Have you ever done something gross? I’m not talking about changing a particularly vigorous diaper or handling raw meat with your bare hands. I mean really gross. Really. Most youth pastors have – it’s reason 612 that we shouldn’t be ruling the world.
Part of the youth ministry code book of secretness states that every stage game should have a potentially vomitous element to it. (True story – Section six, subsection B). I’ve seen students puke Vienna sausages, pork and peas baby food, and no less than 42 marshmallows. In my presence, kids have eaten raw eggs through a straw, raw onions like apples, and fruit roll-ups wrapped around sausage sticks.
I’ve always inflicted this nastiness on others (or allowed its infliction) in the name of grabbing attention. But in all honesty, it’s simply been an effort to keep ‘gross’ away from me. I have a weak stomach. There are days when I can’t even walk in the seafood section of the market without gagging. That’s what makes this particular admission of fallibility so perplexing – and for those who love ‘gross’, engaging.
It was Disciple Now. Games galore on every stage. As the final game of grossness concluded, one of my students took a candy bar meant for someone else and popped it into his mouth. Being the ever justice-minded youth pastor, I simply held out my hand and said ‘spit it out, Nate!’ It wasn’t his. It was the right thing to do. I’m not exactly sure what happened next. It was sort of an out-of-body experience. The ‘environment of intoxication’ was still in the air – kids screaming and laughing from the opening games – music still pounding in the background – the smell of blood, sweat, and tears of those who had battled and lost…..it all mixed together to cloud my judgment!
As I stood there holding Nate’s slobbery, partially chewed, nastiness of a mini-Snickers bar – my data processor was whirring! “That looks so gross.” “Listen to everyone grossing out.” “I should pop that in my mouth and really incite reaction.” “Are you out of your freaking mind?” “If I look at this much longer, I’m going to projectile vomit.”
It was about this point (feeling more like minutes than nano-seconds) that I realized my hand was moving skyward. “Oh, wait, you aren’t thinking this through – stop –stop – STOP!!!” Too late – that gross little piece of formerly chocolatey goodness had migrated from Nate’s mouth into my hand and then leapt, as if on a mission of ‘incite the biggest reaction’, from my hand into my mouth.
GROSS!! I just ate a partially chewed up piece of candy bar out of the mouth of a kid I barely know. Seriously, if I hadn’t been on the stage in front of everyone – I would have purged right there. I wanted to gargle bleach. I wanted to brush my tongue with Clorox wipes. I wanted to undo this audacious travesty!
It certainly got a reaction from our students….they loved to hate it! And, unfortunately (and here’s the moral to doing gross things in youth ministry), it’s all they remember. Gross is fun. Gross is engaging. Gross is entertaining. Gross is even part of the code. But sometimes gross jumps the shark – it becomes more about ‘reaction-getting’ than ‘attention-getting.’ And the point gets lost. My students only remember the ‘candy bar incident’. They have to look at the T-shirt to even remember the weekends’ theme. Truth is – I even have a hard time remembering what that weekend was all about…..I bet there was probably something in that candy bar. Here’s the nasty truth: If God doesn’t outshine the gross, we’ve missed the point.