In our litigious society, kids ministry and youth ministry and even ministry in general has many scared of touch.
One of the tasks that I've been working on now that I oversee kids ministry too is developing a policy manual for our volunteers. I hate red tape and I'm really not much of a policy and rule guy, but we're trying to have a formal written document that explains what people can and can't do for that litigious society and for training purposes too. As a result, I got a copy of one church in our area's manual to learn from and inside it has this statement explaining what no sexual contact with a child looks like:
No physical contact includes: children sitting in an adult's lap, no stroking of the child, no front hugs, no children hanging onto adults, no picking up of children in the Early Childhood and Elementary classrooms. If a child initiates any of these physical contacts immediately but gently remove the child.Let's be clear. This is not because a 3 year old in my lap or hugging me is unhealthy. It's because of legal mumbo jumbo and sin. Jesus could not have worked in this church childcare cuz I'm doubting he refused to hug the kids when they came to him.
In my youth ministry, 4 times in the last 3 months I've had a girl sitting alone in our Sunday program who I approached to see if she was ok. Each time I said, "It's good to see you. How are you doing?" and then put my hand on her shoulder. This simple act each time has resulted in a flood of tears and the admission that they are not ok. It was a hand on a shoulder that said, "How are you.... really?". It is what separated it from a nice greeting to a sincere request and demonstration of concern. I have become convinced that today, more than ever... there is intense power in healthy touch.
I remember reading "What's so Amazing about Grace" by Philip Yancey years ago. In it he marches in a gay parade with some homosexual friends of his and experiences the spitting and yelling and condemnation of some of the "Christians" protesting the event. In the subsequent interviews he does afterwards he is told by one man, "It's easier to get sex on the streets than it is for me to get a hug in church." That has never left me.
Really? Dear God... please don't let healthy touch be a rarity among your people.
If this is new to you, here's 4 suggestions for healthy touch:
#1. DON'T BE AN IDIOT: healthy touch is healthy touch. It is observable by others. It is non-sexual. This should be obvious what you should and should not do. If this is a question, please don't volunteer or lead in ministry to minors especially.
#2. PLEASE TOUCH: seriously, for the love of people and God, please give a hug to someone who is crying. Please squeeze a shoulder, shake a hand, touch a little kids head with a smile... something to indicate people are loved and you're comfortable with them.
#3. WHEN IN DOUBT, DON'T: if you think there's more going on behind the scenes for either of you, then walk away.
#4. DON'T DISCRIMINATE: Hug everyone. Squeeze everybody's shoulders. Put your arm around someone and say, "good job". Just do it to everyone. I think we could use a good solid influx of healthy touch in our churches.