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Make your words count

Make your words count

Make your words count

4 April 2022

“Our faith communities must be places of belonging and acceptance” – Erica Jones, South Australia/Northern Territory youth and young adults secretary, and her daughter Tia.

by Erica Jones

Words are powerful. Whether they are written, spoken, or sung, words can bring immense joy, or they can bring harm. Do you remember the saying, sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me? This really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Times surely have changed. As a teenager in the 1990s, I remember that words spoken over me only came from a few sources – my family, my peers, and my church family.

My family was incredibly dysfunctional, and the words that family members used towards each other had the most profound impact. I heard words that led to relationship breakdown, words shared through emotions of anger, hurt, and frustration, and words used to manipulate.

At school, I had a close group of friends who used words of inclusion, support, and acceptance. Within my church family, I again heard words of love, acceptance, and connection. It was the words spoken by my friends and my church family that I chose as a teenager to hold closest. There were more positive than negative influences in my life, enough that I was able to believe in the good words, the affirming words.

As a mum of four children, three of whom have navigated the teenage years and one who is about to enter them, I think of how complicated the influence of words now has on today's young people. Words spoken by family, yes; peers, yes; church family (if they are connected to a church family), yes – but now young people face words spoken through countless social media forums, text messages, e-mails, media, online gaming, and so many more.

There are so many access points to our young people, and so many powerful words thrust upon them. Words of powerful influence contained in media, words that say, “you are not pretty enough, popular enough, strong enough, famous enough, rich enough to make it.” Words soliciting online behaviours that are unsafe, dangerous, and yet hold the lure of acceptance, inclusion and belonging should you comply. Words are used like labels that categorise and tell our young people who they are and where they belong. Identities of young people are often formed by the words of adult expectations, online personas, rumour, and innuendo before a young person has even had the chance to discover who they are for themselves.

With so many direct points of connection influencing today’s young people, how are we as adults, as people of faith, meant to counteract all that comes barrelling towards our young people? It would not surprise many that the church is struggling to connect with youth people and young adults. We are not necessarily a powerful voice among a few influences, but rather a small voice among the many.

It is for this reason that we must be prepared. Our faith communities must be places of belonging and acceptance. Our words must speak of the love, wellbeing, forgiveness and care that we know comes from Jesus.

Every possible interaction we have with young people must be that of acceptance, belonging and love. It is not enough to just wait for young people to seek out a church, it is time for us to proactively speak of the authentic interaction of Jesus and for the support and Good News we know to be true, to be loud, profound and impactful, for the right reasons.

Our story is one of love. What is one thing you can do to help a young person know that they are enough, they are worthy, that their identity in Christ can be enough to drown out all the words that exist to bring harm? Share God’s love, show God’s love.  

“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.” (Matthew chapter 19, verse 26)

Erica Jones is the Youth and Young Adults Secretary for the South Australia/Northern Territory Division

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