I’ve avoided giving my two cents about the Houston Chronicle article and its ensuing effects on our convention because I had nothing new to add to the conversation. Our leaders, and entities, the bylaws working group notwithstanding, have responded well. I have something to add to the conversation, something not being discussed.
I’d like to begin with this question: are we setting our young ministers up for failure by giving them youth ministry positions?
When I served in my first full-time position, the church went through three youth ministers in my four years. I was on staff during the majority of the last two youth ministers. One of the men met with the youth and said, “I’m not here to be your friend, I’m here to teach you God’s word.” That man is now a pastor, but he was criticized by some as being not cool enough to be a youth minister. He was the right kind of youth minister.
The second youth minister was cool. He was cool and he talked about Jesus. He was so cool he would stay out with the youth until two or three in the morning while his wife and kids were at home. That man is now divorced and out of the ministry. He had no business being a youth minister.
All too often, we take a man in his late teens or early twenties who has charisma, “call”, and conviction, and give him authority over our most vulnerable members. In the Houston Chronicle article, several of the named churches had problems with their youth ministers. That should not surprise us. When I think back to my early twenties, I’m glad I was a music minister. I had very limited authority and I was involved in more of the overall ministry of the church. If I had been a youth minister in my early twenties, I may not have fared much better than the second youth minister mentioned above. How many of us can be honest and say the same? How many of us will admit that we had no business having authority over vulnerable teenage boys and girls when we were barely out of the teenage years ourselves?
How many young ministers have been forced to resign due to moral failures because we’ve put them in ministry positions where the temptations would derail even the best and brightest among us? Serious discussion of curbing the sexual abuse crisis in our churches should involve an examination of youth minister hiring practices. There’s been talk of educating our pulpit search committees, and that education should extend to other search committees. Here are a few suggestions:
- Make the hiring process for hiring any staff member as rigorous and thorough as the pastor search process. When the staff member is considered an “under staff” position–yes I have heard that term used before–that communicates to the search committee that their job is less important than the senior pastor search committee. If these ministers are interacting with our teenagers and children more than the senior pastor, they are just as important as the senior pastor, and their hiring process should be treated with the same seriousness.
- We need more senior pastors paying attention when we hire twenty year-old men for these positions. There needs to be more mentoring, accountability, and teaching between the senior pastor and other staff members. If the prospective staff member will not submit to accountability from the senior pastor, he should not be hired. That should be a non-negotiable job requirement.
- We need to make all ages an integral part of the church family. Evil hides in darkness, especially the darkness of a group of vulnerable teenagers who are shunted off to a separate building or area to “do youth group”. It’s more difficult for a predator to isolate the vulnerable when they are always involved in a loving, caring church family.
- Candidates for all staff positions should be asked if they’ve viewed pornography. I’m not sure if viewing pornography is grounds for disqualification, some would give a resounding yes, but some statistics tell that if all pastors who have had a pron problem were fired tomorrow, over one-third of our churches would have vacant pulpits next Sunday. I will, however, say that no one with a history of pornography addiction should be allowed authority and constant access to teenagers. I’ll go so far as to suggest that all staff members should submit to random computer and cell phone audits. I heard a story about a church that was having trouble with a minister who kept giving rides to underage girls with no one else in the car. He would not heed the pastor’s advice, and the pastor told him his computer and phone were going to be checked. The young man blew up at this invasion of privacy and resigned on the spot. I wonder if he was hiding something?
I’ve known some godly youth ministers who were called of God and effective in their ministries, but if we’re going to be proactive about the sexual abuse crisis (Yes, it is a crisis whether there was one case, or one million cases) then we must do a better job of hiring non senior pastor staff members.