Kenda Dean presents 10 characteristics of a healthy youth ministry, and the tenth one was called safe space… Its fascinating in that Jesus pretty much ripped safety out of the practices of 2000 years ago by upending tribal ingroup/loyalty, authority/hierarchy, and religious based purity. Its disturbing that as youth ministry evolved over the years, it seemingly embraced much of what Jesus put aside in the interest of safety.
Tribalism and Fear
Youth groups tend to be very tribal focused, ie safety in numbers, and fear of other groups. Some go so far as to embrace isolationism and fear of others.
Authority / Hierarchy
Often times youth ministry revolves around its leaders. Youth often look to the leader as the center, case in point when a leader moves on, youth group fall apart time and time again. Parents look to the leader to outsource their baptismal promise. The leader looks to the executive pastor.
Often times moral issues and purity seem to occupy a greater priority of youth ministry than does Jesus. Its no wonder moral therapeutic theism is so predominant amongst the young adult crowd.
All of the above are focused on safety, and while at odds with Jesus message, are likewise at odds with the “safe space” which Kendra Dean presents.
Young people need safe spaces in their lives where they can “be” themselves instead of trying to “prove” themselves. Safe space can means time, relationships, or physical space where young people have the emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual freedom to explore, to risk, and to fail in a safety net of love–real love, not the Hallmark stuff. Safe spaces give youth the experience of being really “seen” and known as God sees and knows them, as beloved brothers and sisters of Christ.
If i think back to my years in camping ministry, and the resulting arguments I had back then.. the over-scheduling and activities to keep kids busy and out of trouble, rather than prayer and available percolation time, safety really was the bottom line, rather than safe space.
The thing is, safe space is anathema to many… exploration and risk are scary deals, likewise is failure, and the need to establish REAL safety nets. This is further complicated, as such goes far beyond the realm of just the youth leader, it really requires buy-in and participation of the entire faith community.
Yes, if you ask church councils what is important, children, youth, and families come up again and again…. but implementation is where the rubber meats the road. Matt Cleaver has some good points on what youth ministry needs more of, and what youth ministry needs less of which present some great ideas for change. The question is, will folks go beyond the words of church councils and take to heart what change/work might really need to happen?