We’ve all done it.

crossthelineWe’ve all crossed a line with students at some point.

You probably didn’t mean to.

Maybe it was as short-sighted as taking them to see a movie that ended up with some scenes you didn’t account for. Perhaps it was some ribbing that you meant to be playful but caused a kid to feel singled out and picked on. It could be that you imposed yourself into a teen’s life as a father or mother figure, as if you were more important than the student’s actual parents are.

Most “line-crossing” happens when we’re trying to do something noble or relational.

It’s why this type of infraction seems more forgivable than others.

After all, there are other lines that should never be crossed. These seem more obvious.

feliciasmithFor example, last month a middle school teacher was charged with giving a lap dance to one of her students. According to testimony shared in the Houston Chronicle:

A Stovall Middle School student told investigators Smith danced for him Feb. 26 in his classroom in front of other students.

He said she placed a chair next to her desk and other students yelled for him to sit down in it. Music began playing and Smith began performing a “full contact lap dance,” according to court records.

The student told investigators Smith sat down in his lap, moved back and forth and touched him all over his body. Toward the end of the dance, according to the documents, the boy said Smith got on her knees and placed her head between his legs.

The boy also told investigators, according to the documents, Smith stood him up from the chair and danced while her arms wrapped around him. He said, the documents state, she told him, “I love you baby, happy birthday.”

Smith admitted performing the nearly four-minute dance for the boy on his birthday, according to the documents. She recalled circling the boy while he sat in the chair and losing her balance a few times.

This story is so inappropriate and ridiculous that we could easily spend a lot of time criticizing the teacher and feeling pretty good about ourselves for doing so.

Instead, I’m going to ask a question in a moment that probably won’t merit very many replies.

Before that, though… consider what you have in common with this teacher. We could assume she’s just some sort of low-life, but picture her starting that morning not at all planning to give a lap dance in the middle of class:

  • It’s another day in front of a group of kids who don’t often seem like they’re ready to learn. Perhaps she’s tired… of course she is – she has to work with middle school students all day! (Can you relate?)
  • The teacher puts on a forced smile and tries to start things out with some direction, knowing it will probably end up down some random rabbit trail once a kid starts talking. (Can you relate?)
  • Once class gets rolling, someone with a bit of spunk begins the rabbit trail. “Did you remember that it’s John’s birthday today?” The teacher thinks, “So what? It’s always someone’s birthday. I have to get these kids on track or I might lose my job.” (Can you relate?)
  • After a moment or two of trying to actually exercise leadership, the students all start chiming in and taking over the sway of the class. “How can you have forgotten John?” they tease. “He’s one of your favorite students!” She knows they aren’t going to let up. She needs to find some way to talk at their level so she can raise them up to her level. (Can you relate?)
  • “You should totally give him a lap dance!” the original trouble-maker continues. For a moment, it’s a ridiculous idea. And yet for a moment, it’s a flattering idea. And yet for another moment, it’s simply an idea. She’s run out of ideas. She’s desperate for an idea. (Can you relate?)
  • Before you know it, someone’s queued up a slick track on a smartphone he’s not even supposed to have in class. Somehow the teacher finds herself laughing with the kids, which is a connection she hasn’t had in a long time. She can play along for a moment. And then it’ll be back to business. (Can you relate?)

Think about the last time you got lost in a similar dialogue that was really about your monologue.

“Alright, it’s time for a big move. Watch this kids. This is how we did it back in my day!”

Again, it’s just a theory. Maybe it didn’t happen that way.

So here’s the real question – the one you probably won’t care to respond to:

If a headline was written about a time you crossed the line, what would it say?

As extra credit, see if you can track the back story of fatigue and short-sightedness that led you to that headline.

(See, I told you…you don’t have much interest in commenting on this, do you?)

My friend AC did a great weekend leader training last night and shared some of it on his blog. He did a great job sharing the heart behind the role of the volunteer at a service and gave some great questions for them to use when greeting students. Here are a few of his suggestions, might be good to rip off copy/paste in a note to your leaders this week!

