The evening news, newspapers, and internet seems like a running weekly ticker update on the latest teacher, coach and yes,"youth pastors" crossing the line into inappropriate relationships with a student.
We, of course, want to have "relational" ministry. Books and seminars have been teaching us relational ministry for years, and we should be doing ministry that builds Godly, appropriate connections and relationships in our ministry. It is after all one of the most powerful things we can do in the lives of our students, is to introduce them to a relationship with God and others.
The lines however become blurred quickly when relational ministry becomes relationship ministry, that becomes just relationships. Even if it is not moving into inappropriate, abusive situations, we must work hard to un-blur the lines...
Friendly Not Friends.
While working on my masters in education a few years ago, one of our professors said something that has stuck with me, even more so in a church setting- "You can be friendly with students without being friends..". The fact is simple, while we want to have a good relationship with students and build a community of faith, we as adults are not their friends, even though they sometimes see us that way. Your students have friends--their age, they don't need a 20+ year old being their best friend. Often we drift into how some parents are trying to parent, as their child's friend not their parent. Do not fall into the same trap, because it will quickly become a slippery relationship slope for you as well.
Invested Not Intimate.
As we invest our time, efforts and ourselves into serving students we naturally connect with them, and they with us. Students coming from homes and relationships, where they are not being invested in, we naturally become people they connect with. Even students that come from good homes, are drawn to people who take the time to listen, care, and pray with them. Especially as we have deep discussions on spiritual things, closely connected to the emotion, the line can seem blurry as we feel closer to students and they to us. What looks like investment and humbly serving students can easily drift into false feelings of intimacy. Be care to invest in students minds, hearts, and lives while keeping a clear line drawn back from the entrance into intimate connection.
Caring Godly Love Not Human Attraction
We use an unfortunate phrase in youth ministry settings "loving on students". If you take half a second to think about how that sounds to someone outside a church-setting, you will see how creepy that really sounds. We do want to show students love. We do want show them an example of God-center "love" (agape). As brothers and sisters in Christ, in the settling of church we want to teach them about how live in the loving family of God (philia). The problem comes is when we cross the line of loving our students into "loving our students" (eros)
Why is the news packed with stories of inappropriate relationships between a formerly caring adult and a students? Part of the issue, is that while we are working to build a "relational" ministry, many time we are also trying to build an "attractional" ministry. We are trying to attract students to our events, activities, teaching and in the mean time also attracting them to us. Our personality, style, and that we truly care about them. We must be very clear and set our stance firm, our ministry needs to be about caring and loving students in away that will attract them to Christ-- not to us, otherwise not only will we blur the line, we will quickly erase it! Ministry built on attracting students to a person and not Christ are just waiting for disaster!
Professional Not Personal
Paid... unpaid...underpaid...Whatever you are, we are a professional. Even if this is not your profession, as a person in authority and leadership we are seen as the person in charge. The ministry we are working in needs to have clear expectations, rules, and policies in place for you and your helpers. While we own the ministry and take it personally when things go wrong or people complain. When it comes to how we are to act with students, it needs to be more professional and far less personal! Our professional relationship with a student must never cross the line into a personal relationship. This may seem cold or business-like but there is a way to minister to students that does not enter into our personal spaces, emotions, and relationships.
My prayer for you is that God would guard your heart, mind, and life as you work to guard the heart mind, and lives of students. We have all seen and heard of way too many people falling because they blurred, lost and then crossed the line with a student or someone else in their ministry.