6/13/15

The Swimsuit Rules for Youth Ministry



It's that time of year. When the "swimsuit" question is flying around on the youth ministry interwebs.
One thoughtful male youth pastor recently asked me [along with a few other female youth pastors] this question:


Alright, girls, I need your help.

swim suits.

1 piece. 2 piece. Tankini. Shirts.

I hate this issue so much I just avoid water events.

I don't want girls being ogled by guys OR leaders. 

I don't want guys being ogled by girls.

I don't want girls dressing to get attention.

I don't want guys dressing to get attention.

I can have EVERYONE wear shirts and have equal opportunity irrelevance.

Or I can avoid swim suits all together.

What is the answer?

My response to swimsuits/summer dress codes for youth ministry is this...

3 things to consider in youth ministry when it comes to "swimsuit rules"
  • Your church environment/audience. Is your youth min filled with the conservative churched crowd filled with homeschoolers and parents who will send you angry emails over things like dress code?  Will you be fired for not enforcing or making swimsuit rules? If your youth min is loving students who don't even wear bras or pray to Jesus, then how would a swimsuit rule be helpful at all in advancing the deep and wide love of Christ? So many of the teens we love and serve are already dealing with so much social awkwardness, body image issues, insecurity, and hurt. Be careful with this. 
  • Your location. SoCal by the beach or Bible Belt? I am pretty sure if you do youth ministry in Saudi Arabia or France, the conversation about swimsuits and cultural "norms" are quite different than say sunny San Diego. Your location determines the culture/and norms for your crowd of kids.
  • The role of the parent. You are running a ministry to youth. You are not running a school. I am here to support, not override the role of a parent. When it comes to sugar consumption, screen time, gluten free diets, and swim suits [among many other things parents are trying to figure out]...I support what a parent decides and provides for their own kid. I don't over rule it. I don't micro manage it. If someone wears a one-piece or a bikini, there was clearly a parent involved in this decision because I am pretty sure it was mom or dad who forked over the debit card at Target to purchase the swimsuit in the first place. 
I don't make swimsuit rules. RARELY have girls show up in 2 pieces. I live in conservative West Michigan. Parents are already having "swimsuit" conversations with or without my help. When I was doing youth min is Southern California it was a completely different story. 2 pieces are the norm there, so any T-shirt or one piece rule would definitely equal irrelevance. 

Just this week I actually asked my daughter to wear a 2 piece "because it makes it easier to pee" and we couldn't find her one piece under all of the humongous loads of dirty laundry we needed to do. She replied, "Mom, I am more comfortable in my one piece." You go girl. Whatever makes her feel confident and comfortable. 

Here is what I DO SAY: When talking to students, youth volunteers, or parents, I tell everyone we will be running around and doing a lot of activities. It would be best to wear a swimsuit you are comfortable in, that you can play in, and fitted enough to avoid embarrassing situations. Boys included. Do you know how many boys wear loose swim bottoms that look like they are going to fall off as soon as they dive into a pool? A lot of them. 

I don't hand out T-shirts or dark tank tops. I don't demand ugly one piece sports swimsuits. If God Almighty can clothe himself as a virgin born, naked baby to be Emmanuel, "God with Us," I am pretty sure presence is more important than procedure.  

For more on the "modesty/swimsuit" issue...here are some thoughtful reads












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