B.M. Axiom # 9: The Tree Always Wins, You Always Lose
I’d make a poor politician. I can almost always see some shreds of truth in the “other side.” I’ve learned that there are very few very clear black and white issues in life; most are shades of gray. Here’s one that is white and black: the tree always wins, you always lose.
Across the years, in my various senior high and junior high youth groups, I have experienced one murder, one teen who died of a childhood disease, and another whose parent committed suicide in her home. Thankfully, these were the exceptions. But, by far, the most serious accidents I’ve endured in youth ministries have happened in the snow.
Kids in solar-powered states or countries have no respect for snow. They go wild in it! They throw ice chunks at each other thinking that they are snowballs. They cram six buddies onto a rented metal toboggan forgetting that the one up front can’t bail out. They’ll spend an hour building a massive jump, thinking that the inner tube underneath them will cushion their landing. They’ll find a folding chair left in the woods, sit it onto the plastic saucer and head down the hill of death. My lecture before they exit the vans is always, “Watch the trees. Avoid the trees. Don’t hit the trees, because the tree always wins, you always lose.”
Of course, that’s why we carry waivers, permission slips, and medical release forms. But the concept transfers to other non-high-risk areas of professional or volunteer ministry. Parents rightfully expect that the church is a safe place for their kids, that events are adequately supervised, that boundaries are clearly defined and enforced, and that overnight events in a gender-mixed group have both male and female counselors. Youth themselves carry hopeful expectations of well-supervised fun, in an atmosphere of acceptance, and hearing the Lord spoken about in relevant and meaningful terms. They want to hang out with each other and with adults who have some passion for teenagers.
The concept extends further. Not all the trees that a teen can run into live in the woods. Discernment, caution, and coping skills need to be blended with relevant Biblical teaching in a huge variety of gray-colored teenage living issues such as integrity, sexual abstinence, crisis management, purpose, and definitions of success. The “tree” often takes the form of a put-down artist, or an overly protective parent, or a non-inclusive youth group, or an insensitive DCE. The seven years that have the word “teen” attached to them are among the most critical years in a person’s life. I believe that the decisions made in these years by teens are simply a microcosm of all the decisions they will make in the macrocosm of the rest of their lives. These years are “the workshop” and set powerful patterns for the future living of life. It is vitally important during this developmental stage that young people be surrounded by loving, caring, and supportive adults, beyond their own families, who know the Lord and live out the Christian faith with character, forgiveness, and realism.
“The tree always wins, you always lose.” Speak it sparingly. Keep it in your mind constantly.
(Helpful and well annotated insights on a wide range of parish ministry topics related to keeping people safe, including yourself as the professional or volunteer, may be found in the book:  Better Safe Than Sued by Jack Crabtree, Group Publishing, 2000.)