Let's Live What We Teach
The youth ministry made us do it.
About five years ago, Keith, our youth pastor then, noticed that each year, when he taught the youth group about avoiding the seductive pull of pornography, a youthworker would show up in his office the next day. "How am I supposed to minister to youth," the leader would ask, "when I have the exact same problem? I've struggled for a long time, and I finally want to get help … . Have I disqualified myself from being a small group leader?"
Or during a retreat, after the kids were asleep, a volunteer would detail his past weekend: he had drunk too much and made out with a woman he'd just met and wasn't planning to date. Apparently, this casual sexual recreation was fine with him.
Another youthworker was having sex with his roommate. He considered it normal.
As a seminary prof might say, a few of our youthworkers "held divergent views on moral theology." When Keith would ask a youthworker to live a chaste life, most responded well, but others protested: "I don't see what's wrong with what I'm doing," or "I don't do it that often," or "It's not that big a deal." If he then asked an unrepentant volunteer to step down from leading, some responded maturely, but others—some of whom were popular with kids—told the youth they'd been forced out for no reason. As you'd guess, this caused damage, doubts, and dissension.
Keith realized, I need to get leaders on the same page before they begin. So in the application process he began making clear: "For someone leading our youth, there are lifestyle expectations. If a youth leader is using pornography, drinking to excess, or sleeping with someone, we ask that he or she confess that to the youth pastor and seek to change."
"This made it a lot easier to talk about," Keith says, "and it set off the bombs before a leader built close relationships with the kids." Ten percent of the applicants went straight into a restoration process rather than into leading young people.
Next, our worship arts pastor, Steve, modified Keith's document and began using it with musicians. In 2008, we modified the document again and applied it to our prayer ministers. Last year, we took the huge step and asked nearly all our volunteer ministry leaders to sign this "Lifestyle Policy for Those in Public Ministry."
When I tell pastors from other churches about this, most look at me wide-eyed. I can tell they're thinking, You crazy fool, venturing where angels fear to tread. They pepper me with questions: Who has to sign the document? Do you actually name specific sins? Which sins go on the list—and how in the world do you decide that? How do you explain why you're asking people to sign this? What happens to someone who can't sign it?