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Lie to me, baby

Maybe we are just a little too authentic in youth group?

Last night, our high school ministry night met. We were down a couple of adults and up a few students. Actually, the night felt right at that balance between “out-of-control” and “in control” that is some of the secret sauce of youth ministry.

As I struggled to push my table group through a Bible study they clearly weren’t interested in I was feeling a little heart tug in a couple of directions:

  • I need to push these students through this study on Psalm 19, this is God’s Word… and David was describing some really cool stuff they need to know.
  • I need to pull the plug and call an audible. There’s something serious going on that’s more important than Psalm 19 right now.

Instead, I decided to just let it ride. We half-pushed our way through and half-let them stay easily distracted and unsatisfied. I resisted the urge to either side.

I’ll never know if I did the right thing or the wrong thing. But I do know I came home deflated and frustrated. Again.

Another time, another place

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of Tuesday nights in our group’s life. On the one hand, we want to “keep it real” and be authentically who we are. But my problems aren’t their problems. And my students already deal with more crap than they can work through in a lifetime. So I’m not sure “being authentic” about a lot of stuff is very helpful.

Nearly all of my students have spent some time in foster care. Nearly all of my students have at least one member of family member who struggles with drug addiction. Only 1-2 students have a dad in their lives. More than half have experienced some level of physical or sexual abuse. Most scrape by academically.

At 15 years old most of them have lived a lifetime of grief.

At the same time they deal with all of the normal pressures, temptations, realities, and burdens of being a high school student.

They don’t want to keep it more real. They want to keep it less real.

Maybe instead of dealing with the realities of life… Tuesday night should be an escape from all of that?

When you desperately need a new life “being authentic” just feels like you get dragged back into the quick sand you’ve just escaped.

A little less authenticity replaced with a glimpse of Fantasia?

Maybe Tuesday night would be better if it were kind of an other world experience? A healthy escapism? A place that intentionally disoriented students from their own reality and allowed them to escape to another reality for a night? A place in which at some point, on the way home, they questioned… was that even real?

Maybe youth group should be more of an escape? Sure, one on one or in small groups or in other high trust situations… we can go there and deal with that stuff. But when we gather as a large group I’m questioning the value of creating an authentic experience when a fantasy one is so much more desirable.

For discussion: I’ve used my own group as an example. But the reality is, youth ministry-wide, the pendulum has swung back and forth about youth group nights as a whole, about the youth worker being more authentic with their struggles, about sharing in small groups about life stuff vs. Bible study groups, etc. What do you think? Is it more useful for students to have a place of deep authenticity? Or is it more useful for students to have a place of escape to play, worship, and laugh?

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7 Responses to Lie to me, baby

  1. Cindi April 13, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I think it can be a combination of both. One week it can be a crazy escape and the next week not so crazy. I don’t think you can ever find something that will appease everyone. But do agree, they need to escape sometimes. If they are not escaping in the church, they will turn to much more harmful escapes!

  2. Jeff April 13, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    As a youth pastor who is still a little green to the game, I would say it is a battle for that happy medium. On the one hand, I want them to know I’m not this perfect person (like my assoc. pastor once said “It’s not like we go home and hang our Halo’s on the hat rack.”) We are imperfect too, but then you deal with the potential of the kids not respecting you or the lesson because of that too.

    I think the idea of an escape from their realities, from their lives, is a great idea, but how can we go about doing that when you “bring your baggage home with you?” That was more of a rhetorical question, but one I know that with time I can figure out for my group.

  3. Lars Rood April 13, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Adam- I agree with a “healthy escapism” model. I think that’s why we do houseboat trips, camps, beach trips, bowling etc. There is a need for that. On the same hand sometimes escapism can lead to a good reality check. I just always think about the number of times I’ve hung out with students for 3 hour dinners in foreign countries where we didn’t have anything else we needed to or could do so we actually got real and chatted about some deep truths.

    Paul says in Thessalonians that he came and shared his “life” with the church. Sometimes life is serious and deep and sometimes you just need a burrito, a coke and a curb.

  4. Clay Conry April 13, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    I think that we can hang out and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to bring the Gospel to bare in a students life.

    Scrap the lessons. Ask questions. Answer Questions with the Truth. Do it while providing the escape.

  5. adam mclane April 13, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    @clay- where is the escape in that?
    @lars- I think your trips/events are perfect escapes. For someone truly “on a shoestring” how can I do that on a Tuesday night?

  6. Bradley Buhro April 13, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    If we truly make our ministry events an asylum and sanctuary where students step out of the world as ordered by our warped priorities and into the Kingdom, are we inviting them to escape reality, or escape into reality? Maybe right after they leave asking “was that real?” they’ll also ask “could that reality be mine from now on?”

  7. adam mclane April 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Good point. Maybe.

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