Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Confronting Racial Issues in Student Ministry

Confronting Racial Issues in Student Ministry


I had no idea this night would uncover racial issues, but it did. I was at a high school weekend retreat, spending the weekend at a beautiful camp in eastern Oregon with a variety of other churches from around the Pacific northwest. At a climactic moment in the evening session, a youth pastor introduced a group of teens performing a drama illustrating the gospel. The group of teens piled onto the stage, all dressed in black apart from the singular figure of a young man in a white shirt. The group performed the Lifehouse “Everything” skit, a pantomime drama set to music where the figure of Jesus (the young man in white) protects and saves a young woman who has been attacked by an increasingly-violent onslaught of diabolical figures.

The young man portraying Jesus was Caucasian, as was the teen girl in the central role. What drew my attention and alarm were the supporting characters, the black figures on the side. They were not only dressed in dark clothes; at least three of the eight teens were minorities, black and Asian. When I watched the YouTube video of the “Everything” skit, I noticed the same thing: The man portraying Jesus was white, the young woman was white, and most of the devilish figures were minorities.

I wondered how the black, Asian and Latino teens were feeling watching the drama unfold before them. If I was new to Christianity and watching this skit, I might think that the gospel message involved a white Jesus saving me from the sinful clutches of people with brown skin. Y’know: Jesus will rescue you from the hell of ever having to date a black man or hang out with an Asian girl. Is this the best way to communicate the gospel to young people?

When I was a youth pastor in the suburbs of British Columbia, I spent a significant amount of time on the campus of one of the largest high schools in the Vancouver area. I would walk the halls during lunch time, saying “hi” to the teens in my youth group and making new relational connections through the community youth workers who were devoted to serving the campus. The school was a vast maze of hallways, with scores of young people lining the passages in social clusters, eating their lunch and filling the air with laughter and chatter.

The greater Vancouver area is a multi-cultural mosaic. Many of the cities have a larger primarily Asian or Indian population than white/Caucasian, and the Hispanic population is rapidly increasing. As I walked around the high school hallways, I noticed the plethora of cultures and languages represented. Yet our large suburban youth group remained primarily white. (We did have one Asian adult volunteer and a high schooler from Honduras, both whom were often mistaken as Mexican.) I wondered what a multicultural church would truly look like, and if our church demographic was in alignment with our surrounding neighborhood and culture. How does the church embrace and embody its surrounding racial diversity?

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Joel Mayward is a pastor, writer, youth worker, and film critic. The author of three books, he has written for numerous ministry publications, including Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, Leadership Journal, YouthWorker Journal, Immerse Journal, The Youth Cartel, and LeaderTreks. You can read his musings on film, theology, and culture at his personal blog, www.joelmayward.com. For his film reviews and essays, check out www.cinemayward.com. Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelmayward.