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Are You Harming Your Students’ Health at Youth Group?

So I was at a ministry event eating Way Too Much Pizza, and the guy next to me turns and says:

“I only eat like a glutton at youth group activities.”

And ever since I heard him say that, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Because it’s completely true.

If I ever eat six slices of pizza, or eat five donuts, or go back for a seventh bowl of chili …

… it definitely means I’m at a church thing.

I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

Look through the Bible. Gluttony is an actual Sin.
Are we tacitly encouraging it during youth group?

I remember back to a New Year’s Eve party I did once. It was the end of the year, and we had enough budget money left over to make it a good party. Students were eating candy and stuffing chips in their faces and drinking soda and there was Way Too Much Pizza.

I remember a chili cook-off where I challenged a student to a chili eat-off.

I remember my own youth pastor engaging me in a Mountain Dew chugging contest when I was a teenager.

Sidenote: If you provide your students with Mountain Dew, you forfeit the right to complain about how they won’t calm down for your message.

In fact, I think that I am more likely to eat sensibly at Thanksgiving or a Memorial Day barbecue than I am at a church event with free food.

What’s up with that?

If we’re regularly pigging out at youth group,
what does that teach our students?

What happens when we eat like gluttons at youth group?

Well, besides encouraging sin and undermining the teaching we might want to do about it later, we may also be setting students up with unhealthy habits that could very well hurt their health down the road.

Diabetes, obesity, cavities … You already know the host of health conditions that are directly related to poor dietary habits.

Listen, the most important thing is helping my students know Jesus, but I don’t think I need to jeopardize their health to do it.

In our youth ministry, we’ve already gone caffeine-free. The free soda is gone and so are the vending machines. That’s because it was the very definition of foolishness to try to get a group of sugar-high caffeine-filled 13-year-olds to sit still for long enough to experience something Meaningful.

We’ve dialed back on sugar for the exact same reasons (and because we were tired of finding Skittles literally everywhere).

Maybe the next thing we need to address is the pigging out that we enable—and the example that I’ve become to my students. Because it’s true. I only eat like a glutton at youth group.

But my students don’t know that. All they know is that I seem to eat an irresponsible amount of food every time they see me eat.

And if my students decide they want to be like me, that’s not a habit I want them to emulate.

How about you? Are you only a glutton at church stuff? Or have you succeeded at responsible eating when surrounded by mountains of free food?  

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Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations—things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.