n.b. This post about ‘Belong, Believe, Behave’ is primarily written to address an issue we see in some youth ministries. Even if you don’t run a faith-based youth program you may find some of the principles still apply. Thanks for reading!
Some things you learn just stick with you.
Like the fact that gorilla nose prints are like human finger prints – each is unique.
Or that there’s a law in one US state that allows a man to beat his wife with a leather strap no wider than 2 inches without her written permission.
Or that with fat that is 60 cm (23.6 inches or almost 2 feet) thick, your body would be bullet proof. *Do not test or try this anywhere. At any time. At all. Ever.*
Besides those riveting facts, I once heard three little words as part of a sermon that have stuck with me for years: Behave, Believe, Belong. It’s relevant to church, life and definitely working with youth.
There’s an unstated (and sometimes stated – both subtly and unsubtly) code in many churches and faith-based youth programming that new members must follow the Behave, Believe, Belong path to be included:
Behave – you must act correctly. You need to dress a certain way. Speak a certain way. Do not smoke. Do not drink. Do not have sex. Do not swear. Basically, change everything you can about yourself first so you fit in with our ‘norm.’
After which you will…
Believe – now that you are looking, smelling and acting correctly, we’ll happily share with you the good news of Jesus and what faith means. You may now believe in Him. Well done!
You can now…
Belong – you are a part of the group. You can attend our programming, join our small groups, use our facilities and find friends and a place where you fit.
But youth, like most people who find themselves seeking something within the church, aren’t looking for a place to behave. They have that at home, at school or even on the street. They’re looking for a place to belong.
It’s time to flip the script on the church and youth ministry’s attitude towards youth. It’s about providing a place to Belong, Believe, Behave:
Belong – First you belong. You walk through this door, you are welcome. You come to this lock-in, you are cared for. You meet me at your school after assembly, you fit. Just how you are. You smoke? You drink? You have 15,000 piercings? You wear hoodies? You like mice that play mini-trombones? You belong, simply because you are you, and God loves you, and so do I.
Through your belonging you have the opportunity to…
Believe – You have something you might find worth believing in. Love. Peace. Joy. Faithfulness. Patience. Forgiveness. Justice. Righteousness. Frailty. Whatever it is that you find here that helps draw you closer to a relationship with Christ and His/Your Father in Heaven. And if you don’t take those steps here, at this time, in this moment, you’re not a failure. You still belong.
And through this belonging and/or belief you might find that you…
Behave – Your behavior may change as a result of being here. You might find you love more and speak less. You might find that having somewhere you belong makes it possible for you to stop (or lessen – small steps people!) your smoking, drinking, promiscuity, excessive mouse-trombone playing video watching…. Whatever it is. Belonging and then belief can lead to a radical change in behavior.
I’m not saying you permit excessive amounts of unacceptable behavior (No, you don’t have to have bong-parties and allow orgies to happen in the fellowship hall). Have boundaries that keep everyone safe and be clear about those expectations, but don’t be quick to exclude everyone, everytime for everything.
This can also go the other way. It’s not just churches and church youth groups that do this, particularly within youth subcultures – you need to dress like a goth, or be a GLBT youth or like ‘x’ music to be included, rather than encouraging youth diversity. All youth work needs to be inclusive and accepting. Providing a place for young people to belong and develop into the amazing people God created them to be. No matter who they are, what they look like or what they do.
As the youth worker in your church or youth program, you may already prescribe to ‘Belong, Believe, Behave’. You may help young people feel accepted and welcome. If that’s the case, make sure you advocate on behalf of those youth to your church and wider organization, because there are a lot of ‘Behave, Believe, Belong’ thinkers out there and they might be keeping the youth from your program.
Questions: Do you agree with ‘belong, believe, behave?’ Or are we way off base when it comes to youth ministry? If you agree, what are some ways you can help flip the script in youth ministry and advocate for all youth to belong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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