A student recently told me, “We used to like going on the mission trip because it was relaxed. There were no rules.”
She was referring to a mission trip I inherited.
Truth be told, I’d suspected this was the case for a while but never had someone say it quite so explicitly.
I was immediately troubled by this because I am – at my core – a rule-follower. I absolutely believe that rules are a necessary and healthy part of any youth ministry gathering, especially mission trips. Here are 4 reasons why.
1. Rules help ensure safety. Sure, by themselves, rules can’t protect anyone. But when rules are created intentionally and fairly enforced, they can make it easier to protect the teens entrusted to your care. Rules help teens know what is and isn’t acceptable. Their presence can cause teens to think twice before doing something dumb.
2. Rules make it clear that you’re an adult. Because youth gatherings and trips without rules are appealing to some teens, they can easily draw a crowd. Big numbers can make you feel successful and good about yourself. But it’s a dangerous thing for a youth worker to try to be a teen’s friend; To be liked simply because you let anything go. Rules make it clear that you’re an adult – not a teen’s peer. Teen’s don’t actually want or need another friend. What they need is an adult who cares deeply about them. Rules show teens that you care.
3. Rules create trust. Intentionally crafted and fairly enforced rules enable parents to trust you. When parents see thoughtful rules in place, they know that you care more about their teen’s safety than about being their friend. This enables them to trust you enough to let you do things that might even sound crazy, like take teens to a developing country on a mission trip.
4. Rules make space for those who aren’t popular. Popular, outgoing teens tend to be the ones who advocate and appreciate not having rules... Or at least not having rules set by adults. (These very same teens sometimes create their own rules... Which favor them and often feel like hazing to those not in their inner circle.) When adults intentionally craft and fairly enforce rules, you level the playing field so that more marginalized teens can find their place in the group. Rules actually help create a culture of a welcome in your ministry.
Like it or not, there are rules everywhere teens go. Families have rules. Schools have rules. Teams have rules… So do extracurriculars. Even our country has laws that we are expected to obey.
What makes a youth gathering different isn’t the absence of rules, it’s the way in which we use rules to protect and welcome teens… And dare I say – the way in which we show teens grace when they inevitably break them.
So, even though I know rules won’t attract teens, I’ll never apologize for having them.
To learn more about the types of rules you should have on your mission trip, check out my book, A Mission That Matters.