There’s a position on a football team that is somewhat unique – the Safety. The Safety plays defense and stands towards the back of the field, the furthest away from the football that you could imagine.

The thing that’s interesting about the Safety is that he doesn’t have just one job, and he’s not assigned to a single player. The Safety’s job is to use his instincts to figure out where the play is developing, and do everything in his power to stop it. If the other team’s running back has eluded all of the other tacklers, it’s his job to tackle him. If he has to stop a wide receiver from catching a pass, he does that. Occasionally, he’ll even be asked to sneak up to the line of scrimmage and blitz the quarterback. He is a flexible player who does whatever he has to do to help his team accomplish their goal—keep the opponent from scoring, and ultimately…win the game.

So why am I telling you this? Because it is my estimation that each youth ministry can use such a player on their team as well.

My Safety each Sunday night is a 50 year old guy named Steve. Steve has served in a number of different capacities in our church: elder, deacon, Sunday school teacher, mission trip leader, and so on. And every Sunday, Steve comes to youth group without a specific job; in fact he does all sorts of things, whatever is needed.

Most of the time, he does the things that I would do if I could be in two places at once, but he usually does them better than I would. I can’t tell you how many times Steve’s presence has proven invaluable. He’s my Safety. I’ll give you just a few examples.

When an unknown thief targeted our parking lot for a “smash-and-grab” whereby several windows were smashed and purses taken from cars, Steve was the one who called the police and greeted them when they arrived. When a student accidentally drove her car into a leader’s car, knocking the bumper off, Steve showed up to help assess the best next course of action. On another occasion, a couple parents wandered up to our youth space with some questions about the program. Because Steve was a parent himself, and his three children had gone through our ministry, he could comment and recommend it to these parents in a way that I never could.

Most recently, Steve really earned his pay (note: this is sarcastic, I don’t pay him) when a student informed me during the music time that she had vomited on the carpeted landing just outside our youth room. Feeling terrible because I knew what I was asking him to do, I approached Steve and told him what had happened. “I’m on it,” he said, and ran off to find the cleaning supplies.

By the time the talk ended and students were heading to small groups, the landing was clean and no one was the wiser (although a few students did wonder about what that strange smell was).

You as the youth leader need to be present to shepherd your flock. In many cases, you only see these students once a week, and having the freedom to not be distracted by various unforeseen and random disturbances is crucial. And there’s only one way to do that: go out and recruit yourself a Youth Ministry Safety. You’ll be glad you did.

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About The Author

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has worked as a pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and enjoys acting in the occasional play. He believes with all of his heart that the Cubs will one day win the World Series, and he and his wife Heidi have four kids.

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