To Challenge Or Protect?

Mission trips challenge teens, and that’s good. But is challenging teenagers the most important function of youth ministry, or are tasks like nurturing and guiding more critical?

The question becomes pressing when, for example, the mission trip confronts youth a person who abuses drugs or alcohol, or with the first transgender person they’ve ever seen in their life, or someone who swears a lot. My default youth minister posture is to let my teenagers experience the disruption and discomfort that comes from those encounters and to accompany them through the experience. But I know that’s not everyone’s posture.

Some youth ministers I know would rather keep their youth away from those experiences and protect them from encounters with people that might be “bad examples” to them. They feel a need on the mission trip to reinforce the church’s convictions about drugs and alcohol, sexuality, and cursing. Their posture is one of steering youth toward the path the church would have them follow.

This is a gross oversimplification, of course, but among the many things that I’m questioning after this year’s mission trip (which really was a great experience, despite my critical posts this week) is the default posture of youth leaders on mission trips, and, by extension, in all of our ministry with teenagers.

So what’s more important: challenging teenagers to see challenging and uncomfortable things, or guarding them against exposure to them?