If you haven't watched the video above do it. Do it now! Then come back and read this. If you have watched it then read the next line.
If you are reading this its because you have watched the video above. Or you have decided to stick it to the man for no reason whatsoever and have skipped the video altogether. Either way, here's the point: Our youth ministries are loaded with a diverse cast of people. Some are relatively cool, others are relatively overwhelmingly weird, and then there are the ones who can't be labeled cause they are way too hipster to be put in a box. Either way, they are all there, every weekend. They are different, diverse, and unique. And while that is a good thing, sometimes it can be a bad thing.
What do we do when there is someone in our youth group who doesn't seem to fit in? The introvert who is not as bubbly as we would like him to be? The emo chick who is not as positive as we would like her to be? The hyper-honest uni student who says it like it is. The spoilt kid who complains about everything. The conservative one who is always butting heads with the liberals, or the liberal who is always poking at the status quo. Then there are the ones who seem emotionally unstable, or who are just plain awkward to talk to (especially the ones with the eye-stab syndrome - you know who I'm talking about. They talk and stare into the darkest recesses of your soul at the same time. And when you finish talking, they. don't. stop. staring. ... Weird.)
OK, so what to do? Although there is no easy fix for interpersonal issues, below are some simple steps that may be of help.
- Remember that Youth Group is not meant to be a social club. Rather than looking at it as a group, look at it as a ministry. Rather than coming to church expecting to get your social fix, come expecting for God to use you to bring healing to another persons life.
- Remember that being kind and inclusive does not automatically mean you have to be super good friends with someone. If you don't get along with someone have a chat with some wise leaders and friends for some feedback. If at the end you simply can't then do your best to be inclusive and kind and don't feel bad about not being best pals. Sometimes, in this broken world, there are people we simply cannot click with.
- Learn to distinguish between personality differences, disabilities, and instabilities.
- A personality difference is simply when Tom and Jan don't get along because Tom is too melancholic and it drives Jan crazy to be around that kind of personality. In this case, following step 1 and 2 would be helpful for Jan (among other things).
- A personality disability is when someone struggles in social settings as a direct result of having a disability such as Autism, Asperger, or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. When you find someone a bit odd don't just avoid them because it's the easy thing to do. Sometimes, there is nothing the person can do because they have this disability and it's tragic to see such people ostracized or cast aside over something that is out of their control. In these situations, our responsibility is to pray for empathy and patience and to put ourselves aside as we seek to enter into intimacy with them.
- An personality instability is a deeper issue. Sometimes it can be related to a disability and at other times it can be related to emotional issues. In the same way, people in this category often have no control over what they are dealing with. Circumstances in life or genetic predispositions can set them up to struggle to maintain good emotional health. Ignoring them because they are odd is just as tragic. If anything, these students need our support, prayers, and love in order to overcome. While we should never try and take on the responsibility of "fixing" their problems (often a counselor, therapist, or tight-nit small group is needed for that) we should be careful to never exclude them for the sake of our own personal comfort.
In then end, remember this one simple rule: God wants us to love one another as he has loved us. This means that we are to lay down our lives, agendas, comfort zones, and preferences for one another. We may not always be best buddies with everyone in our youth ministry but we should be daily seeking to be inclusive, supportive, and loving. And in those instances where we feel in over our heads, we need to be willing to reach out for help. The one thing we should never do is ignore or reject anyone no matter how odd they may be.