What youth workers can learn from Jen Hatmaker

A little over a week ago, Jen Hatmaker did an interview with Religion News Service that has seemed to set the Christian world and all its onlookers on fire.  In this interview Jen came out as not only open, but open and affirming for Gay Marriage.  

Jen Hatmaker has become "Christian Famous" and has grown her platform and influence through a number of Christian Organizations and Publishers, and now her words are proving to have significant power based on this platform.  With this new found influence her open stance that is in opposition of the very institutions and organizations that have given her this platform, is putting everyone in a really challenging position.  

I am not interested in debating the topic of gay marriage in this space.  It is a really challenging topic with no easy answers and no clear way forward.  The theological and pastoral battle needs to happen on a blog site that doesn't have "average" in its title.  

However, this entire situation has highlighted a common battle that I see between young youth workers and their church leaders all the time.  So, pour yourself a cup of coffee, grab a seat, and let me tell you a story that seems to be on repeat with leaders, young and old, all throughout Christendom.  

There once was a church or an organization that decided to reach people for Jesus.  They invested time, resources, and effort to accomplish this goal. Part of this effort was to hire an inspirational leader to help champion their cause.  This organization, because they are established have resources and policies that have guided them, is steeped in their ways.  And when the young leader gets tapped to be on their team, there is a choice that has to be made.  The inspirational leader makes a cost / benefit analysis as to how much they are willing to give in on their own passions and convictions in order to play ball with the institution that is about to increase their wallets and platform.  

This is a real analysis that every employee must wrestle with, no matter job, career, or calling.  (Unless you work for yourself, you are always under the thumb and authority of your employer.) 

This is where it gets sassy.

All upstart leaders who have a growing following (on the foundation of the organization's platform) will, or at least should, continue to be growing and deepening as a leader and as a follower of Christ.  And as you grow, there will be a good chance that your growing convictions may grow out of step with your employer or sponsoring institution.  This now puts you in a challenging situation.  

Because this is a new conviction, there is always a self-righteousness that comes along with this new understanding.  And most of the time these new convictions come with the disbelief that the rest of the world is not on board yet, and that it might even be your place to help them get there.

With this new found fire comes push back from the old guard, and sometimes this push back can be costly.  You make new enemies and find new allies.  Unfortunately, this almost always ends with a brutal divorce between the leader and the institution.  And that verse about being persecuted becomes to feel all too real.  

But what if it didn't have to be that way?  What if you could grow and change in your convictions and be gracious the the organization that gave you your platform in the first place?  What if you could embrace that your newfound conviction is not really new, just new to you?  

Parting ways is hard to do, but it shouldn't have to further divide the body of Christ.  

Here is something to consider about Jen Hatmaker's new conviction regarding being open and affirming about gay marriage:  How would this entire week have been different if Jen extended grace and mercy to the institutions and organizations that have given her such a big platform?

She knew that here statements would bring the fire.  Gay marriage it such a brutal topic for the church and for any Christian institution.  And for a leader like Jen Hatmaker who is linked to organizations that have traditional views on sexuality, she immediately put them in hot water by declaring her support for Gay marriage.  

I actually think it is fine for Jen Hatmaker to change her understanding of scripture.  People do this all the time.  But, to not give the organizations and institutions a gracious way out simply gives the church a black eye as they are forced into a no win situation.   LifeWay was one of those organizations that got forced into the awful position because of their theology and polity.  They had no other choice but to take her off their shelves, and in the process of standing up for their convictions got decimated by Jen's online community.  And in all of this the church is even more divided and people are even meaner and nastier as one side feels their back agains the wall and the other sees momentum on their side. 

In fact, this "new" understanding of scripture is only new to the Hatmakers.  There have been Christians, Christian organizations, and even denominations who have been open and affirming for decades.  3 years ago, the Hatmakers were in a different place theologically. This means everyone needs grace because all of us are always growing and changing.  (And not always in the correct ways)  Just because you have "figured it out" today doesn't necessarily mean that you have the corner market on truth and even more, are now the one to bring it to the masses.  

Think about how differently this entire week would have been if Jen Hatmaker would have owned all that her new convictions would bring and preempted the firestorm.  What if she gave LifeWay and other organizations she is connected to a head's up, voluntarily pulled her own things off the shelves and expressed her desire for unity while Jen and her husband explore this new chapter of ministry?  Everyone could be gracious and parted ways.  

This is where it matters for you.  

As a youth worker, chances are you are on the front lines of all sorts of chaos theologically and pastorally.  The students we work with and the culture in which we work are unlike any context our older leaders understand.  Of course you will be stretching your theology and convictions as you bend over backwards in your attempt to reach as many people for Jesus as possible.  

Chances are, that at some point your convictions will change to the point of being in conflict with the organization that is paying you and giving you your platform.  While your convictions are your convictions, don't forget the more significant convictions of love, grace, humility and unity.  This doesn't mean that you have to give up your convictions, it simply means that you might have to part ways.  And when you do, know it is because you changed (which is ok).  For the sake of the church, for the sake of the organization that you leave behind, leave graciously and don't burn bridges that you will probably need someday down the road.  

As I have grown in leadership and gone from the bottom of the totem pole continually trying to "speak truth to power," to being closer to the top of some totem poles, I am learning that decisions that seemed so simple in one position of power are actually much more complex at another position.  

There are going to be many issues that the church is going to have to wrestle her way through, gay marriage being near the top of that list.  We are going to need much more grace and mercy for everyone involved.  And as culture changes faster than any of us can keep up with, it is the the older leaders, organizations and institutions that may need some extra grace in this process. 

Please don't be so fast to throw the organizations and institutions that birthed you, grew you, developed you and given you a voice and platform into the garbage.  You are where you are because of them, not in spite of them.  So, please work as hard as you can to maintain unity.  And if and when the day comes where your world view differs from theirs, then leave in a way that allows all sides to win, that maintains unity and would make Jesus proud.  

May you continue to grow and develop as a leader.  May your spirit be intertwined with the Spirit of God so much so that your convictions are proven by the fruit of the same Spirit; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control.