Last week I had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with the Youth Pastor whom I replaced after he was terminated after having an inappropriate relationship with a volunteer. I had not seen him in two and a half years since the week before his dismissal and it was a bit like seeing a ghost. Churches tend to make people in situations like that disappear under the guise of it being best for everyone. Truth be told I had not made any effort to see him, nor contact him until last week. Much of this lack of effort came out of my frustration with him for the harm it caused to our students, leaders and church. I was a volunteer leader in the ministry and have been journeying with our students through the process ever since.
As we sat down for lunch, I was encouraged to hear of the restoration process for him, working through the issues, for his family as they worked to build back what was lost. As we chatted I asked him, what advice he would give myself and other youth workers to avoid getting to the place that he did and here is what he said.
Don’t Give Your Students Everything: He did not have kids himself and in many ways him and his wife treated students and leaders as their own. Loved and cared for them, but what he realized is that he had given too much to the students, too much of himself, too much emotion, time and energy that his marriage and relationship at home got what little was left.
Protect Your Home: It’s so easy for your home to become a second ministry space where students can hang out. He said that making sure it was not youth room 2.0 and not prioritizing it as a family space first was a big mistake. The home is an intimate space, be mindful of that before allowing students especially of the opposite sex to be in your home when your spouse isn’t even if its in a group setting.
Keep Healthy Boundaries: He mentioned that in the midst of the relationship that ultimately ended his ministry he had kept very healthy boundaries with everyone else. He had noted the areas where there had been break downs in boundaries and made sure that they would not be repeated with others. Maintaining an open door policy in meeting with female students in the office, not meeting after hours or in private, not driving students alone were all areas where he had let his guard down and allowed for this to happen.
It Could Happen To You: This was the most powerful thing that came up in our conversation and it was a reality that I had come to recently, that anyone of us could end up there. At first I was so mad that he would do this, to his family, to the church, to the youth ministry that I had given 10 years of service to. But as I have moved into a ministry role myself, the reality is that each of us is a few poor choices away from being there too. For him it was little steps, letting firm boundaries become blurry, entering into an emotional relationship that eventually led to a physical one. When things are rough at home and people are showering you with affirmation and coveting your time at the church, it begins there.
He said it wasn’t until he was knee deep in the situation that he realized fully what had happened and that there was no way out, lying about it delayed his world crashing in for a short time. I often wondered how it went on so long, and he said he never thought it would just go away, but this held off the implosion that was to come for a season. He was a great Youth Pastor, loves Jesus, and never intended to throw away what he felt was his calling in life. Will he ever serve in ministry again? Not sure. But he is a constant reminder of how human we are, how sin can grab ahold of us, and how every day we have the opportunity to serve God in Youth Ministry and that we could just as easily throw it all away with a few poor choices.
Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.