crazy and stupid youth ministry moments

we youth workers do some pretty crazy things from time to time, right? call it “the lengths we’re willing to go to for teenagers” or “occupational risk” or just the collective risk-taking nature of our tribe, but man-alive, have i heard some stories. and, it was shockingly easy for me to pull together this list of 5 crazy things i’ve done. i probably could have listed 50 things.

i was thinking of this “crazy thing” list because i need to do a crazy thing this fall. some of you are going to laugh at me, or consider this super-lame. so be it.

here’s the story: as someone who travels quite a bit, my preferred flyer status with united airlines really makes my life easier. call me george clooney if want, but special security lines, early boarding, bonus miles (for family travel!), and free upgrades make regular air travel more livable. recently, i added up the miles i’m gonna get from my remaining trips this year, and i’m going to be one east coast trip (or a couple shorter trips) short of holding onto my frequent flier status this year.

so i’m offering a special deal: i’ll come speak for your event, or to your youth group, or your volunteer team, or preach in your church, or provide a day or two of consulting, at a 50% discount (plus travel costs). i don’t have a bunch of weekends available (a mid-week thing is very possible, btw) — here’s what’s left:
sept 10 – 12
october 22 – 24
october 30/31 (but i can’t fly on friday the 29th, so that weekend is a little limited)
dec 10 – 12 and 17 – 19

if you’re interested in this one-time “marko sale”, shoot me an email at [email protected], or email my booking dude, tim grable, at [email protected].

UPDATE: well, i got the miles thing worked out! YFC of northern ireland is bringing me in for a 2-day ‘youth ministry 3.0’ event in belfast. yup, that’s sure enough miles.

now, for the list of crazy things. please, add your own in a comment!

5 of the craziest things I’ve done in youth ministry
1. Sent 60 junior highers and leaders home on a 24-hour drive while I stayed a full week with an impounded truck in Mexico.
2. Had about 25 middle school boys in my home hot tub at one time.
3. Tried to keep a summer camp going when about 100 of 120 campers were throwing up and experiencing diarrhea.
4. Rented Universal Studios after hours for a private youth group event (and spent the first 25% of our time arguing with the manager to let us in after a kid lit off a firecracker while we were gathering at the gate).
5. Played sardines (reverse hide-and-seek) in the church sanctuary at a church where the sanctuary was a sacred cow.

when i was making the “crazy things” list, i kept coming up with things that weren’t really crazy, but were just stupid. so i made a second list…

as a bonus, 5 of the stupidest things I’ve done in youth ministry
1. Left a 7th grade girl at a McDonald’s in an extremely tough neighborhood in Chicago at 11pm, and didn’t realize it until she was pounding on the door of the building we were staying in, a mile from the McDonald’s.
2. Used a “hot seat” (which delivered a horrible electric shock) on a retreat as a way for junior highers to get points for their team via scripture recitation.
3. Allowed another youth pastor, when our two groups were partnering on a winter retreat, to do a crowdbreaker that was so gross I knew it was going to get me in trouble. It did.
4. Left a couple hundred junior highers in their hotel rooms on an overnight event with only one intern at the hotel while I took the rest of the adults out to In-N-Out Burger.
5. Accelerated a full van of students pulling a trailer toward a freeway barricade as a joke, not thinking about how hard it would be to stop with all that weight. We stopped, but my heart almost did also.

i want to hear your “crazy” or “stupid” youth ministry moments. add ’em as a comment, and whether you see it as crazy or stupid.

41 thoughts on “crazy and stupid youth ministry moments”

  1. “It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid” – David St. Hubbins

    When I was an intern some kids and I got busted by a cop and the care taker of a school for skateboarding. No big deal usually, happens all the time.

    But the care taker didn’t feel like he was getting through to me…I tend to absorb a lot of long lectures from guys like that… so he pressed and I figured telling him I was an intern at a church and part of my job was skating with kids would calm him.

    So a couple days later it comes down the ranks that he was demanding a meeting with our Sr. Pastor (6000 member church in San Diego)…and everyone knew who the skating intern was. Busted.

