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Sick Games

Every student got the flu… really bad.

This was the quick story I shared with our church’s youth pastor last week, right before we were about to do something short-sighted.

20141022_191640He’d be leading one of our student groups through a popular curriculum for the past few weeks. It just so happened that the suggested game for this particular week resembled a game I’d led 15 years ago in another youth group.

It involved teams taking turns sticking their faces into a tray of flour… to find sour gummy worms.

Back in the day, I did something similar (the only difference being that I used gummy bears, and we did it all as one team). Where I was short-sighted then?


One of the kids in our youth group had the flu. Within 24 to 48 hours, I learned that a majority of Our youth group had also started developing dramatic symptoms.

I’m not a doctor. I have no idea if the flu can translate that quickly, nor am I aware of any studies involving the transmission of germs involving healthy kids opening their mouths to sift through flour that a sick kid has also openly-mouthed. If such a case did exist, my guess is you’d find a short-sighted youth worker involved.

(Again, allow me to raise my own hand on this.)

Which is exactly why after our youth pastor explained the game and begin to move the trays to another table I covertly snuck up to him and explained how what we were about to do was not in the best interests of any of the kids… all ebola news headlines aside.

20141022_192120The catch? I didn’t want to make him look foolish in front of the students. My suggestion was the concept of the game could be saved with a simple adaption – plastic utensils. We gave the kids the option of a fork or a spoon, and the game played on… all the way right up to the takeaway of how sometimes finding the sweetness in life takes some digging.

His reply? “That’s one of the reasons why I love that you volunteer here.”

My wife’s reply, later on in the night? “There’s one more difference. This time, our kids are a part of the youth group. I’m a bit steamed this almost happened.”

Better safe than sued?

Take this as a lesson learned, however you’d like.

  • Where in your student ministry do you see little slips like this that could (if left unchanged) affect your overall credibility as a youth group or as a youth worker?
  • Any takeaways or stories on being confronted in private versus publicly on something?

– Tony / @tonymyles

3 thoughts on “Sick Games

  1. Tom Willson

    I think the best way to avoid the spread of germs among teenagers at church is to have virtual youth groups. With todays technology this would be easy. All the kids will video conference from the safety of their homes. If we really care about our youth workers we will have them video conference from their homes as well.

    Sarcasm aside, the “I’m a bit steamed” attitude about a youth group game that may expose their children to germs seems a bit extreme to me.

    The longer we remain in ministry, the more we realize we have many different ideas and expectations from the parents of our students. We will never be able to meet the expectations of all of them. We play games that are too rough. We play games that are too gross. We play games that spread germs. We are too strict on our dress code. We shouldn’t talk about homosexuality.

    Here is my balance: I will do youth ministry the way God leads me, with my personality He has chosen to use, When parents object, prayerfully consider the objection and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes there is a better way, and sometimes I have done it just the way God led me to. Never be bullied by parents personal preferences alone. And respectfully and gently communicate your position to the parents. Some will get it, some won’t. And that’s OK, I refuse to revert to video conferencing just to avoid some germs.

    • So, Tom… if you’re going to do youth ministry the way God leads you, what if the way God is leading you is to challenge you through parents who disagree with you… and who do it by bullying you? 😉

      Sarcasm aside, as well, I mentioned I was short-sighted on this back in the day. Thankfully, that gave me some foresight to consider how it might have played out this round – not because I’m inherently smart in the present, but because I was inherently dumb in the past.

      So the question is what are you and I being short-sighted on today that will need correction we may not be poised to hear? The Old Testament has some humbling examples of how God tried to get the attention of His people internally, but they thought they knew better. Then He’s have to send in someone from the outside – often someone with a sword – to reset the people back to right thinking. Other times it was something more agricultural or biological.

      That’s all I’m offering here… let’s pay better attention now to our own “assumed expertise” so that we don’t create the very plagues (be it sick kids or angry parents) that we’d rather avoid in the long run anyway.

  2. Wow, I think we have all had games that have, when looked back on, made us cringe. At a youth camp once we had two giant kiddy pool which we filled with cereal and milk the game gave every camper a spoon and the group who had the least amount at the end won. Makes me disappointed in my self just thinking about it hahaha.

    I know the position that I have taken recently in our student ministries is that we are coming along side the parents and serving them in the spiritual development of their teens. We did this as an effort to change the shift from us raising the teens to them raising their teens spiritual. That said, yes there is an exception to every rule like kids that have been left alone with no hope of parents stepping in etc… But we try to provide an atmosphere and resources that empower the parents that are present in their teens lives.

    Last thing I was at the SEEDS conference at Church On The Move and during the Student Ministries sessions one of the things I took away was eliminate anything that would cause the parents to distrust you. That is not saying to bend theology but if it would cause a parent to think that you didn’t think of all the details that would keep their teen safe then it probably shouldn’t be done, like eating cereal out of a kiddy pool with 15 of their friends.

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Sick Games

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