I have two major philosophies in youth ministry:
- The church should be the safest place in the world. Every kid has the right to have a place where they belong, where they can be themselves, where they can share their story and feel known. I work with middle schoolers because no place feels safe to this age: home can feel like a war zone, friends change more than their underwear, and the need to compete and be perfect in academia and extracurriculars is making our children anxious. Plus… their bodies are betraying them.
- In order for the church to be the safest place, we have to have the toughest conversations here. Conversations that are otherwise untouchable become essential to understanding our human condition and our calling as Christians.
And while I hate that I have to write a blog post about how to discuss school shootings, I do so because I recognize that (a) our kids literally don’t feel safe right now and (b) it’s our duty to make sure that students can talk about this at church.
As I process the latest school shooting, my heart is full of grief and lament. My love lost a long-time dear friend in that shooting, a man who lost his life protecting children. When I initially heard the news last Wednesday, I quickly moved on. This happens all the time. It hit me at Ash Wednesday service, when our pastor began the service with a lament. I was sitting next to two middle schoolers, and I almost felt like it was inappropriate to remind them of their reality. Isn’t that crazy? And when PJ found out his friend’s life was robbed, I still hadn’t quite connected it all. It wasn’t until Sunday, when PJ was grieving in worship and our pastor stood up and called it our Christian duty to react that I realized: I had been numb. Apathetic. And that is nothing more than pathetic.
Today I repented of my apathy, and committed myself to doing whatever it takes to make sure that those who are grieving have the space and resources to turn their grief into holy work. And since the voices of this movement are young, I feel like it’s only appropriate that we make the church a place where students can react and take action.
Here are some ideas and resources for both discussion and action:
Tools for Discussion
- Read this article by Kara Powell on Fuller Youth Institute, written this last week.
- And this one by Brad Griffin, also on FYI from a while back.
- This free series from XP3/Orange on “Through the Darkness”
- An important lesson from Fred Rogers.
- This article: “Fight against Desensitization to Tragedy.”
- This responsive prayer.
- Give students statements from your conference or senior pastor. Here’s an example from UMC bishops.
- This fantastic article on CBN, of all places.
- This article from a Columbine student, and now, a youth pastor.
- This eleven-minute video on Discipleship in the Midst of Tragedy
- This podcast on navigating tragedy with teens on Stuff You Can Use.
- This short guide from the US Department of Health & Human Services.
Ideas for Action
- Partner with other churches. Contact your denominational office, nearby churches, etc. to see how you can partner.
- Partner with “March for our Lives.” More information will come out about what this looks like, but do whatever you can to make sure that your church has a presence.
- Collect money. March for our Lives is also a great resource for that.
- If you partner with one main local school, consider making your church a hub for the walk-out on April 20th. Definitely ask parents how they feel about this before you condone skipping school. I remember in high school we did a “walk-out” once, and most of my friends ended up rioting; so if you have a place where students can come grab snacks and hang out, then that could be helpful.
- Pray over the names and pictures.
- Adapt a “Safe Shooter Policy” at your church. We went through this a few years ago, and it was really difficult for me to sit through a seminar on what to do if a shooter walks into your church…but it’s important.
- Write letters with students to local congressmen. Click here to find your representatives. You can also use the “Town Hall” feature on Facebook.
- Research to see if there are any Town Halls, or if you can get school shootings on the agenda at your local town meeting. Show up with students.
- Whenever you can, make sure that students are leading the efforts within the church. This is THEIR concern, let THEM tell the story from their perspective. The only way this will change is if it gets personal–and we needs kids telling adults their story.
- Allow students to write prayers of lament.
- Support campaigns of students as they come up with them, like this Facebook page students started or this one that killed Kmart sales of guns after Columbine.
- Create an evening of prayer stations. Here’s one (created for All Saint’s Day, but still amazing).
- Or these prayer stations, created for the Belgium terrorist attack.
- Go OT and build an altar on your prayers.
- Share this article with parents from PBS.