  2. Nice. I actually did a post on this last week, and trips down the stupid side of memory lane can be humbling. My two favorites from my list:

    1) Church horror movie. In my first year on staff at a church, our church building was being renovated. We had a pretty small group of high school students, and they thought that the under-construction church would make a really cool setting for a horror movie. So we filmed it over a couple of weeks, with one of the students doing the producing. It was a lot of fun, although looking back, I’m not sure that the ending scene was the most respectful thing we could have done in the sanctuary.

    4) Showed Footloose (the 1984 version, since a new one will be out next year) at a youth group movie night. My first lesson that “PG” means “Screen each and every movie before you show it to students, even if you remember watching it countless times as a kid.”

  3. This one was partly my fault, partly not.

    My first year as an intern, we had our van break down in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota (that part isn’t my fault, wasn’t driving!) As a result, we had to sit and wait, for hours on the side of the road. Adding to it was the fact that it was a diesel vehicle, and we needed a special towing vehicle or something, that was about 100 miles away. They ended up sending a truck to pick up some leaders and students to go get trucks to come back and get us. So they come back with the trucks. In my truck we pile about 6 people in the cab, AND I decide that it is a good idea to let the student keep driving instead of driving myself. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

  4. On a mission trip to NYC, my group stayed in Newark, NJ. Enough said. Not enough room to tell all of the stories from that trip!

    I appreciate you sharing your stories! Ironically, none of these is too shocking to a youth pastor.

  5. And I, sir, was one of the one’s who sat on that hot seat! I think I still have the scars to prove it. :-)

  6. I’m pretty sure I remember or was a part of several of those memories, which makes me think that crazy must beget crazy. :). In my own youth ministry career I made decisions that didn’t work out so well ranging from giving 5-6 graders a 45 minute sermon on intelligent design to encouraging 6th grade boys to tear apart the furniture in a rented condo so they could literally fly at each other crashing full speed, and leaving sleeping campers alone in their tent cabins while all the staff except CITs watched movies. :). Never left one at McDonald’s though….

  7. Hmmm, top of my head . . .
    Played red light/green light in the sanctuary on the new sanctuary chairs (expensive), can’t touch the ground and all other rules apply. There were about 70 of us . . . when they got boring, we just played tag with where several people were “it”, again, can’t touch the ground . . . fun, tiring, painful for some but not very economical, chairs weren’t so new afterwards . . .

  8. Most of those are par for the course for those of us in student ministry…

    But, the worst two from my current ministry experience:
    1. We were driving back from Glorietta, NM through a construction zone at around 5:30-6am (no one on the roads) and decided to bob and weave through the cones. It was all fun and games with our convoy until the rear van (hauling the trailer) got pulled over by a state trooper. He at least had a sense of humor, telling us that he wouldn’t give any of us tickets if we went back and put all the cones we’d knocked over upright… That was a LONG morning!

    2. On our way home from a ski trip near Denver, I was pulled over in western KS. The state trooper asked if I had been drinking (the church van was new and hadn’t been labeled yet) to which a student from the middle replied, “No occifer we ain’t been drinkin!” I was then asked to get out of the vehicle and began a field sobriety test. After failing the alphabet backwards, I asked for a breathalizer which he made me take 3 times because it read 0. After that, he asked where we were heading at which point it came out that we were a church group and I was thee youth pastor. Needless to say, I avoided murder when we got back in the van because I am still in youth ministry, but it nearly got me there!

  9. maybe not the stupidest, but once upon a time (OK, it was a stupid moment) travel between Detroit and Canada was fairly routine. The border patrol asks a few questions, the bus driver gives a carefully scripted answer (yes sir, no sir, yes sir, etc) they smile and encourage you to enjoy your stay in Canada. There was no worry about passports, etc. Upon entry to Canada, all is moving smoothly on board the big brown bus. The statement was, “i assume there are no weapons on board.” My “no sir” was interrupted from a voice in back stating that he had made his own numb-chucks. “Pull off over there”, soon the interrogation started, who were we, where we from, etc. Where were all the students born…voices began, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Japan, Germany, even one from Detroit. “Mr. Youth Pastor, if you head straight back to where you came from I’ll let you go this time.” See later Canada!

  10. It all started with the game “heavy.”

    You know….the mingling game where you say, “Heavy……ELBOW” and magically your elbow becomes the heaviest part of your body and it has to touch the floor. So we were doing that w/middle schoolers and we ended it with “Heavy……..TONGUE!” And 4 kids did it. We only had 1 Twinkie to give the winner, so we decided we’ve have them lick the linoleum floor and whoever made it the furthest would win the Twinkie.

