March is here! This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of the Shaming
Glenn Maddox is the Missions Mobilizer for the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He’s a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He and his wife Jen met in the Baptist Student Union, and they have two boys – Graham and Dalton.
The story of the shaming of a girl at camp ended a lot better than it started. But it was touch and go for a while. I coordinate Impact Mission Camps, a youth construction mission camp and ministry of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. We partner with local associations and groups of churches to bring students to a locality where people need home repairs and equip the youth to help ensure those homes are safe, warm, and dry. This particular incident began, as so many conflicts at camp do, with a clothing disagreement between an adult and a youth. It’s always felt like if we spent half the time telling everyone to respect one another as we do telling them what not to wear, we’d probably have fewer issues in multiple areas. But saying that to leaders never quite gets the enthusiastic response I’m hoping for.
This particular week, we had sent the crews out to the homes they were making repairs to, and about an hour later, a leader walked up to me visibly upset. She told me she needed me to talk to a girl who was being really disrespectful and refusing to change clothes. She said the girl’s shorts were too short, and one of the other leaders had confronted her publicly and told her that her shorts were unacceptable, she was refusing to change her clothes, and she was making a scene in front of the rest of the group. So could I talk to her?
I can assure you that being a 40 year old male in youth ministry, the very last thing I want to do is talk to a girl about how revealing her clothes are. But I asked where she was, asked one of my staff to join me, and we went to talk to her. When I saw her, my first thought was, “Is that her? What was the big problem exactly?” When I realized that must be her, I went and sat down next to her and saw nothing but pain and shame on her face as she waited for me to tell her how awful she was for wearing shorts. At a work camp. In the summer. All I could think was how horribly this girl had just been treated, and I said the only thing I could think of. “I’m sorry this happened to you.” And she burst into tears.
She had come to serve people in Christ’s name that week, and one of the first things she heard from a person that was supposed to be helping her interpret that experience that week was that she was a terrible person who didn’t care about herself, anyone else around her, or Jesus because she wore shorts when it was hot outside. We talked for a bit, and we just tried to assure her that she had done nothing wrong, that it was not okay for her to be treated that way, and that we would support whatever next step she took – returning to her site, going to a new site, etc. She impressed me even more when she decided to go back to her site and discuss what had happened with the leader. It affirmed for me yet again that there are better ways to deal with students than using shame to keep them from doing what we don’t want them to do. We have to show them that no matter what, the first two things they will receive from us are respect and love.