Acknowledging Hurt in Youth Ministry

Download a printable copy of this resource

“Up to 95% of people in the US are affected by chicken pox by the age of 18 in the US. If you’ve had chicken pox, the virus can remain in your body, dormant, until it again emerges in a new form…a painful rash called “shingles.” The United States has a case of the shingles. We had an illness when we were born, one that scarred our country deeply. Prejudice, slavery, and racism were present at the formation of the US and those illnesses continue to emerge in new ways. We have a systemic illness. One that creates cycles of violence. Violence, fear, and outrage are intertwined with protests, processing cultural issues through traditional and social media, and other activities that are symptoms of living in hurt. This resource could be one way to begin addressing the powerful and systemic issues we just mentioned. Racism is a human-made concept, making itself felt in harmful human interactions and beliefs. Racial tension occurs between individuals, groups of people, or entire communities as a symptom of such racism. As a leader, you can help your students begin to answer the following question in constructive and honest ways:

How can you do something in your youth ministry to acknowledge hurt in your community due to acts of violence, racism, racial tensions, or oppression?

Empty Chair: A Reflection On Who’s Not There

  • Place an empty chair in your meeting space.
  • Invite youth to consider who is not at the meeting, who could be sitting in this chair?
    • Encourage youth to avoid stereotypes or labels here, instead encourage names if possible.
  • Invite discussion on why that chair is empty
    • Is it because of a crisis? A disaster? A tragedy? Violence? An accident? A family situation?
    • What factors came together for the event to happen?
      • Help youth understand that there are multiple underlying factors or actions to any event.
      • Allow youth to share answers. There are no wrong answers, only observations.
    • How many chairs should be here?
      • Give time and space for youth to share about other events that are taking human life or separating people. *Youth leader can come prepared with several examples or current events to jumpstart this piece.
      • Did we personally know the person(s) who are now missing?
        • Allow time for sharing how any attendees knew the person
        • Why is that person missing?
      • Share the observation that we don’t have enough chairs to represent the total loss felt by violence, wars, natural disasters, etc.
      • Share something like: “Our responses can be to set up chairs and remember those lost. Our responses should also focus on those here, and the families of those affected, so that we can show care, aid healing, and be a part of any needed changes. We can honor those who are gone by refusing to forget them and acknowledging the changes that must occur so that we do not lose others like them.”
  • Allow youth to share thoughts. There are no wrong answers, only observations.
  • Leave the chair for as long as desired as a reminder of those “not there”

*Optional - Watch or share the video from the opening of YOUTH 2015.

It is about 7 minutes long, and was recorded June 24, 2015 shortly after the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. 


*Optional – Discuss the video


  • Listen to the prayer offered by Sabrina, Miguel, and Allie again. While the prayer was offered in 2015, are there any parts of that prayer that seem relevant to our situation?
  • Listen again to Propaganda’s poem. Have youth listen and remember (or write down) powerful words, phrases, or feelings they get from his performance.
  • In Propaganda’s poem what did you hear that was powerful?
  • In Propaganda’s poem what do you think he meant by the following phrases? (choose as many as you wish)
    • “Be an example of better listening”
    • “Understand the difference between admiration and mockery”
    • “Covet camaraderie”
    • “We had a flawed vision of personhood”
    • “Seen only as victims of oppression”
    • “Stupid us, broadbrush”
    • “Seek forgiveness”
    • “Your closest cultural customs are similar to your captors”
    • “We suffer the same sin”
    • “A 3 cord bond is not easily broken”

*Optional: Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and 4:1

Eccles 3:1-8 (CEB)

“There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
    a time for killing and a time for healing,
    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
    a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
    a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
    a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.”

Eccles 4:1 (CEB)

“When I next observed all the oppressions that take place under the sun, I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no one to comfort them. Their oppressors wield power—but they have no one to comfort them.” 

*Optional Ecclesiastes 3 & 4 Questions

  • What season is your community in, from those listed in Eccles 3:1-8?
  • Are you in the same season as your community? Why are you in that season?
  • What happens if people or communities are experiencing different seasons at the same time? (example: If you are in a season of keeping, and I’m in a season of throwing away, what would happen? Is conflict inevitable?)
  • Who are the oppressed in your community? Who are the oppressors?
  • How can we comfort the oppressed? Be present with the them?
  • How can we be present with oppressors? Comfort them? Discomfort them?

*Optional: Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

  • How can you lift up those who are fallen? Those who need warmth?
  • Some of the hurt we’ve discussed includes those who fall. Some of the hurt we’ve discussed includes those who are knocked down. How are oppressors knocking down the oppressed?
  • How can we discover and recognize those who are being knocked down in our community?
  • Are you willing to become a strand to bind together our community?
  • Who are the people that will make up the second strand?
  • How can we help God/Jesus/Holy Spirit be the third strand in our “three cord bond”?
  • What will we do as a three cord bond? What does our community need from us? What is God calling our group to do?
    • Invite the youth to come up with action plans, and then do them, as a follow up to this discussion activity.