Questions About a Certain "Brand" of Student in Youth Ministry
A guest post by Larry Petry, M.Div. student, youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY
Recently, there were some statements made by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch that raised no small reaction. I share the following paragraphs from Robin Abcarian's LA Times article, "Attention Abercrombie shoppers: Walk Away." (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/14/local/la-me-0514-abcarian-abercrombie-20130514)
Last week, the website Business Insider had a story about Abercrombie's refusal to make plus-sizes, unlike its competitors H&M and American Eagle. Abercrombie Chief Executive Mike Jeffries wants "thin and beautiful" people shopping in his store, explained retail analyst Robin Lewis. "He doesn't want his core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing his clothing."
The Business Insider story also linked to a 2006 profile of Jeffries that detailed the executive's rancid retail philosophy, which has touched a dormant nerve.
"In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids," Jeffries told reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis of Salon. "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny." (Emphasis mine)
This led me to ponder a whole series of questions:
Does Jeffries' attitude sometimes seep into the culture of our youth groups?
Is everyone really welcome?
Is there a certain "type" or "brand" of student that is valued, appreciated more than others?
In what ways do we see this played out in youth ministry?
What things do we overtly or covertly lift up or celebrate in our gatherings?
Can the youth leaders' personal preferences become the litmus test for a student to be "accepted?"
And for the youth leaders: are we tempted to fit into some stereotype of "the ideal youth leader?"
As youth leaders, we proclaim the grandeur of being created in God's image (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139) and the thrill of living as God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). But when push comes to shove, how often do we struggle to be comfortable in our own God-given skin?
Ministry is often about asking these questions. We ought to develop habits of healthy self-reflection. As leaders in the church, we must be characterized by a fierce desire for our identity to be formed solely by "Jesus-is-with-me." (Christ in us is the hope of glory, isn't it?)
Our youth group communities must also be characterized as places where students are similarly encouraged and equipped to discover their God-given identities, to be comfortable in that skin. There is no room in youth ministry for a cookie-cutter production line nor Abercrombie-like exclusion. Developing this Christ-centered identity in ourselves and in our students is an intentional process. It will require persistent evaluation, question asking and re-alignment of ministry and personal habits.
What practices do you have for forming genuine Christ-centered identity in each of your students? And in yourself? Let's continue to pray, ponder, and collaborate toward effective practices in our ministries.
Larry Petry, M.Div. student
Youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY