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Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions

QUESTION:

Our church is initiating abuse policies for our ministries.

One of them is that I can have one-on-one contact with a student at church (with parent's permission) even if no one else is in the building, but I can't pick up kids (by myself) and transport them to do this or for any event.

I also can't take a student out for a coke to talk...it has to be done at church or I have to have more than 1 student with me.

I also pick up kids a lot and give them rides to events and now I am not able to do that unless someone else is in the car.

I understand the reason for policies, but some of this doesn't make sense to me...please give me some ideas...maybe what other churches are doing, or some resources specifically related to youth ministry.
I would appreciate it!

ANSWER:

Dear Chris,
Let me see if I can offer you some help in the form of the new policies your church is trying to implement.

I can understand why you are crying foul. These policies seem to be somewhat contradictory. Some of them make sense to me, some do not. Here goes…

As a youth pastor in The United Methodist Church, our bishop recently enacted the Children and Youth Child Protection Policy. It was a program that came from our Office of Risk Management observing other denominations getting themselves into trouble over this terrible issue. What they put in place was the CYCPP, and it has some merit, and it has some absolute silliness. (One example was that on trips, one adult leader must stay awake during the night, outside the hotel rooms in the hallway, and monitor the rooms that housed our event participants. WHAT?!?! That adult will make a “great” leader the next day. No sleep, plus 97 middle schoolers, plus ANOTHER stop at Taco Bell. Perfect!

As you navigate these policies with your church leadership, I think you will be benefited by keeping three things in mind:

  1. Obey the leadership regardless of their decision. Your first task is to support the local church. You cannot do that if you are unwilling to conform to a standard that the entire church adopts. I know that may suck to hear, but it is true. This is not something that is worth tossing your job over. Your willingness to adopt an obedience policy will go a long way in your relationships at the church. (For example, your adult leaders will see your willingness to obey when you do not understand or agree, and they will be challenged by your example to do the same thing under your leadership.) More importantly, your superiors will see your obedience. This grants a listening ear like NOTHING else. “Hey guys, I will do what you ask, but can we talk about it a little?” Which brings me to point number 2.


  2. Lead north as much as you can. That is what Bill Hybels calls the process of an employee affecting the decisions of the employer. Instead of the boss calling ALL the shots, YOU get a chance to intervene and offer your input…but usually ONLY if you have been willing to do number 1 first! Here is what I think this could look like in your setting.


    • Tactfully ask that the policy be consistent. (As it is described by you, I do not think it is.) You should not have one on one contact with a kid at the church if no one is around, regardless if their parents have checked off on it or not. What is the difference between having one on one contact with a kid at a church with no one around, versus having one on one contact with a kid in your car, or at Starbucks? There is none. Lovingly point that out, and state that you want the highest standard put in place for “OUR” church. That is one idea. Here’s another. Do not be caught in the car with a kid of the opposite sex, period! As a matter of fact, there are risks associated with taking a student of the same sex anywhere. I do this because it is not forbidden by our policy. But I would NEVER take a female student of mine anywhere. Note that the church might not want you transporting students of either gender alone in your vehicle. If that is the case, obey. Avoid the headlines that read “another youth worker in trouble because of an inappropriate relationship with a minor.” Chris, you live a high profile life, regardless of the size of your town, church, or youth group. PLEASE REMEMBER THIS: it only takes an ALLEGATION to ruin your career in youth ministry AND the reputation of your church within the community. You do not even have to be guilty!


    • Point out that there is extremely low risk in meeting ONE kid at a public place to share a Coke. Key words include MEET and PUBLIC. You can’t drive them there. And the place must have other adults around, even if they are merely the employees at a McDonald’s. There is very little chance that a student could make an accusation about you in this context. You should be allowed to do this, if you do not take them there, and there are others around. (But, bear in mind, you may have to earn this.)


    • Exemplify good leadership by finding other adult leaders to help you put these policies in place. I am only allowed to transport students of the same gender. Just this past weekend, a girl that lives LITERALLY on my street needed a ride home. (I live about 9 miles from our outreach center.) I was asked if I could give her a ride. I found another adult leader who was willing to drive her there for me AND for our ministry. This kind of leadership gets your adults mingling with the kids and it keeps you out of trouble.


    • Remember, these policies are designed to protect your students AND you! I know it may not feel like it, but if (God forbid) you are ever in the crosshairs of a student that is so upset with you that they are willing to make an unfounded allegation, hopefully you can rest against the agreed-upon standards of these protection policies. Just like parachutes, they only work if you use them, though.

A TRUE Story

A (male) friend of mine was in his FIRST week at his new church. Things were going great; his office was set up, he was meeting kids, learning parents’ names, then “Rene” came along. She told the church leaders that my friend had made out with her at a HOME Bible study that past Wednesday night, and she had friends willing to testify accordingly, which they did. (Remember, my friend is in his FIRST week. He has racked up ZERO trust with anybody at the church. He is new to everyone!) He’s married…in his 30’s…and she’s 14.

Fortunately, this was a lie. Secondly, the HOME Bible study was at another adult’s house, not my friend’s house. My friend pointed out that the home owners/adults never left the room the ENTIRE time he was there. They testified to this truth. He acted very wisely from the start, and it saved his career. Further, my friend took it to our denominational leaders. He called in the big guns immediately. He did this for two reasons, 1) they DID know him and trust him, and 2) he wanted to call their bluff. It worked.

This female student admitted before the denominational leaders, church leaders, and law enforcement agents that she had lied in her allegation. She wanted my friend fired before she even met him because he was “clearly the reason” that the former youth pastor (her friend) was fired. The former youth pastor was dismissed because she was a poor youth pastor.

If my friend had not been so careful, he would have lost so much. His wisdom, coupled with his obedience to the policies, saved his career and his reputation.

Chris, I hope this helps you some. If there is anything else I can do, please email me back.

Blessings,
David R. Smith













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