This week I’ll be writing on five cuss words in ministry, words that at their mention I shudder in fear and recoil with disdain. Why do I call them cuss words? Part of it is humor, but it’s also to convey that these are taboo terms to be avoided because of weight they carry or implications they bear. Words are just a combination of letters, meaning is ascribed to them. Letters by themselves are neutral, but when given meaning and significance they can change the world. Or give a youth pastor gray hairs.
Today’s cuss word is lock-in. These have been youth ministry staples for years, an opportunity to stay up all night, eat animalistic amounts of pizza, drink your body weight in Mountain Dew, and break something valuable in the church. Yes, we’ve all been there. But this is a cuss word in ministry, and so it’s something we don’t do. To credit, I’ve done one. Let me re-emphasize, I did one. And don’t have another one planned, ever. Here’s why:
1) Sleep deprivation is not healthy – Think about it, you’re keeping people awake much longer than their threshold should be and pumping them full of caffeine, then expecting them to leave and have a normal weekend. Here’s a helpful article on sleep research from Harvard University. CNN even ran an article that claimed going 17-19 hours without sleep has a worse effect than having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 (legal limit in most states is 0.08). God designed us to sleep, to recover from activity, to allow our brains a chance to recharge. Removing that, in my opinion, creates an unnecessary barrier for healthy habits. This becomes extra-dangerous when lock-ins get scheduled on Saturday nights because “well that way they’ll be at church in the morning!” What that does is create a group of zombies who cannot focus enough to have any significant impact by the Word as it is taught, sung, and preached.
2) Security & Volunteers – A guaranteed advertisement: “Needed – A group of adults to be willing to go without sleep overnight to be in a gym filled with Mountain Dew amped teenagers. All volunteers serve at their own risk” I’m sure that brings a flood of support. Here’s the thing with lock-ins, it’s so hard to ask adults to give up that much time after a busy week and then expect them to effectively rest/recover/minister to their family that weekend. It forces adults to choose between spending time with their family, being rested for Sunday and serving in the church, and spending their Friday night pelted with dodge balls. I always try to err on the side of setting up parents and adults to be at their best. Security is also difficult, because unless you have sentries posted throughout the church facility it’s impossible to keep tabs on everyone. Some things can be controlled, but at the end of the day it can be more stressful to make sure everyone stays in the building than it is to actually put on the lock-in.
3) Ministry Effectiveness – What do lock-ins actually accomplish? How does it advance the Kingdom and proclaim the Gospel in the darkness? How does it cause students to grow in their walk with Christ? In the effort to redeem the night, devotions, worship services, and evangelistic pushes are done in order to see fruit come from the lock-in. And those are commendable. The one lock-in I’ve led, we had periods of worship and teaching through the night. However, in the big-picture grand-scheme of student ministry where we as youth pastors have only a short window of opportunity to see students transformed by the Gospel and equipped to be mature, self-feeding disciples, does it really accomplish anything? Does having a worship service or Gospel presentation in the night outweigh the fact that emotions are high, brains are tired, and the body is fighting its natural impulse to sleep? I would say no. Not that I doubt the sovereignty of God to save a teenager at 4AM hyped up on Red Bull, but because in those moments the last thing many people are capable of is making a mature decision. So, in the name of effectiveness and grand-scheme, I’ve chosen to lead our student ministry to be less focused on these events and more focused on intentional missions and ministry opportunities. Not saying that’s had earth-shattering results either, but I feel it does set them up for more effective service to Christ in the long run.
4) Other Options – In light of this, what are some other options for a student ministry to do? The last thing I want to do is create the impression that church, Christianity, and the life of a disciple is boring. What can be boring about serving the God of the Universe who spoke everything into existence? No, this is the God who gave life and gave it to the fullest, to be enjoyed in Him. Here’s some options, some I’ve done before and some I’d love to do in the future.
- Getaways – Sometimes you just need to get away for a weekend, go out of town to a campsite or retreat center. Play some games, do team building, get lost in the woods on a snipe hunt, and spend some major time in prayer and worship.
- Late nights – You can squeeze in a ton of fun in a few hours if you plan it right. When we do late nights every minute is scheduled, there is no down time to sit around and get bored. From NERF wars in our gym to worship services to going off-site to bowl, eating a giant ice cream sundae served in a 10-foot rain gutter. And the best part, everyone goes home and the adults get to sleep in their comfy beds!
- Road trips – Go midnight skiing, hop in the vans and go play broom-ball or laser tag, get out of town and do something. Are you going to be up all night? Maybe. But you’re doing something, you’re getting out of the church walls, and creating memories that will far outlast breaking that vase in the foyer or getting a bone bruise running into a pew. For these, make sure you have enough drivers so you’re not dependent on one person to bear the weight of that (I always try to have someone as a backup in case I can’t stay awake – it’s not worth it to wreck)
- Friday night activities – I always tell our students, church starts on Saturday night with a good night’s rest so you’re alert, awake, and able to absorb what’s being taught. So I try to avoid Saturday events and activities unless they can be over by 10PM. Friday nights allow for a recovery day, so if I do any late activity I always schedule it for Friday. The beauty in this is usually students are tired from their school week so there’s less energy to stay up all night, so by the time it ends at midnight or 1 they’re ready to go too. It’s a stewardship practice more than anything, I want the limited time our students are in church to count, not be on the border of being a zombie while sitting under Scripture’s teaching.
All that said, if you’re reading this and saying “our lock-ins are showing a lot of fruit, and we’ve seen a lot of discipleship, growth, and maturity come from them” then I want to know what you’re doing. I hate staying up all night, I have a 1 year old who keeps me up enough nights, but if there’s some fruit that could come from it, I’m open to it. Until then, I’ll threaten students who suggest lock-ins with washing their mouth out with soap.
Tomorrow’s cuss word: Youth Group