one of my YMCPers led us in a great exploration, last week, of what’s necessary for a youth ministry to be truly safe for students to ask hard questions, explore their doubts, and pursue the verbalization research is telling us is so critical to faith formation. my very simple thoughts on this:
FIRST: state the safety of your group so often that students make fun of you.
you can’t just say, one time, “hey, we want this to be a safe place.” like most things you’ll say, that will connect with the ONE teenager who happens to be wondering if the group is safe (and he probably won’t believe you; but he’ll notice that you said it!). you have to state this intention over and over and over and over again, to the point of annoyance; but also to the point of the very statement being a part of your group’s culture.
THEN: ruthlessly prove it.
enforce a zero tolerance policy on your own reactions — making sure you never ever cut someone off who’s trying to share, never guilt or shame, never get passively-aggressive. don’t allow it from others, either — other teenagers or leaders. prove that your incessant promises of safety were genuine.
i’m starting to see that this is true (this is going to scare some of you):
for teenage faith formation, verbalization of belief is more important than the accuracy of the beliefs.
(yeah, that probably deserves more unpacking. maybe another day.)