Youth Workers As Mug Shots. . . .

A few years ago my friends at Youth Specialties asked me to put together a new seminar for the National Youth Workers Convention. It was titled “Wisdom for a Young Youth Worker.” I came up with my list of things that someone had told me when I was young and just starting out in youth ministry. The last task was to put together the visuals. And so, I googled “youth pastor” assuming that I was conducting a simple search for a generic image or two to drop into the background of the title slide. . . and what appeared on my screen left me rattled.

My search turned up about a 60/40 screen full of images. About forty percent were photos I could use. The other sixty percent were mug shots. That’s right. . . mug shots of our peers.

A quick scan through the stories behind the pictures revealed a pretty specific kind of failure, impropriety, crime, and sin. Every single one was in trouble for crossing sexual borders and boundaries with a student.

This morning, I checked my curated Google News feed and under the term youth appeared way too many stories about youth ministry peers who have gotten themselves in trouble. . . destroying multiple lives. It seems that at least one of these horrific stories appears every week. Usually, like today, it’s more than one.

And so, with that in mind, I’m going to restate these thoughts once again. . .

  1. Youth worker. . . your default setting is sin. Like everything else in this life, you are broken. And like our forefather the Apostle Paul, you know what’s right and yet you battle strong inclinations to do what’s wrong. Know yourself. Know yourself. Know yourself.
  2. Youth worker. . . you have been made by God to be a sexual being. This is a gift that’s a good thing. You have desires and urges. They exist for a particular place (marriage) and a particular purpose.
  3. Youth worker. . . as a sexual being, you are broken. This is a bad thing that is woven in and through every good thing God has given you. You have desires and urges that can and will go horribly wrong.
  4. Youth worker. . . you are just one bad decision away from being a headline. Read that again.
  5. Youth worker. . . know yourself well enough to keep away from situations and people that you know will tempt you to make that one bad decision. In fact, go out of your way to build borders and boundaries that don’t even allow you to flirt with vulnerability.
  6. Youth worker. . . if you are consistently carrying around a vulnerability that leaves you flirting with disaster in a mind that could easily lead to actions with vulnerable and impressionable kids. . . get out. The “getting out” should be complete. You shouldn’t be working with kids.
  7. Youth worker. . . if this is an issue, get help.
  8. Youth worker. . . pursue the Lord, his Word, and spiritual growth.
  9. Youth worker. . . don’t think it won’t ever happen to you. That’s one of the most dangerous lies you can tell yourself.
  10. Youth worker. . . when you see these stories always remember: there but for the grace of God go I. Then thank God for his protection while praying for future wisdom and discernment.

All of us are sexually broken. We have all crossed borders and boundaries in thought, word, and deed. Be watchful. Ponder 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeing someone to devour.”

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