I spent from 1995-2008 in some form of youth ministry, and in the last 8 years I have worked hard to at least keep a little bit involved in youth ministry.
Our church here, by all ways of measuring, is really struggling to establish a ministry to teens. We grew our group from about 5ish kids to between 15-25 (not bad for a small church), but now we are back to struggling again. There is a lot I could say to explain how all of this happened, but that would be a long, rambling post. But I have been thinking about something related to this lately. Our desire to have safe and reputable ministries in churches have often hindered us in developing deep and abiding youth ministries.
In our church, we have safe sanctuary guidelines. As you might expect from a multi-denominational church, we pull a few resources from this insurance company and that denominational program, and put it together into one boundary training that we do at least once a year.
As one reads a lot of the literature on how churches should police relationships to keep kids safe from predators and churches safe from litigation, I am afraid that some of the caution we approach teens and relationships with has left us less able to offer what they really need.
The literature says to be cautious about spending time with one or two kids. I understand this. We don't want youth leaders grooming kids in order to abuse them and train them to be abusers. The challenge is that many teens are in need of deep relationships with adults that are not their parents.
The common standard for spending time with kids is a two-adult rule. This is a wise rule in youth programming. It allows a church's youth ministry to function with greater integrity. Yet, in my experience, some of my most profound experiences of being discipled by Christian leaders were when I was riding shotgun with the pastor on one of his speaking ventures asking questions I was afraid to ask my mom, or going fishing with a deacon of our church and his teenage son. And, more and more, even in same gender mentoring, this life on life ministry is becoming a thing of the past. Our desire for propriety and safety has created a wall between us and our youth that limits our effectiveness in reaching them.
Last summer I was at a pastor's meeting with my Methodist colleagues. They introduced guidelines for social networking that I believe they will probably adopt as policy in the near future. These rules include never chatting or private messaging young people, but always having another adult included in the online conversation. The same with text messaging.
Again, I understand the need for this kind of safety. Our world is a scary place. I just wonder if we have taken things a little too far.