We loaded up several 15-passenger vans and hit the road for what should have been a 20-minute drive from our middle school winter retreat to the snow tubing mountain. Halfway there it started to rain, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. I didn’t know at the time just how bad it would get.
We were within a mile of the snow tubing entrance when I began to realize we were in trouble. The car in front of us slid off the road into the snow bank, effectively blocking everyone. What I thought was just a wet road was actually a quarter inch of ice! As traffic backed up, my leaders and I hopped out to help—and that’s when my heart started to beat fast. These mountainous back roads were like ice skating rinks. With the rest of the way being uphill, even after we pushed the car out of the way, our vans couldn’t go any farther. I didn’t have a choice, we had to head back.
Unfortunately, it kept raining. And freezing. And five minutes later the first of our vans slid off the road. Then another one. We spent an hour man-handling them back onto the road. Just as I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the drama was over, my phone started blowing up with text messages, alerts, and calls. Panicked middle school parents wanted to know if we were all okay, who was hurt, what was wrong. I was mystified at how they knew so fast when none of the kids were allowed to have cell phones!
It turned out several of my leaders had updated their Facebook status with quips about the ice storm, how we were “all going to die on the side of the road,” the vans are out of control, accidents everywhere—you get the idea. And of course, they were Facebook friends with many of the middle school parents, who as it turned out, didn’t find it funny at all.
The reality of it was, we were never in any real danger. It was mostly a frustration and a disappointment to miss out on the tubing, and a headache being trapped in vans with hyper junior high kids. But the unnecessary drama created by what is now a cultural norm of immediately updating one’s online status with whatever exciting, funny, or dangerous thing that is happening was a distraction. And all of the calls I had to make to calm and reassure parents when I could have been focusing on the retreat and the students was a massive hassle.
I learned a dramatic lesson in the need for updating expectations for leaders on a regular basis. What didn’t exist a few years ago becomes the norm and second nature—whether or not it’s good student ministry. So now I’m clear with leaders: When we’re on a trip with other people’s children it is critical that we be very careful with what we post online, if anything, and under no circumstances should any kind of negative or potentially alarming news be broadcasted in that way.
In what ways do your volunteer guidelines and expectations need to be updated?