It's possible, though unlikely, that you haven't heard about this news item. A woman here in the Sacramento area died Friday after participating in a water-drinking contest sponsored by a local radio station. The prize was a Nintendo Wii for whichever contestant could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. (Check out this Associated Press story for the full details.)
The whole episode got me thinking about some of the games played in our youth ministries. I used to play Chubby Bunny with our students at least twice a year. I've always viewed it as a disgusting but harmless game that involves stuffing your mouth with marshmallows. Lots of fun; we played it when I was in high school. But one of my adult leaders made a big deal about the potential risks of the game, so we stopped playing.
I can see a youth pastor playing a game like "drink as much water without going pee" and thinking it's all in good fun. Honestly, I doubt I would have researched the risks before doing a game like that, if I and my leaders were convinced it was fun.
It seems to me there are a few youth ministry-related lessons to learn from the water-drinking contest death, and some have absolutely nothing to do with silly, fun competitions.
1. Always think about the risks of any game, activity, stunt. Yeah, this seems obvious but sometimes we're guilty of solely thinking about how much fun a game or activity will be, forgetting that it's a real kid involved.
2. Don't fly solo on generating ideas. I'd hope that increasing the number of leaders that create and analyze game ideas would minimize the risks of things going wrong. It's not a guarantee, of course, but it would help.
3. Cut down on big sodas when traveling. OK this may sound silly, but think about all the long drives you've taken with students who are loaded with big bottles of water, 64-ounce containers of soda, and lots of drive time ahead. Each summer we take a missions trip to Mexico. The organization we work with reminds us leaders to keep the students from drinking large amounts of stuff on the trip across the border to our destination, because there are few safe places to stop for breaks. Telling a kid to "hold it" might, in fact, be unwise. Leading us to...
4. Plan the pit stops. Yea, some kids DO need to learn how to hold it while traveling. But strategic pit stops along the way can help. Just make sure the students don't load up on more big sodas at the break!