    But they didn’t stop. So we had them go out the room and down the hallway…..then over some rocky flooring…then over the carpet into the sanctuary (granted…….it was a *small* church, but….still) and then back.

    After taking some photos, and on the way back, a little voice inside my head said, “This is stupid…..probably should stop it.” So I called it a tie (they had to split the Twinkie) and asked them to take photos of their tongues.

    Both girls had bloody…..bloody tongues.

    One was like bloody and dirty too.

    Another girl came to youth group the next week and showed me her tongue…it was all infected – she had to go to the doctor and take some spray for her tongue for a couple weeks.


    Now THAT was stupid.

  11. Years ago…I filled our meeting room up at a retreat with small foam rubber pieces about 3-4 inches deep. really cool.. except that the speaker had no chance of communicating.. none… Null -set. The kids actually started something that resembled a “snow ball” fight with speaker boy being the target.

    poor guy really… really struggled!

  12. I think mine takes the cake so far. I was the new youth pastor in our area and had been invited by a seasoned youth pastor to attend an area-wide junior high retreat. We had groups there from 60 miles away. All the other youth pastors had done this retreat before, and all had been in youth ministry for years.

    During the game “what would you do for a candy bar,” I found myself standing in the back of the room. The youth pastor leading the game heard a teen say he’d be willing to drink toilet water. So the youth pastor called my name and asked me to get the boy some toilet water to drink, and that I had to be the witness to make sure he drank it all. Keep in mind, I’m the new guy, with seasoned youth pastors, and I have less than a year of experience (so like a brainless lemming, I follow orders like a good youth pastor).

    So I take the boy into the bathroom and fill the cup with toilet water. After he downs the first glass I tell him something along the lines of, “a real man would drink two glasses.” So the boy does.

    All is done and great, right? WRONG!!! The boy, who wasn’t even in my youth ministry, ends up getting REALLY sick the night he got home from the retreat. He ends up in the hospital. So the health department gets involved and has to drive the 30+ miles to the camp to do water testing and investigate the camp for “other alternatives” for how the boy got so sick. The boy ends up staying in the hospital overnight and is released in the morning.

    The lead youth pastor of the retreat then calls me after getting a call from the camp, or the health department, or the youth pastor, or the mother, or someone. When the youth pastor identifies himself, I instantly had a sinking feeling in my gut. It all the sudden hit me what I could have caused (it took a phone call, 3 days after the retreat to wake me up to what I could have caused). He was just calling to verify that I had given the boy a cup of water with coffee grounds in it (like they normally did at the retreat). “Oh no,” I say, “I gave him two full cups of toilet water.” His response, “Oh Isaac, you could have just shut is down.”

    Literally right after I get off the phone with the retreat’s lead youth pastor, I walk down the hall, into the conference room for my 6-month review. After hearing how great a job I had been doing, the two elders asked if I had anything to share with them. So I shared about the situation I was in literally at that moment regarding the investigation and the boy in the hospital.

    They were VERY supportive, nothing ever came of the incident, but the story of my stupidity lives on in our area. Oh yeah, I’ve now been at the church for almost 10 years, and continue to do those area-wide retreats… although I’m not allowed to help lead any games!

    Top that!

  13. Most stupid…after going over a drain ditch in a road (that was a cross between a speed bump and a launch ramp) I decided to see what would happen if I hit it going 60mph…in our 15 passenger van.

    All 4 wheels off the ground for about a 10 ft jump…full of kids.

    I was 21.

  14. I rented a woodchipper and got a bunch of day old food from the grocery store to do an epic food-fight. the chipper got clogged immediately, so I suggested that we just throw the un-chipped food at each other. I had a crowd of middle schoolers throwing pineapples and potatoes in each others faces, not to mention a whole lot of black eyes and split lips. sigh.

  15. another time we were on a long bus ride and this kid asked me to pull over so he could go “potty.” I thought he was joking with me so I told him to use a slurpee cup- and he did. we pulled over and he threw it out the door. the next day his dad questioned me about it and i told him that i thought his kid was messing with me. the dad said, “when a kid has DIAHREA, you should pull the bus over so he doesn’t have to go IN A CUP!” I had no idea at the time that a kid pooed into a cup on my bus. it still blows my mind.

