The Youth Cartel‘s recent release, 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers, is critical reading for anyone connected to youth ministry. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. When they first announced it as an upcoming book, I assumed it would be like most contrasting views books; a debate on whether or not youth ministry should minister to LGBTQ teens. I was wrong; this book assumes that as people created in the image of God, every church has a divine calling to minister to LGBTQ teens. This book is not a theological debate, rather, it is a presentation of a range of approaches to practical ministry with young people.
Given that premise, I had another assumption. Noticing a pattern? I assumed it would be four liberal/progressive authors presenting their approaches with little to no connection to the culture and context of my church. I was so wrong. Mark Oestreicher did an incredible job of assembling a group of authors from significantly different church contexts, each with drive to minister to LGBTQ teens, but in very different ways, shaped dramatically by their church cultures.
A central theme to the book is this; “if we say we are all made in the image of God – the Imago Dei – then we must affirm that LGBTQ individuals are also made in the image of God” (p.17). Each of the authors are united in the calling to minister to all young people, regardless of labels; what was fascinating to see them each present their approaches, as well as push back on one another in areas of disagreement. One author comes from a point of view of full inclusion and equality, another writes, “even though we may not agree with their sexual behaviors or what many in the church would call lifestyle choices, we can still offer love and extend grace” (p.76). What would seem such conflicting theologies, and did result in some thought provoking rebuttals in their responses to one another, was still incredibly exciting to see because each of these ministries were being proactive and intentional in their love and ministry to a community typically rejected or ignored by the church at large.
The format was simple; each author (Shelley Donaldson, Gemma Dunning, Nick Elio, Eric Woods) presented a personal story that shaped and challenged them, followed by their theology and ministry framework, and concluded with a description of how they applied that practically in their ministries. Each of the four views are followed by one response from one of the other authors, highlighting areas of agreement, concern, and even outright disagreement. The book concludes with two appendixes on ministry to transgender teens (Mark Oestricher, Audrua Welch Malvaez); the first from the parent of a transgender teen, the second from the perspective of pastoring transgender teens. For me, perhaps one of the most convicting and powerful quotes came from Oestricher in his appendix, “Thoughts from a Parent of a Transgender Teen.” He was answering the question of what he needed as a parent, and it was simple; “to know that you still want my kid here, even if they don’t fit your idea of the ideal youth ministry kid. I want you to celebrate all that is good and beautiful and true about my child and my relationship with my child” (p.122).
So, to sum up; this book is a must read. It’s not huge; at just under 140 pages, it is not overwhelming. For me, as a youth pastor, I felt like it was the first time I was reading something that gave actual direction on possible approaches to ministry instead of just theological arguments. It’s a risky book to write in our American church climate; I wonder if there aren’t more resources out there like this one because of fear? I may have drained the ink in my highlighter as I was reading; there is something marked on just about every page of my copy. It’s well written, from significantly different ministry theological and practical climates, and it is a significant contribution to the youth ministry world.