Ping pong is a funny sport to watch. The sheer intensity generated by such a tiny ball and net can easily be seen plastered on the sweaty faces of its participants. And these participants don’t mess around. It’s as if a sense of humor is against the rules. For this reason you never want to toss another ping pong ball into an ongoing match as a joke. It doesn’t end well. We currently have two ping pong tables in our youth building which proudly display their age by way of the sag down the the center line. They’re each adorned with crusty pizza stains and sticky spots in memory of fallen soda cans. They’ve grown to be an essential part of the building despite their lack of purpose.
I’ll never forget hosting my very first event as a youth pastor. I was playing some type of frisbee-basketball-bucket game in which you try to throw the frisbee like a basketball into a bucket. It was a simple, yet fast-paced game created by a few junior highers in need of a stretch and a shower. I was back peddling to gain position and tripped over an unsuspecting defensemen, cracking the back of my head on one of our cherished ping pong tables. It all went black for a moment, but soon the spinning room settled back into position. In hopes of inspiring my newly acquired students, I shook it off despite the immediate migraine. And much to my delight, the game ended soon after. I casually ran my fingers through my hair in order to locate and size the swelling mass, but quickly withdrew a bloody hand. I had split my head wide open. There’s no better way of persuading an army of parents that their children are safe with you than greeting them with an ice pack and four staples in your skull.
Believe it or not, I pride myself on being responsible and take plenty of precautionary measures to guard against the youth pastor stereotypes of immaturity and square rimmed glasses. Nevertheless, I’m young, stupid, and just shy of 20/20 vision. But honestly, how can we find the balance of being our silly selves while fostering a dependable youth ministry that parents can trust in? I was sure to use three words that start with the same letter because I’ve heard that this technique can give the impression that the points given are tried and true.
Include parents in conversation and make it a point to greet them at the doors of the youth building. Ignore the fact that they wear khakis and use leather Bibles, and do your best to find interest in their interests. It will only take a second to set the Nerf gun down and could reap loads of benefits when the parents feel welcome and appreciated.
Remember, there is a parent that sticketh closer than a brother.
Don’t be afraid to make concessions. Choose your battles and save your strength for when it really matters. Guilting every father into reading Wild At Heart may not be the best line to draw. And while youth group senior tattoos may sound like a great way to bond, be willing to back up the parents’ decisions. Remember, while you may refer to them as “my teens,” they’re not exactly yours.
I know, it’s a big word. I had to look it up too. But what I mean by this is try your best to know your surroundings and act accordingly. Different rooms require different actions. This isn’t granting license to use a facade with either parents or teens, but more like the difference of tone you might use delivering a speech at a graduation versus a graveside. It’s not a different you, but a different situation. Remember, if a room has a piano inside, it may be a good idea to take your personality down a notch.
Ultimately, youth ministry exists simply as a guard rail on the parental highway. Yes, God’s called us to influence the lives of teenagers, but only as an auxiliary to parents, not an authority.
Matthew Ouellette holds a Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies and Education from Boston Baptist College. He is the youth pastor of Faith EFC in Waterville, Maine, and was recently awarded a publishing contract for his book titled, Thoughts that Fell from a Taco Shell.