On Good Kids and Bad

This post, largely unrelated to anything I blog about here (I do ministry with young people, but I am not a youth minister), manages to touch upon a way to describe the difference between “good kids” and “bad kids.”

On the other hand, 96 percent of parents say safety is very or somewhat important for youth ministry. “Presumably this would include their kids being kept safe from physical harm, but many parents may also think of safety in emotional terms, especially since the recent introduction of ‘safe spaces’ on campuses across the country,” the report concludes.

Barna’s interest in this topic was piqued by the article “The Overprotected Kid” that appeared in The Atlantic in 2014. Researchers wondered how the “tug-of-war between a parent’s protective instincts and their desire to raise fearless kids” would play out in youth ministries. They found that, to a large degree, the protective attitudes parents exhibit on the playground, in school and through sports apply equally to those entrusted with the spiritual welfare of their children.

Protective attitudes, meaning this: “Parents sometimes say ‘I want you to have my kid for 1½ to four hours each week, and in that time I’d like you to completely spiritualize my kid and give them a Christo-centric worldview and help them develop a moral compass so they don’t do drugs or get pregnant.’” [Emphasis mine.]

So, part of what parents want their “good kids” protected from here are “bad kids.” I understand this, but as I have said, it means there are kids who aren’t protected but are protected against. They aren’t allowed in the spaces where good kids are. They aren’t invested in the way good kids are. And it means that it’s difficult to do ministry with such kids because they pose the very threat good parents want to keep their good kids from. In fact, such ministry itself becomes disreputable … something good people don’t do.

It’s impossible to do ministry without risks, but that’s exactly what bourgeois parents in a bourgeois community want — a world without risks. A world in which Poor Choices™ are not possible. I get it. We all want our children to have bright, shiny, untroubled futures. We want to promote the good and prevent the bad.

That, however, is not possible. And it robs human beings of agency, of knowing that there is life and redemption outside of simply being good, following rules, and living right. More importantly, it makes untouchable and even unapproachable (except as objects of pity or charity) those whose lives can most show the grace and love of God in a harsh and judgmental world, who need to know they are loved and not abandoned.

And who, as these kids — especially Kaylee and Bethany — have shown me, God is truly present in and with our suffering. Bloody and beaten and hanging on a cross, that’s our God. Disreputable to the last, clearly a man who made some very Poor Choices™ in his day.

Our redeemer. A good kid gone bad.

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