  • What has been your biggest struggle in high school and why?
  • Do you have a crazy coach and how do you manage his/her craziness?
  • What are you planning on majoring in college and why?
  • Are you close with your parents and how supportive are they about (fill in the blank)?
  • What are some struggles you’re having in your walk with Christ?
  • How long have you been coming to church and what’s got you coming?
  • What’s the attitude towards Christianity in your family?

Head to his place for the rest!


Was thinking this week about the challenge of leading great people – and how we are not only leaders of students as youth workers – we’re the leader of leaders as well. Here are the 4 jobs I think we have as leaders of leaders. Add your thoughts in the comment!

Your team is doing a great job, so cheer them on! Many of us in leadership understand the vacuum of gratitude for what we do, largely from first-hand experience of loneliness at the top. Invisible leaders will soon be invisible altogether. Don’t let this be the case for your people!

Simply put, when you care for people, they’ll be better leaders. They will last longer and endure more under your leadership. The opposite is also true – if they aren’t cared for, when hard times come (and they will) they’ll disappear. Care for your people and they’ll care for your people.

Coaching is the gentle nudge of your leadership to get people back on track. Coaching is the side conversation that helps people see a better way or a different perspective. Coaching is helping people get better every day, rather just when they mess up. Being a leader of leaders means thinking about your people and coaching them every day.

Leaders are going to lead – and occasionally leaders in your care will need to be corrected. Correction goes beyond the earlier concept of coaching – this is the firm conversation or confrontation to make a change. Correction is part of your job description, too.

I’ll unpack each of these in an upcoming Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. What else do leaders of leaders have to do?


One of the best things about the bosses I’ve had in 15 years of youth ministry is that they don’t look over my shoulder. They’re careful to weigh in on the important stuff, cast vision, defend and jump in only when necessary. That’s the best! I function best when I’m believed in and given tons of freedom to dream and deliver. Get too much in my way and I won’t feel believed in, trusted or even like I’m really leading at all.

The problem with empowerment and freedom is that it is often accompanied by loneliness. When someone says “you’ve got permission”, “your call” or “run with it” and then walks away, I’m initially super thankful – the last thing I want is a senior pastor or a supervisor that is too hands on. But the freedom you first enjoy can turn ugly when I start to feel alone. I get lost in my head and start to feel under-appreciated and undervalued. Sometimes it goes the other way and I wrongly feel arrogant or prideful. Either way, I’m not in a good place.

An adjustment I want to make to help correct this is to keep my leaders in the loop and know that they continue to trust me with leadership, but at the same time fight for non task-specific relational time with them. I’m going to be more proactive with asking for coffee and connecting in and out of the church office. I’m not going to let myself fall into the sad trap of feeling alone, siloed or isolated.

What’s interesting is that as I realize I feel this way about my bosses, I want to be sure I’m the kind of leader that lives this out toward those under my responsibility as a boss myself. I want to be a leader that is generous with responsibility and continually giving significant leadership away, but at the same time making sure I cheer on my team, share life, hang out, fight for time and coach/train when we fall short. I want to make sure I’m modeling what it means to give leadership away and being a good leader to my team at the same time. It would crush me for them to think they are trusted with responsibilities and not trusted with my time.

“Fire and forget” leadership is cheap and can be used to disguise just dumping responsibilities instead of developing genuine leadership in someone else. Good leadership gives away tasks and responsibilities and grants freedom, but great leadership gives tasks and responsibilities away then journeys with that person to make them an indispensable part of the team.


I’ve posted in the past about the importance of having legitimate roles and responsibilities for the volunteers in your youth ministry – you can check out some great guest posts about it in posts like 1-Sentence Job Descriptions and Mission Critical Jobs. This week Geoff Stewart offered up his student ministry’s volunteer roles brochure to share with everyone. Download it here!