The church has a large role in the fight against bullying, especially in the “Bible Belt” of East Texas. It directly affects people’s hearts by shaping and informing their beliefs. Out of anyone, the church and Christians have a huge influence and responsibility regarding bullying.
Seth Wolverton, the youth pastor at Lufkin First Assembly, shared his thoughts on bullying and the position the church and Christians need to take.
After accepting the position of youth pastor at LFA, Wolverton moved from Waxahachie, Texas, in December of 2015. He took several classes at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, and then served as a youth pastor for a church there for three years. He is married to Janea Wolverton, and they have a six month old son named Gideon.
“It’s been crazy. It’s been fun,” Wolverton said about moving to Lufkin. “I love Deep East Texas. It’s beautiful and slow paced.”
When Wolverton was younger, he traveled with a group called Youth Alive that moves from school to school teaching kids about bullying, abstinence, and more. While there, many kids approached him with their personal stories with bullying. It was here that he realized how badly bullying needed to be addressed.
“I think everybody has [dealt with bullying],” he said. “If you play sports in middle school, high school, you know everyone gets bullied.”
Wolverton believes the root of the issue of bullying is that “hurt people hurt people.”
“If someone has been hurt and someone has been neglected or made fun of, they will do the same thing to other people because that is what they see in their life. That’s all they know.”
Last week, Wolverton taught a lesson on identity. He said a lot of kids try to live up to expectations placed upon them by other people or media.
He taught his students that they should simply look to what God thinks of them, not what others do.
“I think at a young age I found my identity in Christ,” he said. “I think I knew that somebody could say whatever they wanted about me, but that doesn’t have to affect me.”
Wolverton did get bullied some as a child, but he said he learned to shrug it off and not let it affect him. This he attributed in part to confidence and in part to his security in what God thought about him.
“While it wasn’t a big deal for me, other kids really take it and they hold it in,” Wolverton said, “and it’s a big deal. I think that everybody processes things a different way, and I think some people are better at letting things roll off of them instead of letting it get to them.”
Check out this video of Wolverton explaining the relationship between bullying and the church:
Wolverton said he has seen kids who hang out with people who they think are ‘cool’ even while those people are the ones who are tearing them down. He encourages kids to get rid of those negative people and find friends who will enjoy them for them.
“You need to find people who are more positive than negative,” he said. “As much as you have been fed this negativity, you’ve gotta be surrounded by people who love you and build you up. That’s going to be the biggest help at the end of the day. You’ve got this friend who said this bad thing about you, but then you have these friends that said this, this, and this good thing about you.”
The heart of the issue, Wolverton believes to be in the Bible verse Matthew 7:12:
“‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.'”
New Living Translation
If people would learn to put themselves in another’s shoes, to really feel what the other person might feel, Wolverton believes a lot of bullying would never happen.
He has witnessed how students don’t often take the step back to think of how their actions might make their friends feel.
“Even King David needed someone to say, ‘Look at how big of an idiot you’ve been!'” Wolverton said.
This brings the issue back to how the church and Christians can fight bullying.
What the Church and Christians Can Do
Wolverton believes that pastors can help combat bullying by embodying and teaching that God loves people, and that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says about them except for God and the Bible.
“I think a big problem is that Christians just don’t live out their Christianity like God has called them to,” Wolverton said. “And I know that’s some high expectations, but I think a big part is that we’re not embodying what God has called us to be.”
In his leadership team, Wolverton encourages leaders to connect with students and not only be an example to them, but also to kindly tell them when they need to shape up. Like when King David from the books of Solomon and Kings in the Bible had to be told by a trusted friend and adviser that he was failing, students need loving teachers, leaders, pastors, friends, and family to encourage them to be better.