I am a nerd. I know this may surprise some of you who have never met me in person but it is true. I have always been a nerd, though it took me years to make that declaration publically and with pride. In Junior High I was heavy, wore big glasses, had braces, and liked SeaQuest DSV more than Saved by the Bell. I once wore a dress with cows and hearts on it to a school dance. I am socially awkward, though I’ve gotten better over time. I don’t wear makeup. I read too much. Last week, when I discovered the library had received a travelling collection of Science Fiction television on DVD, I did a little dance in the middle of the aisle and spent half an hour trying to pick just one. I’ve considered learning Klingon. I’ve even become part of a collection of people called Nerdfighters, who follow a video blog created by two brothers who promote nerdiness as a positive thing.

As a nerd, one of my favorite parts of the year is following what is going on at Comic-Con. Comic-Con is a four day convention of professionals, exhibitors, and guests showcasing comic books, science fiction/fantasy film, novels and television, animation, collectible card games, video games, and more. Last year Comic-Con boasted over 125,000 attendees. Comic-con is the place to be in the world of geeks, nerds, fanboys, and fangirls, where you can spend days reveling with others in your nerd-dom. While those who are fans of science fiction, fantasy, and comic books may be mocked in normal life, this is a chance for them to be with others who share their excitement over the genre.

As I followed this year’s convention I was surprised at the number of popular, mainline celebrities who are gracing the stages and booths. Joss Whedon and Stan Lee are appearing with actors like Will Ferrell, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Reynolds. This is indicative of a growing, positive trend I see in our culture.

Nerd and geek are no longer the derogatory names they were. They have taken on a growing sense of pride and positivity. It is no longer as unpopular as it once was to pursue intellectual activities and obscure interests rather than social activities. Consider the popularity of shows like The Big Bang Theory whose loveable characters are unashamedly geeky, or the rise to fame of self-proclaimed nerdy actors like Seth Rogen and Tina Fey. The nerds have started to rise up the social ladder, if not to the top, then certainly towards the middle.

This is a huge step forward for those kids in your youth ministry and mine who struggle with the tendency to be different than others. One of the things that stuck out to me most during my years in youth group was that often I was left out of activities because I didn’t always fit in with the other youth. Whether real or perceived, I always felt as though I was on the outside of the group rather than a part of it. Games and social events tended to favor those kids who were more popular or athletic than I was. However, I see less and less social stigma attached to the nerdy or geeky youth in ministry. As students struggle with their identity, this cultural shift helps them to embrace their unique interests without fear of their peers. It is exciting to see youth have the ability to explore the unique person God has created them to be.

As a DCE I make a point of creating opportunities for all my students to embrace who God made them to be. I create games that emphasize creativity over athletic ability. I try to be particularly sensitive to comments made between students, and I promote the idea that no matter who they are, they are welcome because they are loved by Jesus. I have pictures of my nerdy Jr. High self in my office. I am honest about how difficult it was for me to stay true to who I was with so much pressure to fit in with the more popular crowd.

I hope that you take the time to love the nerds and geeks in your ministry the same way God loves them. As the culture shifts to embrace the nerds, help your ministry embrace them as well.