Maybe you don’t listen to my girl T Swift’s 1989 Album as often as I do. Frankly, I find that questionable, but I try not to judge too much.
There’s this song she sings, and she asks over and over, “Are we out of the woods yet?” She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet, in the clear yet?”
Now, I’m not the most astute at interpreting song lyrics, to be honest. My 5 year old and I were all about that bass for a hot minute before my brain picked up on what I was singing. Sometimes it takes me embarrassingly long to figure songs out. But I think I get this one. At least, I get how it speaks to me. Taylor’s trying to gauge in her relationship if they have reached some safe space yet. Have they, “arrived” yet? Is there a level of relational intimacy that they can trust?
And basically I think about that kind of thing all the time. And isn’t that what we’re doing in youth ministry? In all ministry, really? We’re in the business of relationships, right? We’re talking every Sunday (I really hope we are!) about a relationship- a knowing and being known- with a God who is real and who is LOVE.
And whether we are paid youth ministry staff or volunteer youth workers, we are so in the trenches of relationships. We’re doing life with hurting, broken families. Our own families are hurting and broken. WE are hurting and broken. And in individual relationships, so many of our students and our parents are asking, “Are we out of the woods yet?” Have I found safety with a friend, with a pastor, with another family yet?
That parent whose marriage is on the brink of disintegration and who has shared part of his story with you- he wants to know; are we in the clear yet? Have we reached that place in our relationship? Can he say this stuff out loud? Can he trust you, youth pastor, not to judge him or hurt him, or gossip about him with the rest of the church staff?
That middle schooler who rolled up the sleeves of her sweatshirt and showed you the long, desperate slashes on her arm? She wants to know, small group leader; are you and she in the clear yet? Can she trust you? Do you have that kind of intimacy where she can share, without you freaking out or yelling at her or judging her?
That mom whose teenage daughter won’t speak to her? The single dad who is struggling to get his son to attend your weekly youth group event? The volunteer youth worker who is battling depression? The church staff member you work with who is going through a really hard season in her marriage? They’re all asking, begging for that safe place, that safe relationship that is out of the woods.
And we in ministry have decided to live right in the middle of that.
My two cents? There’s one relationship where we’re totally out of the woods. Sunday school answer, right? Jesus! Jesus is love, so He loves and forgives us perfectly. I am SAFE there.
But otherwise, I mean, we’re never really 100% out of the woods, are we? In life, I think most people do their best to be trustworthy, to be people of good character. In the Church, we use words like accountability, transparency, and grace. And I know in my church, people try to love each other well. People are transforming and becoming more and more like Jesus. And that is freaking amazing and beautiful and world-changing stuff. But we blow it, of course. So we’re never totally out of the woods yet in our relationships with other people. And that used to cause me to shut down and think, “Well, forget it. I can’t trust anyone. Definitely not the church.” Some of your students think that. Some of their parents do. Maybe you’ve thought it.
And I think we’ve got to dismantle that. I think that the trust that those parents and those students are looking for starts with us helping them see it. I think we’ve got to live lives that model trust-radical trust in God. Friend, our lives better show that. And trust in community that is counter-cultural and makes people take notice. And really deep trust in a few that allows us to confess and share and flourish.
Here’s the thing. I feel like I’ve got two choices to make, because in every relationship I’m almost always both the truster and the trustee. I can choose to do the hard work of developing relationships with a few people and trusting anyway (obviously, with the exception of abusive relationships). And I can choose to do the hard work of surrendering more and more of my life and self to Jesus so that I can become more like Him and thus, more trustworthy.
At least that’s what I’m learning anyway. See, trust has always been a thing for me. It’s always been a BIG, SCARY THING. But more and more it’s becoming an opportunity and an opening for me. I know that people are looking for it. They are craving those safe spaces. So let’s be honest about that! Let’s start talking about it. How are we being people, pastors, leaders, and volunteers who are trustworthy? That’s birthed out of continual surrender to Jesus. So how are we nurturing our own relationships with God and our trust in Him? How are we helping students trust Jesus better? How are we providing opportunities for parents to get to know each other and start to trust each other with the difficulties of parenting? How are we harnessing the power of social media to promote trust and not hurt?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my thing. But 2015 is in a big way about trust for me. If that speaks to you, and you want to chat about it, email me. Better yet, if you’re a woman in youth ministry, join me at the Youth Cartel’s first Women In Youth Ministry Campference in April. We NEED events like these where we can just be- with God, together, with ourselves, and maybe start doing some of the hard work of learning to trust better.
Oh, and for what it’s worth. I googled the lyrics to, “Out of the Woods Yet.” Turns out it’s about a snowmobile accident. Yep. Really, Taylor? I kinda like my thing better. But still totally love the album, girl! Hit me up if you wanna hang when you’re in DC this summer!
Heather Henderson is the associate pastor at Journey’s Crossing Christian church in Germantown, Maryland and also serves actively in the youth ministry there. For two years before that, she was the associate youth pastor at the same church. If you don’t find her working or hanging out with students, you’ll find her spending time with her brilliant, kindergarten-age daughter or handsome, almost one-year old son and her husband, Devin.