Safety: The most important value of student ministry

driving in snow

The winter camp season has finally descended upon us.  With winter camp comes snow storms, icy roads, dangerous sled runs, and about 1000 other ways for our students to get wrecked!  In my few years of taking kids to winter camp I have had kids break arms, legs, collar bones, wrists, and get concussions.  I have totaled a Suburban and crashed a couple of other cars.  There are polices at our church because of me.

Let’s face it, winter camp is dangerous!  But the real question is whether or not it is too dangerous. 

A friend of mine recently told me about a conversation he had with a parent questioning his judgment driving kids to camp in the middle of an upcoming snow storm.  Somewhere in the conversation the parent said that safety was the most important thing in student ministry!

This chafed my friend, and probably chafes all youth workers who have chosen to pour their entire lives into the spiritual development of our students.  More and more, it seems that helicopter parents are coming in and making the things we have always done in student ministry more difficult.

The bigger question at hand is, “What kind of impact is helicopter parenting having on the discipleship process?  Is this hyper-sensitivity to safety and paralyzing fear actually impacting our students’ and parents’ understanding of discipleship and living the adventure that God calls us into?

That is a great question.  But that question is totally irrelevant for those of us who facilitate student ministries, and here are three reasons why:

1)  We run a ministry for MINORS.  That’s right, minors, children.  The parents are the ones who are entrusted with these kids’ health and safety.  As people who work with children, we are subservient to the needs and concerns of parents.  If you don’t want to deal with this reality, then youth ministry isn’t for you.  Take a crack at college kids.

2) We have no positional authority, so we must build bridges with parents.  There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, where being a pastor brought with it a level of respect and authority.  Because you were the pastor, you would get to have the say regarding what is was best for the spiritual development of the children’s in your congregation.  That day is no more.  At best we have an opportunity to be a voice.  This means that we must do any and everything to build relationship and trust with parents.  If there is a solid relationship, then we have solid access; if there is strained relationship, our access to students is greatly diminished.

3) Get Real!  Danger does not equal Discipleship.  Snow storms, rock climbing taking kids to war zones in third world countries and the Tenderloin are not what make someone a follower of Christ.  These experiences are amazing and are great tools to build community and sensitivity to the gospel.  But danger is not a vital component.  There are a million tools at our disposal; our job is to find one that both parents and students find acceptable.

Most of us are young and don’t have teenagers of our own.  This means that we have no idea what they the parents are really thinking and feeling when it comes to trusting punk youth workers with their kids’ welfare and safety.

If we want to have as much access to students and trust with parents, then we must die to some of our own issues and respect the cares and concerns of the parents of the students in our ministry.  As I continue to get older and my kids get older, I am beginning to feel the horror of entrusting my child to the wisdom and discernment of a 22-year-olds who don’t understand their own mortality.

You will make it much further in relationship and ministry if you choose to win over these parents by addressing their concerns rather than berating them for their lack of faith.  Their lack of faith will only equal your loss of job.

So, relax you adventure warriors. 

Be reasonable.  When tough decisions need to be made, include your lead pastor and parents.  You will gain trust by having them back you, and you can trust their discernment when you are blinded by the potential perfect plan starting to unravel.  And mostly, love your parents so you can love their kids!

Safety is the most important value, because with safety, comes trust, and with trust comes access, and with access, we have the amazing gift and opportunity to walk with students as they figure out what it means to know and love Jesus with their entire lives!

Drive safely my friends!