Review: A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth by Cody Sanders

by Rev . Dr. Sonia Waters

When I read Rev. Cody Sanders’ new little gem, A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth, I get the feeling that I’m sitting with a very smart and very compassionate friend. He knows that I am eager, but a little intimidated. He knows that I have questions, but I’m not sure how to ask them. So with clarity and generosity, he navigates me through a world-view shift that can help me to better honor and serve the whole experience of my LGBTQIA youth and young adults. He provides case studies and ministry examples to help the practitioner to better serve the youth in their care.

Sanders’ Brief Guide is accessible and detailed, full of useful definitions and terms, and holds a wealth of resources for further study

In his introduction, Sanders begins with a glossary of terms to help us understand the language of gender and sexual identity. From affectional orientation to Two-spirit and from asexual to straight, this introduction helps the reader to get a feel for the diversity of the LGBTQIA experience. He encourages us (kindly) to not be nervous—we will never be perfect because language is always changing. But our efforts at using appropriate language can communicate our care. These are not forbidden terms or invisible people.

In chapter one, Sanders deepens this foray into language by talking about gender identity, from the premise that gender identity and sexual orientation are two distinct aspects of our human experience.  By focusing on the diversity of genderqueer, he gently shifts the need to stick to one definition of what it means to develop a gender identity or a gender expression. He also explains the diversity in transgender experience so that we do not assume that there is only one way to be trans (such as medical interventions). He encourages youth ministers to honor pronouns and plan youth ministry outside of the male/female binary. He suggests that youth ministry consider gender as the discerning of a call, “a sacred task, full of potential for spiritual growth, developmental maturity, and clarity about the living out of one’s gender identity and expression” (15). You can expect a lot of those lovely kinds of sentences from Sanders, who does his best to soothe our anxious need for single answers and fixed identities so that we can honor the unfolding of gender and sexual expression as a holy process.

In chapter two, he addresses sexual/affectional orientation. Again, he seeks to shift our point of view into a more fluid frame, describing the difference between sexual and affectional understandings of human attraction, and moving from fixity to fluidity in sexual identity. He offers more information on bisexual, asexual, and queer experiences. He reminds us that we are not boxed into our identity labels, like sex, race, or gender. Instead, our multiple identities are woven together.

He encourages us to consider multiplicity in the construction of our identities

Now that Sanders has gotten us up to speed on a vision that respects the complexity of human experience, he turns to issues that must be addressed when putting that vision to practice in ministry. In chapter three, he turns to specific challenges for LGBTQIA youth. The first is the burden of “coming out,” which puts the pressure entirely on the individual to decide a fixed identity and then tell everyone about it. Sanders reframes this process as an issue of being invited in: a practice of allowing chosen others into the sacred space of identity exploration and discernment. Sanders also addresses major pastoral care challenges for LGBTQIA youth, including bullying, homelessness, and suicide risk. He offers compact and well-researched information, including resources and suggestions for how to best minister and support youth in these challenges.

In chapter four, he expands his ministry reflection to families and loved ones with the understanding that “the LGBTQIA youth’s well-being is your primary pastoral and ethical concern”(43). We accompany our youth as they decide who, when, and how a person gets invited into this sacred space. He gives advice on how to support youth as they consider inviting their family into these crucial aspects of their growing identity. He offers insight on how to support youth and parents in times of rejection and family crisis. He also explains how these pressures can affect the mental and spiritual health of LGBTQIA youth, suggesting pastoral conversations around boundaries and supporting the creation of “chosen family.”

Chapter five continues Sanders’ reflections on how to mentor and make room for the voice, stories, and theological wisdom of LGBTQIA youth in their ministries. LGBTQIA youth don’t come to us because we have all the answers, but “to know you and to be known by you as a caring and supportive presence in their lives” (55). He reviews some listening skills that can help us in this pastoral work, including resources to talk about sex and sexuality. As he says, we should consider ourselves blessed by this sacred calling.

Sanders knows that there is no greater honor than to be called into the story of another child of God. 

Put this primer on your Christmas list. It is the perfect gift for anyone seeking to minister to LGBTQIA youth and young adults. Cody Sanders has an empathic way of bringing the reader into the diversity of the LGBTQIA experience. For the ministry leader or family member who wants to be supportive of their youth but is not sure where to start, this is a great place to begin exploring. It’s also a wonderful refresher for any suddenly middle-aged person (like me) who has this sinking feeling that they can’t keep up with the next generation. For a youth staff or committee, each chapter could make a springboard for deeper reflection and conversation. It is gentle and informative for the uninitiated, and can help the seasoned pastor or lay-leader refresh their terms and rethink this ever-changing field of care.

Click here for more information: A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth