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.
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.