As we prepare for this year’s Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry, we are asking several writers to write about what the word “declare” means for them, for their ministry, and for the church. Throughout history, prophetic voices have made declarations—often ones that are uncomfortable to the religious elite. We hope to bring some of that same discomfort into our lives and yours over the next few weeks. If you are interested in thinking through the meaning of “declare” further, sign up for the Forum today!
What does it mean to declare? The first thing that came to my mind was a huffy southern belle saying, “I do declare!” as she dramatically throws her scarf over her shoulder. I don’t know where that image comes from. I tried to Google it to see if it was a thing, but to no avail.
Yet, somehow this image has permeated my thoughts. When we talk about how things are declared, we often talk about presentation. And even my feminist mind first came up with a caricature of a woman’s presentation. Yet, to declare is one of the most important things a person can do. Making a declaration says, “I’m here! I matter! And you will SEE me!” A declaration says that what one has to say has value.
A declaration from a Christian says even more. It recognizes that the reason we matter is because the imago Dei lives within us. And as bearers of the image of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we have particular responsibilities. We must declare the love of Jesus Christ. We must declare truth to the lies in the world. We must live a life that declares that Jesus is Lord and help bring forth the liberation of all people.
How do Christians empower teen girls to make declarations? After all, there is no age or gender requirement. Teen girls also have the responsibility of Christian declaration. When doing so, it is important not just to focus on how, but to go deeper. Here’s one way to do so, with three statements of encouragement for girls that are struggling to find their declarative voice:
Take Thou Authority
It is a beautiful thing to watch a UMC ordination when the bishop lays hands on the one being ordained and says, “Take thou authority . . . ” In this instance, the notion of authority focuses on leadership, the power to command and determine or adjudicate over disputes. Church leaders have a particular role they need to play that requires them to take their authority.
So, don’t ask, “Who am I to say this?” You are God’s daughter. Make declarations. You matter, your voice is worthy of being heard, and God has given you important things to say. Declare them with authority.
However, I often think about this charge in another way, a way that makes these words a command for all Christians—understanding authority as a person who has been authorized or given a charge. Someone who has been given a task from a greater entity. All Christians have been given a commission to spread the love of Christ and to be God’s hands and feet on this earth. So, don’t ask, “Who am I to say this?” You are God’s daughter. Make declarations. You matter, your voice is worthy of being heard, and God has given you important things to say. Declare them with authority.
Take Thou Passion
We live in a world where there are so many things that need to be declared. So much wrongdoing exists in this world. If one sought to declare truth to every lie told, one would have “declare fatigue.” So, girls should ask themselves, “What is it that God has tasked me with? What are my passions? What resonates or speaks to me in a particular way?” We ought to be teaching girls how to identify these things.
When I taught high school, my favorite assignment was the protest project. This project has taken on many different forms, but usually, I presented tons of topics, encouraged students to read the paper for a week, and ask them to talk to their parents about things that were problematic in the world. They would then pick an issue, research it, explain why it was a problem, tell me why I should care, identify an organization that is working on the problem, and present one small way we (in the room) could contribute to the solution. If we were in a Christian setting, I would ask students to show how fighting against this helps to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do Christians need to be concerned about this (other than because we are people that should care about things)?
The passion that arose from some of those projects was palpable. It often derived from shock that something they could not fathom was happening. Being exposed lit some students on fire. Information and knowledge kindled passion, and some declared the important of a particular issue long after the project was due. Some of the ones who were set on fire might move onto something else later. Many of those who did the assignment and went onto the next thing might ultimately find a cause that speaks to them. We aren’t always passionate about the same things for our entire lives! But we all can have something to say about something, and we should encourage girls to be prayerful about what God desires them to declare.
Take Thou Personality
We are not all public speakers. Some of us are organizers. Some of us are solid foot soldiers. We declare with our actions depending on our God given personalities. So we ought to teach girls to trust in the personality that God has given them. What are the gifts they have? What are their strengths? God may call Nia and Rosa to declare similar things, but in very different ways. We should teach girls to lean into that and model the value of both Nia and Rosa by highlighting diverse personalities as valid methods of declaration.
Teen girls are often given cookie cutter ways of making their declaration or being in general. Let’s throw the cookie cutter away. One’s declaration is as unique as the person making it. What you have to share is important and it is a unique declaration that God has given you for your context in your time. So say it loud. Or say it softly. Either way, declare it! And make space for teen girls to do the same.
Rev. Annie A. Lockhart Gilroy, Ph.D. is currently the Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Drew Theological School. She has worked with youth as a teacher, coach, and youth minister for almost two decades. She earned her Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Her dissertation focused on the role of imagination in youth ministry, especially with girls from poor and working-class families.