Is everyone in youth ministry having an affair? I’m overwhelmed by all the immoral stories that I’ve recently heard relating to our brothers and sisters in Christ who have fallen into inappropriate relationships. It kills me! But, much worse, it hurts the teenagers who look up to us as leaders.
I realize no one is beyond temptation and a significant fall can happen to anyone. But come on…let’s raise the bar as youth workers and have higher expectations of ourselves and one another. It seems that a week doesn’t go by before I get another phone call or e-mail and hear of a youth worker getting either emotionally or physically involved with someone and hear of the destruction of lives and ministry. This is an issue we need to talk about—it’s not only destroying the involved parties, it’s destroying churches, youth ministries, and the kids we’re called to serve.
As I’ve been thinking of this newsletter, I’ve really been struggling with what to write about this subject. My frustration and anger wants to write a “let’s get our acts together” and “what are you thinking” letter. Although there are a lot of youth workers trapped in their sin and deception right now, I’m guessing the majority need a “let’s be careful, wise, and take protective measures” letter. So that’s the direction I’m taking here.
Let me tell you what I’ve done to try to create some borders and boundaries around my life. I’m not suggesting this is “the” way to provide protection for your life, but it’s the way I’ve chosen to try to live safely and above reproach.
1. I invite accountability
Now, accountability is a tricky word. It means nothing unless you’re honest. Most of the guys I know who have had major moral failure were in small groups. They just weren’t honest with their life. Accountability is only powerful when there’s honesty.
Here’s a copy of a letter that I sent to seven guys who are around me all the time (at church, coaching my kids’ sports, neighbors, etc.). These are the main guys in my life.
I know I’ve said this to you over the years (in some way or another)…but let me put it in writing and make it official. You are the guys that I’m around the most or consider having the most access to my life. As Christian brothers, I want to give you permission to talk to me about any area of my life where you see I might be compromising (money, faith, parenting, relationships, marriage, etc.). I want to be an “open book” to you guys. I probably don’t need to even write this because I know you’d say something if you saw it. Anyway, I just wanted to make it official. Have at it!
2. I’m never alone with a woman besides my wife
No car rides. No public restaurants. No door shut meetings. No elevator rides. Nothing. I realize some will perceive this as legalistic…okay…great…I’m legalistic—but I’m safe(r).
Most of my friends who have fallen into moral failure say that it began by spending significant alone time with another person.
3. My wife has total access to my calendar decisions
With 25 years of youth ministry and 20 years of marriage I’ve learned that Cathy wants to know and needs to know what’s happening within the church calendar and my personal calendar. Often, the last thing I want to talk about when I get home is church/ministry stuff. By her having final say on the calendar items that relate to my time (events, travel, etc.) and our family time (how many nights out, what are the kids doing, etc.), it keeps her “in the know” as to how I spend my time and with who. This may not seem like a protective hedge, but it’s a big one for us.
4. I have a list of people I would hurt with moral failure
It’s a long list. Actually, you’re on the list. You may not be hurt if I tanked my life, but I actually believe I would let a lot of youth workers down. Why? Because I’m let down when youth workers fall that I don’t even know. That’s what the Body of Christ does…we grieve for one another.
Over Christmas break, I helped a neighbor redo a roof. I’m still sore. It was a terrible and painful two days—I hated that work. I told my wife, “I’ve got to add that kind of work to my list. If I ever had to leave ministry, I don’t want to work that hard.”
5. I try to spend regular time with God
I know this sounds like the right thing to write in a newsletter…but it’s more than the right answer, it’s the right action. When I’m in God’s presence, I am reminded how powerful He is and how fallible I am. I’m drawn to beg for strength, wisdom, and power to live His way…and not screw up the incredible privilege he has given me to minister.
I wish I could have a personal conversation with every youth worker who is on the verge of getting caught, diving into temptation, or just flirting with possibilities. But, I can’t. If that describes you…please quit hiding, get found, and begin the healing process before more damage is done to the Body…and specifically to students.