Youth Ministry as an Advocate for Vulnerable Children

Perfect.

No really, perfect.

With my sarcasm volume cranked up to 100% I say it again, “We had the perfect ending to a perfect school year.”

How perfect was this school year? It was so perfect that we’re planning a bonfire at the beach this weekend where we will burn everything. And I mean that literally. We will burn everything.

Why? Sure, the whole school year wasn’t bad. There were parts of it that were pretty good! But we need to start over– to symbolically leave the 2015-2016 school year behind us.

I’ll spare my readers the details and just summarize it like this: One of our kids made a mistake at school and the school offered an outsized, nuclear response. It took 8 days of near round-the-clock work to finally clear it up late last week. And the ramifications of the outcome will take months to navigate.

Something like this is an unholy mess no one can prepare themselves to deal with.

It put us in a tailspin emotionally. Anger, disappointment, heartbreak, distrust, frustration… near madness. Round and round we went.

And, in the end, we don’t know what the long-term ramifications will be.

And even though it’s over we are exhausted, heartbroken, angry, and frustrated. Most of all exhausted. Thank you Jesus for our upcoming vacation… we desperately need the sanity only Yosemite seems to bring.

Vulnerable Children Are Among Us

I share this not looking for sympathy. I share this because you need to understand how privileged we are to have the resources available to deal with this.

  • I’ve been involved in things at school before on behalf of other people’s children, so I had some working knowledge.
  • We’ve got access to a myriad of friends who are experts in what we were dealing with.
  • We have financial resources and a budget that make funds available for when unexpected things come up.
  • We’ve got a support system to lean on as we process a course of action.
  • Our children have two parents at home full-time.
  • Our family has work/life flexibility which allowed us to dedicate the time needed without fear.

Yes, those 8 days were hell. But we are painfully aware our  family walked through that with many advantages and privileges.

All along the way we kept wondering about children in similar circumstances who just didn’t have access to the resources we did, who didn’t know how to navigate a system, who didn’t know they could fight back or fact check or compare actions against the law, or who– quite honestly– wouldn’t even have had the ability to show up because work wouldn’t allow them to go.

What would have happened to them? I shudder at the thought.

Most likely, if the same thing happened to another child anywhere in America, the outcome may have been much different.

You see, no one stepped forward to help us. And if no one stepped forward to help us— you can be assured that this is standard operating procedure. If you get accused of something it’s up to you to defend yourself.

Each day millions of children navigate the hallways as classmates in a public school system defined as equal. But it’s not. Schools do their very best to level the playing field. But everyone knows what is up, who has and who doesn’t. It’s no secret among students who gets free lunch, who attends before or after school care, who has a big house, who is undocumented or a refugee or whose parents are on the splits.

Schools aspire to be a great equalizer. But they are not. Students may be afforded equal opportunities but they aren’t equal.

We should continue to aspire to that but we also need to stop pretending. 

Just as there are privileged children among us, there are vulnerable children, as well.

Youth Ministry as an Advocate for Vulnerable Children

If you know me, you know I’ve long held up the baton that youth ministry needs to see itself from a bigger lens than youth group. I think youth group is great– but there is so much more that the church could and should be doing to minister to the needs of adolescents in our communities.

I don’t think that the church’s responsibility to minister is limited to the people who show up to a program. I believe that God has placed our churches where they are for a reason, we aren’t just a place of worship, we are a place that lives out the Gospel as people of faith in a community. Just like Jesus’ life was incarnate, we too as Christian men and women must live incarnationally. To be like Jesus, “Christ-like” we have to live among and for others.

Friends, there are vulnerable children among us. Your kids go to school with kids who are vulnerable. Your kids are friends and classmates and buddies with them. You’ve got vulnerable children in your youth group, on your block, on and on.

The question is: Are you prepared to advocate for them?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

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