  16. So we were on a beach trip with a pretty wicked current, and a Jr.higher asks if its ok if he walks his longboard a half hour down the shore because the lifeguards wouldn’t let him where we were but further down they weren’t patrolling. I said lazily, “ok”. Luckily he survived and I did not get fired.

  17. I can’t believe I didn’t weigh in on this one.
    I let the older youth group leaders plan a game of “Man up!” consisting of answering quiz questions. A wrong answer meant you got shot with a low pressure paintball gun at about 4 metre range.

    When they dared the guest speaker to join them I should’ve stopped it.
    When they challenged themselves to ‘take it up a level’ by removing their shirts, I should’ve stopped it.

    When the speaker ended up with welts, bruises and blood after all the other leaders answered the questions incorrectly on purpose… I stopped it.

  18. Hold on. I’m going to YFC NI to be your travel buddy… just think, that’s 100 lbs of Jamesons you can bring back. I’ll just bring carry on.

  19. We were camping with a group of middle school kids in a rural area with 2 lane roads. I was driving a 15 passenger van full of kids and one of our other adult volunteers was driving his truck full of kids as well. The kids were egging us on a little bit so we were passing each other on the road (no other cars around). It finally stopped when I passed him going 95mph. When we got back home one of the kids told a parent, who told an elder, who then talked to me. Many meetings with pastors and elders followed. Fortunately I kept my job and learned a valuable lesson about not giving in to middle schoolers.

  20. I’ve read with quite a smile on my face these entries – and have suddenly been hit with two grand conclusions: one, we’ve done some pretty stupid things; and two, for the most part our churches’ leadership have displayed amazing quantities of grace and forgiveness.

    After nearly 30 years of Youth Ministry involvement, I have done more than my share of stupid. My driving, my decisions, my momentary loss of good judgement and my disregard for all things sensible, all continue to demonstrate God’s need for crazy people to reach crazy kids with an incredibly crazy message. However, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat across from student leaders, volunteers, interns and peers – with as serious a face as i could, ask the “What were you thinking?” question. At the same time there was that still small voice on the inside saying “I gotta try that!”

  21. how about showing bill and ted’s excellent adventure to middle schoolers in the sanctuary while i was an intern! or when i was a volunteer, and not much older then the high schoolers, going a night early to a campground with a student to set up camp and having a few wine coolers with him so he would think i was cool. oh yeah, van dancing down grand street, downtown chicago, by making the van sway and slide to dario g.’s song “heaven”. on that same trip i drove a van through a driveway/lawn to beat the other van back to where we were staying. this was after racing that van down the highway to get to the offramp.

    i also used to constantly get caught or called on by parents for shooting off my mouth and saying things that either hurt some student’s feelings or get me in hot water with the board. and i thought it was all in the name of having fun messing with students.

    wow, i’m glad i’m growing up and “most” of this is in the past.

    name obviously withheld!

  22. So… I think I’ve just spent a lifetime learning from other people’s mistakes.

    My favorite story is when I was just out of high school and working with the group… my youth pastor, whom I love and who is a good friend… he’d never been on one of our missions trips to mexico before.

    So he (unaware that there was like a 2 hour siesta in the middle of each day) booked a hotel for our missions team to stay at in Phx, AZ for two days after the trip, to re-coup.

    He booked it online… cause that’s what we do these days.

    Unfortunately, what DOESN’T show up online is that it’s a Gay Men Expo at the hotel– each door had “goodie bags” and our leaders were getting hit on… Black leatherdom had descended upon this hotel, and so had our little group of missionaries. It was a long couple of days, days in which rules like “you may not go around the hotel unless you’re with someone of a different sex” came in to play… the kinds of rules most kids never get to see.

    THAT hotel experience got some feedback when we got home to our conservative little Baptist church…

  23. My first year as a youth worker I was only 16 myself and had just got my drivers license. I had complained to my pastor that there was no youth group at our church, and was challenged by him to help start one, so ended up with a bunch of jr high students under my wing. On one of the first events that I ran alone we were going to another church for an area wide event and my other drivers didn’t show up. I decided to fit all 11 students plus myself into my 2 door dodge omni…doing so involved stacking students, and two riding in the trunk. Strangely enough none of the kids mentioned it to their parents, so I never got in trouble, but looking back now I shudder.

