Monday, November 17, 2008

Youth Pastors in a Negative Light

I'm reading through Signature Sins by Michael Mangis (a review will be posted in the future) and came to the chapter on Gender, Family and Sin when something grabbed my attention. In order to try and not lose any of the context, I'm going to post the entire paragraph, then I'll talk about what bothered me and why.

"Several years ago my (Mangis) friend and colleague Cynthia Neal Kimball and I surveyed college women about unwanted sexual experiences. The women wrote their stories anonymously. Although we read some accounts of date rape and sexual abuse, more than half of the stores were accounts that we came to call stories of the 'lost voice.' The women recounted being with men who did not overpower them in any literal way yet left them feeling violated. The men in the stories were often youth pastors or other figures who held powerful roles in the women's lives. These women wrote things such as 'NO! was running through my mind but I just couldn't say it till afterwards' and 'I couldn't say no to a guy even thought I knew I should. I was not forced to do anything - I just didn't have the strength to say no.' The women seldom blamed the men or spoke of themselves as victims. Instead they described feeling confused and ashamed that they could find themselves in such a situation and not know how to get out." (emphasis added)
I am upset with the numerous accounts (high percentage?) of unwanted sexual experiences by the women surveyed. But what bothered me more was the fact that youth pastors had a role in those stories. I am not naive about the struggle many (all?) youth pastors have to stay sexually pure. And I have heard of youth pastors who have been inappropriate with a student. It is not new to me, yet it saddens me every time I hear about it.

I hope that youth pastors would just stop this kind of stupid behavior.

This is one of the reasons why I have certain "rules" for one-on-one interaction with female students. (and if you are a female youth worker, just switch "female" for "male" in these rules)

#1. I am never alone with a female (student or adult)
#2. If I am driving students home and one is a female, she will be dropped off before the guys. (goes with #1)
#3. Always allow a female youth coach to do the counseling of female students (when it is not possible, limit discussion as much as possible and talk in a public place).

#4. I tell my wife about all conversations I have with females, there is no need for there to be any secrecy or suspicion.
#5. If my wife is not home and a female student stops by, I will either talk to them right inside and stay by the open windows or talk to them outside on the porch. (or I'll politely tell them my wife is not home and see if they can come back at a later time)

#6. Make sure the students and adults understand your stance on this issue.

What about you? What do you do to keep yourself accountable and prevent this from happening to one of your female students?


  1. I am a female youth minister and I have similar policies (flip the gender) for myself.

    The funny thing is everytime I express these to leadership and parents (especially when my middle school group is a bunch of boys and usually one girl) they ask why I worry about it and say they trust me.

    I wonder -- do women *need* to worry abou this as much as men? I think women should be held accountable in the same way (how many older women teachers have gone to jail for seducing boys in their classes?!).

    I trust myself, i'm happily married and not at all tempted, but I've had boys in youth ministry that have had crushes on me because I actually listened to them and I *really* don't want to give them the wrong impression.

  2. I have worked closely with youth in a variety of settings (camp, church, hospitals) and have set up a similar accountability guidelines.

    However, with the problems that have emerged within the Catholic Clergy I have set it up for both genders. Unfortunately, in today's society having the policy for just the opposite sex may not be enough.

  3. i get the intentionality to why we need to have rules.

    but sometimes if we have these strict rules it makes the situation really awkward.

    for example, a female student stops by my office right after school and she wants to talk about the drama that happen that day. well no one is around and it is just me and her. do i make some lame excuse or do i make the conversation short and sweet?

    I have tried both ways and I have found if i make some lame excuse she doesn't really understand.

    bottom line this situation is not as black and white as we think it is. there is going to be gray.

  4. Do not be naive. We live in a culture of hyper-suspicion when it comes to youth workers. You have seen Dateline, right?
    I would NEVER be alone with a student in my house any reason whatsoever! I would never meet one-on-one with a student unless it was in a public place, or scheduled in my office (with a window) while the secretary was still in.
    I have seen what happens to a church, a youth pastor and a community when even a flimsy false accusation is made... and it is terrible. Never put yourself in a situation like that!
    Take every precaution, and trust that God will bless your ministry despite what seems like a lack of accessability.

  5. One. I don't talk to a girl alone in my office or house. Even if she shows up and it's a pressing issue. I tell her straight up that it doesn't look good for a guy to be talking alone with a girl. Then I ask if she can call me or come back later. Most girls are understanding. They are growing up watching the Dateline shows and know. Those that aren't...sadly aren't.