What are the rights that you have as an individual created in the image of God?
What are the things that everyone should have regardless of race, nationality, gender, or even faith belief, sexual orientation, or political affiliation?
God says each of us is designed to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives free of the fear of being victimized by people or systems that treat someone poorly or make someone feel inferior to others. We want to be treated justly, or fairly, in an unjust world.
As Small Group Leaders of students, you have the privilege of a front-row seat to your students’ lives when they encounter the realities that the world doesn’t always operate according to this standard. Your students may experience accusations of a crime because of their skin color or may witness someone not having an opportunity because of their gender. They will realize that public education isn’t entirely free and resources in different parts of the world, the country, or even their city are not allocated fairly. The way we respond as leaders can help determine how students continue to view the Church as an extension of God’s love for them and for others.
Follow Up To Communicate Care
The follow-up in a student’s life is an essential action we can take when we find out a student has become victimized by or made aware of an act of injustice. We might be tempted to let the uncomfortable moment pass and avoid an awkward conversation, but when we ignore the issues our students face, we are inadvertently ignoring them. When we follow up with our students, it shows their feelings are worthy of our attention. The follow-up shows our students that we think about them beyond Sunday and that we carry their concerns with us. Following up with their hurt communicates we are concerned about their heart and can provide hope to their story.
Listen More Than You Talk
During the follow-up, listen more than you talk. Even if you feel like you understand what they’ve experienced, remember you are there to offer an ear for them to be heard, a shoulder for them to cry on, and then wisdom for the next steps. Students can sometimes be circular or evasive while sharing a challenging experience, so this might take a while. Give them time to walk the labyrinth of their thoughts before leaning in with advice. Students often have a better pulse on their peer group than we do. If the injustice happened amongst individuals their age, they might be able to work through enough scenarios to develop solutions that will work with their peers. If the injustice happened at the hands of someone older than them, still give them time to process and listen for a moment to suggest the involvement of the necessary adults.
Validate Their Experience
While you’re listening, validate their experience. Depending on the gravity of the injustice, it can be tempting as an adult to want to discard challenging situations as a juvenile exaggeration, but aim to believe before you negate. Give your student the benefit of the doubt. If further investigation or action is required, get your leadership involved to help determine the next steps. If your student is dismissed, invalidating them might keep them from disclosing or dealing with injustice in the future. Being invalidated brings shame; validation fuels trust.
Mobilize Them To Make Change
Injustice is never made right through passivity, so mobilize them to initiate change in the situation. Affirm that God doesn’t waste our experiences by asking, “if God allowed you to see it, what could God want to reveal to you through it?” God has also given each of us unique gifts and interests. Encourage your student to use their skills, talents, and influence to love themselves and other people well. When they are victimized by injustice and can recognize it, loving themselves well might look like seeking the resources and help to overcome it, eradicate it, and begin to heal from it. If they witness an injustice, using their talents and gifts might look like gathering a group of people to help support and amplify the voice of the victim. Whatever the action looks like, we are called to “do justice.” We are called to act opposite of anything that devalues another person.
There may also be times a student faces a situation that makes them feel helpless about how to initiate change. They are enduring unfair circumstances that feel larger than them, and they don’t see a way out. It is vital then, to reassure them, they are not held responsible for what they are experiencing, but more importantly, that they are not alone. Commit to standing with them. Commit to being a safe place they can continue to confide in and continue to follow up. Determine in your heart as their leader to make following up a priority with patience, compassion, and consistency.
Continue The Conversation With Consistent Follow Up
One thing to remember about following up with students is the importance of continuing the follow-up. Consistency is pivotal in the life of every student—no matter their age. When we show consistency, it builds the type of trust needed for students to continue confiding in us as a staple in their lives. It is even helpful to involve parents and our Ministry Leaders, depending on the nature of the situation. The more we show our investment into our students’ lives, the more trust is earned and the power of our presence is impactful.
Small Groups create a unique opportunity to influence your few and empower them to use their internal faith to affect their or someone else’s external circumstances. Injustice is part of our world’s brokenness, but our hope in Jesus and healthy community gives our students the courage to overcome that brokenness and to play a role in healing it. When we encourage our students to talk about an injustice they see or experience, we can equip them to live out the faith we talk about each week.