just kidding

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. These are brave words to trot out when we want to deflect hurtful words, but do they really reflect our true selves? It stinks getting hurt. I got beaned in the eyelid last night – with an actual bean. A student made a poor choice to aim his straw directly at me and blow an uncooked pinto bean, from close range, in a game where the participants were supposed to wear goggles… for a reason. Don’t even get me started on how much it hurts to dislocate a shoulder. I’ve done it at least six times, and there may be a seventh I’m blocking out.

The sleep I lose replaying what I could have done differently never makes up for the disappointment I feel in myself…

I will be the first to say that a few times as a youth leader, I have unintentionally hurt students physically, or they have gotten hurt when I might have done more to prevent it. In the heat of relational moments, I can forget (inexcusable though it may be) that I am way bigger and stronger than students. The sleep I lose replaying what I could have done differently never makes up for the disappointment I feel in myself, nor the damaged trust from the student that has to be rebuilt over a very long time.

photo by garryknight

photo by garryknight

Getting hurt, and causing hurt, is not limited to physical pain. While the impact is not as obvious as a skinned knee or a bruised elbow, there is another kind of pain that all too often we in youth ministry can cause and not even realize it until much later. Sometimes we will only know about it when a parent calls us on it, or communicates it to those higher on the totem than us.

Proverbs is full of pithy reminders to choose the wise path and eschew foolishness. When I looked up the familiar admonishment, Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (Prov. 26:18-19), I found myself lingering over the whole arsenal of chapter 26. Quarrels and gossip lead to all kinds of trouble… does that sound like any young teens you’ve met? (Or been?)

Be aware at all times of how each student is experiencing what you say, and how you say it.

The joke and jest that makes total sense within a group of only teens, or only adults, changes its character entirely when it’s between adults and kids. It cannot flow equally in both directions. While some amount of joking may indicate teens’ acceptance of an adult leader, it’s important to maintain perspective as the adult in the situation. The line from good-hearted, fun, and playful into hurtful and mean is so easy to cross in the heat of a moment. Be aware at all times of how each student is experiencing what you say, and how you say it. It will save you many seasons of regret. The Lord alone knows how I wish I would hurry up and learn that lesson once and for all.

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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  • Calvin L

    very dangerous indeed…

  • Calvin L

    very dangerous indeed…

  • Jennifer Purling Baker

    ‘Words’ can easily be rewritten as ‘sword’ – a potentially very dangerous instrument. Another excellent article!

  • Jennifer Purling Baker

    ‘Words’ can easily be rewritten as ‘sword’ – a potentially very dangerous instrument. Another excellent article!