I'm on the way to Austin, TX, sitting in the Dallas airport (not a terribly inspiring place, about a 6 on my personal 10-point scale of airports) and thinking about the news that's been on screens around me all morning. Allowing enough time to go through airport security and then discovering no one else did the same gave me plenty of time to get caught up on the headlines today.

Most of them were about the recent set of school shootings and their aftermath. They ranged from simple reports on the funeral services for four of the Amish girls, to commentary on school safety in general and a proposal by someone in state legislature who proposed allowing teachers, principals "and even janitors" to carry guns. All of the stories illustrate a problem that, while not unique to youth ministry, tends to pinch ministry staff the most because of our determination to get into schools and meet our students there.

CSMSG's fall parenting seminar features Mark DeVries, who's speaking on "Stacking the Stands for our kids." Paul Hill, in "Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear" and various seminars he does based on that work, offers "AAA adults," (for Available, Authentic and Affirming.) I'm sure at the NYWC conference I'm on the way to, I'll hear at least one other term and method for the same thing. It boils down to "surrounding kids with caring adults." When we do that, they're never (as close to never as we can manage) out of sight of a good example, someone who can be the signpost they need toward the right thing, or the honest struggle to find the right thing.

Which, of course, requires a great deal of trust. Parents need to be able to trust the adults their children see every day, students need to be able to trust their teachers and youth workers, and adults working around youth need to be able to trust each other. Every time something horrific happens, that trust cracks. When three such events happen in a week (and as one reporter commented, there were actually six school-violence-related events, but "some of them just don't make the headlines anymore.") our whole society suffers.

The obvious prediction is that youth ministers, especially new ones, will have a progressively harder time getting themselves into schools, which has rarely been easy to begin with. I'd be upset about this all by itself if it weren't for the farther-reaching consequences of this breakdown in trust.

In general, what students need is to be exposed to a wide range of adults, beginning with parents and parents' friends and expanding to school, work, people in elected office and the whole community. They need to have the practice, while growing up, at learning to work with adults, since no generation ever has the world all to itself.

But in general, what they get, especially in the crackdowns and paranoia that invariably follow tragedies in the schools, is isolation from many adults, to avoid the few predators. Instead of the multigenerational community we dream about, we end up with tribes based on age who band together and glare at each other.

Doing ministry is not going to get any easier until Christ's return. So what do we do in the meantime?

1. Invest heavily in student leaders. Teach them to minister to their classmates, and how to bring trusted adults closer to their peers.

2. Be visible in schools at all public functions-- sports, music, drama, the usual roundup. At these events, spend lots of time with parents. Ask to be introduced to the parents' friends. Meet the coaches, counselors, teachers and administrators (who, by the way, administer, and do not administrate.)

3. Be proactive in knowing the adults we bring into our programs. There's no excuse anymore for not doing background checks, people! EVERYONE-- Church School, youth group volunteers, ministry team leaders, needs to be checked, and to be interviewed in person. Use your gut, and your research. This is to keep the students we love in Christ safe.

4. Realize that parents are our friends-- and act like it. Don't antagonize parents, partner with them. Care about their lives too. Talk to them when they answer the phone when we call for their children. Give them tools to understand their children, since it's their job to begin with.

5. Be there when the bad stuff happens. Duh. And continue the "ministry of presence" when things are going great.

6. Live in prayer for our students and teach them to do the same. God has a plan for this whole mess and we are not to enter any part of it without asking how we fit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Israelis were having problems with Palestinian terrorists crossing into Israel and shooting up schools.
They armed the teachers and the terrorists stopped targeting schools.