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Kidnapping students and other dumb things NEVER to do in youth ministry

Playing around in a church van is nearly as stupid as kidnapping studentsKidnapping Students? Really?

Raise your right hand and repeat after me:

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear, to never go to jail because of my role in youth ministry. So help me God. 

Nothing in youth ministry is worth dying for. And nothing is worth going to jail for.

Here is an easy-to-use list of things NEVER to do in youth ministry.

1. Let’s start our list with the mock kidnapping students.

A church and its youth pastor are now charged with false imprisonment and simple assault.

They say they were trying to show an example of religious persecution, but the Dauphin County DA’s Office says what they did was a crime.

The Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office said after a grand jury investigation, the Glad Tidings Assembly of God and its youth pastor, Andrew Jordan, both broke the law. source

Don’t ever do that. Yes, I know people have been kidnapping students for years. But we also used to have youth ministry games called, “Guess her weight.” Just don’t do it.

2. However tempting don’t ever screw around when transporting students.

Don’t race, steal vehicles for fun, pretend to leave people at rest stops, swerve lanes, refuse to stop so people can pee, etc.

Transporting students is one of those things we do in youth ministry so often that it’s easy to let your guard down and get silly. But it’s also one of the more dangerous things we do. It’s better to be boring than end up in a ditch.

3. Flirting, teasing, seducing, pinching, grabbing, slapping… or any unnecessarily physical contact.

Why does this even need to be said? Oh, I know why! Because any Google News search of “youth pastor arrested” yields case after case of a youth pastor sexually assaulting students in their care.

Male or female, no one is exempt. We all have to be extra careful.

I get it… youth ministry can be a sexually charged space. That’s why it is so important to screen volunteers, repeatedly train everyone who is in leadership, and to be vigilant in maintaining a safe place for teenagers to explore, create, and build a relationship with Jesus. It never starts with a 30 year old married man and a 16 year old student saying… “Hey, wanna have sex?” But it often starts with innocent, out-of-bounds contact that goes unchecked.

4. Leading games & experiences you aren’t trained to do.

Yeah, we didn’t think through that very well.” Well duh. That’s easy to say when you’re in the emergency room talking to a parent or a police officer. But you should really think about that before you play red rover with high school guys or try to lead students in a low ropes course when you don’t know what you’re doing. Broken arms, shoulders, and faces happen because you fail to mitigate the risk. That’s not taking the fun out of youth ministry, but it is taking the lawyers and insurance companies out of your planning meetings.

Play smart.

5. Teaching the Bible beyond your understanding or just flat out making stuff up.

Oh, sweet Jesus! I can’t believe some of the crap that I’ve heard come out of people’s mouths. I can’t think of a nicer way to say it. If you have more title than theological training you better make up for it in study before you teach/preach/write curriculum. Why do you do commentary work? Why do you read what others are teaching on this topic? Because if you’re the only one seeing a passage of Scripture that way it’s probably because you’re wrong. Sometimes teachers get more excited about being creative than they do about being correct. Or they are so full of woo that they could convince a kitten they are a lion. Don’t teach heresy creatively or with gusto. Got it?

There’s no shame in using a curriculum.

6. Playing the anti-parent card.

Adolescence is a time when its natural for students to separate from their parents. You’ll often hear, “I hate my mom/dad/grandma.” 

Oh, what temptation. You know that you can use your influence and that adolescent angst to get a lot done.

Don’t use that to your advantage. At the end of the day, your ministry is an extension to parents. Even if those parents aren’t following Jesus… the ten commandments don’t have an out-clause. The Bible doesn’t say, “Honor your youth pastor.” It says, “Honor your father and mother.” Don’t baptize students without parents permission. Don’t even allow them to come to youth group if you know the parent is against it.

What am I missing? What would you add to this list of “Don’t ever do” advice? 

Oh, let us add  “Kidnapping students” is dumb 5 more times to this list.

19 Responses to Kidnapping students and other dumb things NEVER to do in youth ministry

  1. Ryan Smith July 30, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    Thanks Adam, for helping to kick back to the front of the brain, several great and necessary points that likely have been relaxed or forgotten altogether.

  2. Ryan July 30, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    Don’t play favorites or designate the “cool” kids.

