age 17

Fake. Not normal. Frustrating. Those poor youth workers probably thought they were doing a good job of being sympathetic and helpful and available. The students did not. Somewhere the connection was being missed. We need a more suitable matching between what we offer and what the adolescent needs and wants. There has to be a bridge by which we can walk across where trust can grow.

Trust is such a fragile thing in the beginning. Too often we lead with a punch (focus on behavior) and lose any chance we had at developing a meaningful rapport with the student.

We might do better at engaging the difficult student if we looked at our ministries from the other side. How does this particular adolescent experience our ministry from the beginning through his or her last connection?

Blaming teenagers for their indifference or negative reactions they have towards our Christianity is ridiculous and unfair. So many adolescents who are authentically curious and want help for whatever ails them can’t work within the interpersonal format offered and they are being dismissed as being unreachable. Some of these students are unworkable, at this time, but more are labeled that than need to be. Maybe it’s time to recognize that teenage resistance to Christianity is a reflection of our inability to provide access to our faith that is seen as attractive and useful.

Rookie Mistakes (Pressuring Students to Change)

NEW SERIES:  I am going pull the curtain back on my failures over the years in youth ministry in an attempt to serve as a warning to those just entering the field.  I have made my fair share of mistakes for all of us and wisdom often comes from reflecting on those mistakes.  So, here we go with blog post one of Rookie Mistakes: Pressuring Students to Change.

If someone besides a teenager wants them to change (e.g., stop a particular sin, get a job, hang out with different friends, read their bible more, etc.) that idea immediately becomes contaminated and runs the risk of getting rejected – even if it is desperately desired by the teenager himself/herself.  Now there are always exceptions of completely compliant teens but if that’s the case you likely have very little to change.  This one reason is why it’s rarely productive for adults, parents, youth workers, or anyone else to need changes to happen more than the teenager himself/herself.  We may want it desperately, but once we try to get the teenager to make a different move because we desire it, we run the risk of making the prospect of change vastly less appealing to the teen.  Some of us are tempted to simplify this into “oppositionalism”, but it’s really something different, more connected to issues of a budding desire for autonomy and propriety than to a frank need to play opposites for their own sake.

Is it ever productive to invite a young person like these to examine why they so defensively view their parents’ concerns as an offensive commandment to change – e.g., “Why do you think it’s so hard for you to do something just because others would like you to do it too?”, “Why don’t you just do it and be obedient to your _________ like the bible says?”  That kind of questioning will likely be met with resistance or a simple, “I dunno.”  It may be more profitable to get kids interested in their own “change style” before being asked to do anything with it.  This allows them to converse about it without feeling as if they are soon going to be told they must get rid of it.  What would we do if we thought that talking about a subject meant that we were going to be asked to take action on it based on someone else’s preference?  We be careful about what we talked about, wouldn’t we?  So is the teen who feels we have an agenda for them.  That’s what teenagers in our ministries do when they feel that bringing up a subject (i.e., cutting, sex, doubt, etc.) will mean the adults will ask them to make an immediate change, minimizing the complexity of their situation with an over-simplistic directive.

With pressure-free conversation in the works, however, opportunities appear for the adult volunteer, parent, or youth worker to address the “advantages” and “disadvantages” of the students style with him/her without sounding as if the conversation was a bait-and-switch tactic.  “Are you sure this works for you this way?” is one such example.  This time, when the student looks down and responds softly with “I don’t know”, he/she has not closed off the discussion but instead extended a quiet and beautiful invitation for us to help.

Some kids will only change when the change is mandated by an adult, but even then, in an attempt to maintain a sense of autonomy they may still support the behavior even if unable to participate in it. (smoking pot, staying past curfew, etc.).  We will serve our kids and their faith if we can teach them how to think rather than just telling them what to do.  I was almost always surprised that when I allowed room and time for a kid to make a decision they usually made the right one more often than not.

Return from Hiatus

After taking some time off from blogging we’re getting back into the game.  Look for new posts coming soon.

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