Is this a safe place?

Photo by ekai via Flickr (Creative Commons)

About 10 months ago a group of people sat on Chris’ back porch talking about starting a youth ministry for our church, Harbor Mid-City. As we chatted, dreamt, and prayed about this ministry one of the things that came out was… “We want it to be a safe place for students to explore a relationship with Jesus.

That phrase stuck. It actually became a part of our ministry description which we recite during every meeting. “IOB is a safe place for students to explore a relationship with Jesus.

That phrase got tested a bit last night.

Stephen, our teaching/senior pastor, came to youth group last night to teach on and invite students to participate in baptism. His teaching was pretty simple… this is what baptism is, this is what it symbolizes, this is who should get baptized, this is how our church does it, we’d love it if you would consider getting baptized. He did a great job.

I could tell during his teaching time that some students were uneasy about this whole thing. They didn’t feel safe. It wasn’t that Stephen was teaching anything bad or that they were intimidated in any way or even that he was manipulating them to make a decision they didn’t want to make– there was just something about the truths of Scripture that Stephen was saying that gave the room a funny, rare vibe.

You could see it in their posture. You could see it in the way they looked at him. You could see it in the way they listened to his talk.

To follow-up, we broke up into small groups and the leaders were asked to dig a little deeper with the students and ask if any of them would like to be baptized.

Three responses from my circle that tested me in my response.

  • Is there any way I can get unbaptized? My parents baptized me as a baby and I don’t want to follow God.
  • I’m not ready to get baptized. I understand the Gospel and I get what Stephen was talking about, but I’m just not ready to put my faith in Jesus yet.
  • Why did my parents baptize me? If they made a covenant to God than they didn’t live up to it at all.

Mince no words. These were questions that pushed me back to that discussion 10 months before. Was IOB really a safe place to explore Jesus? If so, how I responded either validated that statement or invalidated it.

Open questions for readers:

What would be answers to these responses which would communicate that IOB isn’t a safe place?

What would be some “this is a safe place” answers to these questions?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

7 comments

  1. You have created a safe place where kids can ask difficult questions. They had to feel safe in order to ask those questions. The place you’ve created is safe enough to take kids out of their comfort zones and still be a safe place. I don’t think “safe place” answers exist. I think honesty and Biblical truth are the answers they were seeking. They didn’t ask “safe” questions and weren’t looking for “safe” answers.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that we have to create safe places for youth ministry even though a lot of times, the things God calls us to do seem to be so unsafe? I’m guilty of mistaking the words “safe” and “comfortable” for synonyms. Safety should mean things like NOT seeing how many marshmallows someone can fit in their mouth. Instead, I try to keep things safe by not challenging kids as much as I should because I’m afraid of scaring them away.

    On a lighter note, I’m wondering what an un-baptism would look like.

  3. @sara- I think you’ve hit on a discussion point for our team. What does it really mean to be safe? We know it has to be physically safe. We try to create an environment that is emotionally safe. (From being teased, roasted, etc) And we want it to be a place that is spiritually safe. I loved what these students said… it hurt me a bit because I would love for them to “get it” and want to be baptized. Yet at the same time I think there is something cool about a place where you can just come and be curious about Christianity, and not feel pressured to respond before you are ready. I feel like that respects their personhood above my agenda. It’s kind f built around… “if I didn’t know Christ, how would I like to be treated as I explored a relationship with Jesus?” Certainly, we challenge them with Scriptural truth. Certainly, we give them opportunities to commit their lives to Jesus. But I don’t ever want to force, coerce, or manipulate because ultimately that’s not how I’d like to be treated.

    Yeah, I was wondering what unbaptism looks like too!

  4. We run into many of the same comments and curiosities. I personally love it when a teenager states that they are atheist, but they “feel so loved and accepted” in our youth ministry. We always say that we would rather see our students close to truth teachings (aka in our church parking lot or in the back row) than never even getting in proximity because they are afraid of being judged or shut down. On the other hand, we preach the Word of God unashamed. When it comes down to conversation (small groups/one-on-one) the hard part is letting them talk it out without allowing the conversation to go so far south that they’ve lost the compass. Safe place for us means being loved and accepted, allowed to vent, talk out your questions without being put down or manipulated.

  5. Good post. Good questions. It probably would have been good for Stephen to have anticipated the infant baptism-related questions. Maybe part of being safe is knowing and respecting where everyone is coming from (although you can probably never know where EVERYone is coming from). [BTW, kind of tongue-in-cheek, to see what unbaptism looks like, go to most churches and look at most of the people.] But as far as safe place goes, I understand that the talk was drawing a line (in one way of saying it) and inviting the youth to take the next step. But do they feel safe to NOT cross the line and do what the pastor invites them to do and still be accepted in the group? Do they feel safe to say “I’m still thinking about that.”? Oops I guess I didn’t read all of your response Adam. You pretty much said everything I did. Sorry about that. And one thing I would add is that the teaching could have ended (and maybe it did) with a “if you’re not ready for this yet” caveat.

  6. I think most of my answers would be more questions, but ultimately it would boil down to, “That’s fine. I want to help you figure out what the next step is for you spiritually. Obviously I hope that step is in a particular direction, but if you decide that you want to go in another direction, then I will still love you.”

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