“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9–11 NIV)
This is not a “normal” blog for me, but it is a subject I feel like I need to discuss considering what my job title is. I just got back from spending time with my family in Colorado, and it seems like every time it was uttered that I am Student Minister to strangers I got the same, troubling response. The response was always a negative story about how a family member, friend or acquaintance was a Youth Minister and is now in jail for carrying on inappropriate relationships with students. In reality it only came up 2 or 3 times, but it is something I am always sensitive to consider what I do. To be completely honest, these stories always initially make me want to resign from working with students altogether because they are so disturbing. But what I come back to is that the world needs more people to love students, and fight for their hearts, while maintaining complete integrity in our world today. This is what we strive to do at Harris Creek in our Student Ministries.
But gone are the 1990s where you could give kids rides home, visit their family on vacation, or spend quality one-on-one time with a student. I hate this reality, but I believe it is true nonetheless. The stories I mentioned above are becoming more and more frequent and it makes what youth workers do extremely difficult. We live in a world where one accusation by a student can land you in jail, whether it is true or false. We also live in a world where good people put themselves in situations that are compromising and end up falling. Finally, we live a world where people are predators and will work for years to build trust with individuals only to take advantage of them. So, considering these facts, we have put certain rules in place at Harris Creek that anyone who works with students (Middle School, High School, and College aged) must abide by. Like every rule, there are obviously extenuating circumstances that allow for rules to be bent, but those times are the exception and not the norm. This is not an exhaustive list, but is a list of some of our rules that I could think of off the top of my head:
- It is NEVER appropriate to be alone with a student. This means that at least two adults have to wait until the last student is picked up from the event. This also means that we do not allow adults to ride in cars alone with one student.
- When communicating with students, make it public for everyone to see. Instead of sending a text message or email, why not post it on their public wall on Facebook? This has an added advantage built in that allows us to see who is doing “contact work” with students on a regular basis. It also tends to be a self-esteem builder for students who get encouraged and the whole world can see it. If you do send a text message or email, copy another leader on that message so you have accountability built in. A phrase I say and hear all the time is, “Did you copy me on that?” This is a constant reminder to be public and above board with your communication.
- If you are counseling a student, you need to pull another leader in with you (preferably their Life Group leader). If you cannot do this for legal reasons, you must do it in plain sight of a crowd or another adult. While privacy is important, it is not worth compromising your integrity.
- Each volunteer and staff member (yes, male and female) must have some sort of Internet filtering device on their computers (at home and work). I recommend Safe Eyes or XXX Watch to our leaders. I also ask that our volunteers sign up other leaders as your accountability partners through this software.
- We do not allow our staff members or leaders to meet with individuals of the opposite sex one-on-one. This means you have to get creative when students or other leaders want to get to know you. Invite your spouse, another leader, or a staff member in on the meeting.
- No question is out of bounds and no one is “above reproach.” This means we can and must call each other on these rules and ask the tough questions of one another. I am convinced that most of the good people that end up making bad choices are ones that never had minor warning signs checked by other individuals. This is the most difficult of all of the rules to put into a culture, and we are still working on it to be honest, but I believe it is absolutely essential to maintaining purity in today’s world.
- Every worker that volunteers with students must complete a background screening process provided by an independent company from the church. For us, this even means adults with children in the Student Ministry who bring food on Sunday nights and never directly contact students. This is a simple process that costs little money and time when you weigh it against the benefits.
While these rules seem to be no-brainers, you would be shocked to see how difficult it is to have individuals uphold them. While some of them may seem a little extreme, I believe they are completely necessary considering the environment around us today. As I said earlier, we try not to be Pharisaical when enforcing these rules, but they are rules that everyone that serves in our Student Ministries at Harris Creek must abide by. My prayer is that those who have a passion for reaching students for Christ will begin to fight for a reputation of purity and righteousness, for the glory of God.