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Kenosha in Your Youth Group

Kenosha in Your Youth Group

By Aaron Buttery,
C4SO NextGen Leader
September 11, 2020

While your church may be far from Kenosha, Wisconsin, it is present in your youth group and in the minds of your students. The violent impact of the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, the subsequent protests, and the shooting by Kyle Rittenhouse continues to roll over our nation and into our homes.
You've heard about these incidents on news outlets, from politicians, and on social media. So have your students. The question today is, what are they hearing from you and the Church?
Here are a few suggestions for leaders (myself included) as they address this crucial event.

Don't Go Numb.

I want to make a confession of sin. Just moments after hearing the first reports of Jacob Blake's shooting, I went numb. The litany of shootings, violent protests, politicized racial vitriol, and non-stop lament since Ahmaud Arbery ("say his name") had numbed me. I recognize this as both evidence of white privilege and the result of personal complacency.
If you and I are going numb, we are probably going to talk about something else with our students. We are probably going to avoid, and therefore minimize, the humanity and inhumanity of Kenosha. Your students may be numb as well, or they may be just waiting for a chance to pray, talk, fast, and wrestle with violence, racism, or any of the numerous topics on their minds. Numb or not, we must not disregard, avoid, or stay silent on this.

A few questions for your group:
• When you hear "Kenosha" what comes to mind?
• When you hear or see hard things over and over, how do you respond? Do you get numb? Angry? Resigned?
• Is your response selfless (empathy, prayer, lament, and holy discontent) or selfish (discomfort, dismissal, or ready with excuses)?

Focus on the Kingdom.

Planning a discussion around any challenging topic is difficult. Discussing systemic racism, policing, and murder during a presidential election cycle in the midst of a pandemic is beyond difficult. So how do you do it?

I suggest staying focused on the Kingdom and avoiding distractions. Systemic racism is a Kingdom issue. Murder is a Kingdom issue. As Kingdom issues, they are part of how our scriptures are connected to the political realm. But as followers of Christ, we do not need to become mired in partisan politics. We must help our students develop the discipline and maturity necessary to distinguish and discuss Kingdom as different than country.
Be clear at the beginning of the conversation that you are not examining a political party or politician, but identifying the Kingdom of God movement that we can all participate in. Reiterate that the discussion is not about assigning guilt but recognizing how we are called to love our neighbor.

A few questions for your group:

• Imagine the Kingdom of God. What would have been different for Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse if the Kingdom of God was fully realized in Kenosha?
• What would be different in our own community?
• What would be different in you and me if we fully lived into the present-but-not-yet reality of the Kingdom?

Recognize image bearers.

A lot went wrong in Kenosha, and frankly, I don't even know the half of it. I don't know Jacob or Kyle. I don't know the police officers or the protesters. However, it seems to me that one core truth was ignored in this situation, and it's what prompted me to write this article.

People chose not to see the image of God in others. That happened multiple times with violent results in Kenosha.

How is a man, a child of God, shot in the back seven times?
When he is not honored and recognized as bearing the image of God.
How does a 17-year-old child of God shoot three people, killing two?

When he does not honor and recognize the image of God in those he sees.

This brings me to my knees. In my 20 years of student ministry, I wish I had taught more about how all people bear the image of God. More than Bible drills, more than games, more than sexual ethics, we need to invite this Next Generation to see the image of God, the face of Christ, and the scent of the Spirit in those we meet. We can only love our neighbor and the stranger when we first see them as bearing the image of God in the same way that we do.

Being an image bearer may be the first expression of grace in our lives. We can't remove it or earn it. However, it does not make us right, innocent, or perfect. We must choose to see others as bearing the very same image we bear, to honor, recognize, and love them as a child of God and a person of worth.

A few questions for your group:
• Look on your screen or take a quick selfie. You bear the image of God, by gift and by grace. How does that make you feel?
• Now look at a friend or someone else. Do you see the face of Christ in their face? How would it shift your connection with them if you did?
• Does he bear the image of God? Does he?
• How might we need the Holy Spirit to shift our heads and hearts to see the image of God in others today?

Kenosha is in your youth group. I hope and pray that we will not go numb, that we will focus on the Kingdom, and that we will invite the Next Generation to recognize the image of God in every person.
Come, Holy Spirit.

Do you have questions or ideas about raising up the Next Generation of leaders in your community? Contact Aaron.

The Rev. Aaron Buttery leads and facilitates C4SO's NextGen Leadership team and serves as Director of Student Ministry, Next Generation Leadership, ACNA. As a 20+ year NextGen ministry leader, a two-time church planter, and leadership coach with Spiritual Leadership, Inc., he is the primary contact in C4SO for questions, ideas, and excitement about young people and growing young leaders. Contact him at aaron@c4so.org.

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