    Also in that first year of ministry the sr pastor and I decided at our first ever lock in to set up laser tag in the sanctuary of the church. We put a glo stick on the communion table, while we sat up in the baptismal tanks and shot at the kids coming into the room who tried to get up to the glo stick by crawling under the pews. I think the only thing that kept the elder board from “laying hands on me” (and not for healing!) was the fact that the Sr. Pastor had been my co-conspirator in this.

  24. Though on the surface lots of these stories may sound funny, and I could share some doozies myself, I can’t help but think they speak to a more serious issue regarding the maturity of the people we invite to care for the youth of the church. Most of us are wiling to do crazy/stupid (read: unsafe) things with youth when we are in our twenties that we would never consider doing in our 30’s or 40’s. Don’t mean to be a killjoy here. Just making an observation that making kids eat stuff that makes them sick, playing games that gets them injured, or taking risks with kids through reckless driving shouldn’t necessarily be the staple of every youth minister’s tenure in ministry.

  25. @brian — i hear you. i don’t think anyone is holding these up at “wonderful examples of youth ministry.” just the opposite — we’re just all admitting that we’ve done some really stupid things.

  26. Light bulbs, half filled ceramic coffee cup with water, microwave. Pretty lights, but needed to buy a new microwave the next day.

    Putting a can of mosquito repellent into a camp fire and video recording the whole thing.

  27. As I was reading some of the “lessons learned” from other yp’s this one from my own past flashed across my mind.

    Stupid moment in youth ministry: Thinking that a pinata would provide harmless, innocent fun. Never again will any ministry I’m involved in have anything to do with a wooden stick and a candy filled cardboard figure!

    …and yes, the moment was captured on video…

  28. At my last church, we had a 15-passenger bus (a short school bus painted white). My pastor failed to mention to me that it only had about a 120-mile range due to the horrible mileage it got. So on my first retreat, we were about 20 miles from our destination and we ran out of gas. I told my kids the gas station was “right over the next hill”. Guess what phrase haunted me the rest of my ministry there? I had to call someone to come bring us gas from our destination. But to really be stupid, about a year later I was driving the same van in the heart of Dallas. Again, not far from our destination, we ran out of gas again…this time, though, the gas gauge was showing we had 1/4 of a tank. The gas gauge had broken, and there we were.

  29. I agree with Brian. When reading these posts, I was shocked at the amount of irresponsibility and irresponsibility. Having people run their tongues along the floor and ground! Racing vand at speeds near 100mph, because 12 and 13 year old kids were peer pressuring them to do it? Drinking alcohol with a student? Having a retreat where you sabotage the speaker…..why bother having the retreat at all! Yes, we all do and say stupid things, but some of these examples are illegal and all exhibit a larger problem and that is immature adults that have low elf esteem and need to demonsrtae their “coolnes through illegal and dangerous actions.

  30. On a trip with our seniors, we were by the campfire and I thought it would be a good idea to cover my hands with hand sanitizer and then ignite them with the fire and yell “flame on.”

    Well it worked great, but after about 2 seconds I was ready for it to go out, but my hands continued to flame. After about 10 seconds, they were out, but I was 5 steps from the river by then so I just went for it anyway!

    Not a great moment, but cool for about a second. All the hair around my hands and down my arm took a while to grow back….

  31. Guess what! It’s this kind of idiocy that has turned many away from the church. If this were a “confessional” that would be different, but many of you do not seem to see the severity of how bad these “mistakes” really were! I left the evangelical church and have never looked back. It’s indicative of how people try to do ANYTHING to win a soul. And what are you teaching? You know, in ANY OTHER JOB, these would be job ending moves. Grow up. You are leading people’s precious children. Their legacy. Their prized jewels. Show a little love. GROW UP! I led youth for around 8 years. We didn’t have a “jazzy” youth group, but most of those kids are still walking with the Lord today. You don’t need excitement to lead a ministry. You need sincere love. The kind of love that doesn’t let people drink toilet water. The kind of love that wouldn’t speed with children in the van. The kind of love that respects others and demonstrates honor. And yes, you ARE glorifying this here. People are laughing about it!

    @Brian you are 100% correct.

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