Sacred Space: Bullying in Church Youth Groups

By Kennedy Cooper

shutterstock_216281539Bullying. This one word brings to mind the typical images of a kid getting stuffed in a locker by a jock, a kid’s head being flushed in the toilet, or the ever-so-popular group of mean girls that run the school.

So, how would you feel if I told you that bullying goes on in your church? Would you believe me?

Well, first let’s take a look at what bullying actually is. Bullying can be defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among people that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Gossip, teasing, exclusion: it can all be indicators of bullying.

Now let’s look again: Is there bullying in your church? Do you see exclusions and cliques forming in your church, a power imbalance between youth, or rumors being spread around about each other in your church?

Where bullying is actually most present, it is often most overlooked. Churches are supposed to be a sacred and safe place for people. Bullying should be absent from the church, yet too often it is present among not only among youth but also among adults.

So, how do we rid the church of bullying? We need to create an inclusive space in which people are able to find and become closer to God. I encourage you to limit the gossip that goes on in your church. Do people feel they’re being talked about in malicious ways? Reach out to your sister who may have recently joined the church—does she feel included? In youth groups, separate the cliques; make activities all-inclusive. Be watchful for in-groups and out-groups; work to make the whole group “in.” These are the starting points for getting rid of bullying in churches.

A Scripture to keep in mind is Matthew 5:43-46. The Bible says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

God is basically telling you to love all God’s people. If you have been bullied, forgive those who bullied you. If you were the one doing the bullying, ask for forgiveness. Let the light of God shine through your love for others.

Kennedy Cooper 2014-2016 (2)Kennedy Cooper is a member of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS. The NLT is leading this week the virtual mission encounter sponsored by AB Women’s Ministries, “Sacred Space: Bullying in Church Youth Groups.” Although registration is now closed, you can read more about the themes of this event by clicking here.

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