I was having an online argument the other day. Not a bad one and I wasn’t taken at all seriously, but I was serious… As a funeral. A friend of mine who is a youth leader posted about the dodgeball game he was having with his group. I told him I would never, ever play dodgeball at youth group, EVER. I was a youth guy for a long time and even after my calling changed, I still keep my self plugged in to youth ministry in a number of areas and I totally and completely meant what I said.
Now I’m a senior pastor and I have determined that I will always be my youth leader’s number one advocate, and, as a rule, I’m pretty hands off, letting them do what they need to do to reach students. That being said, if my youth leader were to say, “Hey Dave, we’re going to play dodgeball!” I would say, “No, you WERE going to play dodgeball.” No way, not at all, never and if it persisted, the advocate thing would have gone away.
Here’s why. I was the human target kid. I suffered through years of people taking every opportunity to do me harm and nowhere was this easier than in gym class, where gym teachers who couldn’t think of anything fitness related to do, decided it was okay to set me and a couple other people up to be target practice. I had to be there, required by law, so what could I do? I never went to youth group as a kid, but if I had, the first sign of a dodgeball would have been the last time they would ever have seen me. It wasn’t a safe place for me to be, I was about to be subjected to the same garbage I got every day and I didn’t have to be there, so why would I be?
Why do I write this? The environment we create is important, especially in creative ministry. Very few things are as vulnerable as putting your whole self into your creation and then putting it out there for the world to see. Those of us who lead these ministries must create environments where people are safe to try new things, safe places to fail, where people can be vulnerable and find their place in God’s creative Kingdom. Your ministry is no place to be smacked in the head with a metaphorical dodge ball of unfair criticism, unkind words and other forms of discouragement. Do we have to help people have a thicker skin? Yes. Do we have to help people improve their skills and challenge them to grow and improve? Of course. Should the church be a safe place to learn and grow and experiment? It better be because if it’s not, people will go somewhere else and we will never see them again. In the church, we have to have hard conversations in the process of speaking the truth in love. There are plenty of opportunities for hurt feelings even in the most loving struggles toward righteousness. We certainly don’t need the impediments of critical spirits and creative egos. Nobody wants to be smacked in the head.
I can’t speak for you, but I don’t want to stand before God and explain why I allowed something to happen that drove a vulnerable and broken person away from His church when I had the ability to stop it.
They will know you are my disciples by the way you teach them to take a beating? No… but the way you love one another.