  3. Chris Lema July 30, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Don’t ever send volunteers to the local park bathroom to get water for a water game without explaining that the water will likely be spilled over people’s heads. That way you don’t have to field 100 calls about kids getting water on them that came from toilets. Just saying. :)

  4. Heather Lea Campbell July 30, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    In college my professor told me not to use Tide on the slip in slide. The University Activities Council then did that, and there were many injuries. We need to think things through more! haha

  5. Kurt J July 30, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    GREAT list!
    When I was in college, one of my professors urged us as we entered ministry to plan and lead under the “assumption” that we could end up in court. Weird, but effective. His point was that we need to think things through to the point that if we ended up needing to defend our decisions in court that they would, at the very least, meet the “reasonable person would…..” criteria. Better safe than sued.

    I do think when it comes to games, it’s okay to play games that parents might not “get” but kids like. In other words, there is a distinction between a truly inappropriate game and a game that seems childish/dumb/unnecessary to a parent or other adult critics. Just because it doesn’t belong in the adult sunday school class doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in the 8th grade boys sunday school class.

    • Adam McLane July 30, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Totally agree. There’s a big difference between “something mom/dad might wince at” and “pretty high likelihood for injury.” :)

  6. Jim Sutton July 30, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    Never have a group of people pretend to be communists or terrorists invade your group, retreat or camp to confiscate the Bibles and take the Bible teachers. This will terrify the kids and may find law enforcement response. And it will result in very angry parents. Perhaps a few less kids too.

  7. Steve July 30, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Don’t rate your youth according to your perception of their spiritual growth/maturity. Those you classify as A level, B level, C and D will experience many hurt feelings when they discover how you have classified them. Besides, the youth pastor’s judgments may be totally wrong – harming others spiritual development.

  8. Scott Pittman July 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    Good stuff!

  9. Julie Pruitt July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Don’t ever assume that a non-interactive kid isn’t interested or paying attention, they’re the ones that see everything. They might be shy or have self-esteem problems, etc.Treat all kids with the same respect, never ignoring the ones that seem distant. Always love them as God loves us. If you look them in the eye, they will know that you care about them and they will trust you. If they trust you, sharing Jesus and biblical truths with them isn’t awkward, but a victorious event. These kids are on the brink of individualism and so want to be accepted. Encourage them when they do the right thing and let them know how valuable they are as people and to God and the ministry.

  10. Rachel Blom July 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Don’t ever make jokes or allow jokes that are racial, sexist, homophobic, or offensive in any other way. Don’t allow leaders or youth to use expressions that are offensive, for instance racially or homophobic. Youth ministry is supposed to be a safe place and we should have a no tolerance policy for anything that hurts.

  11. Ty R. July 31, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Don’t let the cultural climate out weigh the voice of the Holy Spirit and what you are called to do and say. Cultural trends are merely the shadow of what students are looking for or what they need. The Holy Spirit knows what each student needs and will speak that to your ministry if we place His voice higher than the clutter noise that is constantly calling to us and our students.

  12. Patty J August 1, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Don’t ever forget that these “youth” are people’s children, and NOT “our buddies” I’ve been in YM long enough to have seen too many people in ministry forget that, and in an moment of worship stand and confess drug problems, sexual addictions, or what have you. There is a FINE but IMPORTANT line between being transparent and vulnerable wtih your students, and relying on them as your counselors. It’s especially easy for young youth ministers to think of their students as their peers, lke in college. They are not. And it will bite you EVERY TIME if you forget that.

  13. Albert Newton August 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    How come one always needs to be trained and certified to drive a car, or serve alcohol, or give first aid, or work in a bank, or work with the elderly, but too often anyone can sign up as a youth leader? I confess, I have murdered a few glib self-appointed guru youth pastors in my heart, and I have wished to try same with my bare hands. Power corrupts, and with some needy adults, a little power is too much power.

  14. Nick Ballard August 7, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    When I was a high schooler, my youth pastor would have a segment on Sunday nights at youth group called, “This is Your Room.” It would be a video of a student’s bedroom and all of the stuff in it, and at the end, we were to guess whose room it was. It was a ton of fun back then, but I could never imagine doing that today!


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