Our textbook leadership retreat involved planning, training, worship, playing and eating. (We are Baptist after all.) We were wrapping up our last training session when I remembered that I hadn't mentioned appropriate boundaries between students and adult staff. At my previous church I had some college students on my volunteer staff and it was always discussed and demanded that volunteer staff can never, under any circumstances, date, like or be attracted to a student.
I knew better but I didn't say those important and necessary words during our last training session, “If you are out of high school you can't go out with or date anyone in our student ministry.”
We were running late so I rationalized it away with, “I don't need to mention that since my youngest single adults are two twenty-four year old guys. ” I was married at twenty-one so I never considered that either one of them might even have the capacity to like a high school girl. I found out how wrong I was seven months later.
Believe it or not but seven months later they both liked different seventeen-year old seniors in our youth ministry.
One of the guys was our associate worship director. He resigned after being confronted about some related issues. Things could have been worse but appropriate boundaries were broken. The core issue was that he did not see anything wrong with a 24-year-old church staff member dating or going out with a high school student!
The volunteer is on a leave of absence. He's still dating the student, who is now a freshman in college. I can envision him returning to serve in our ministry under certain circumstances. He'd have stricter ministry guidelines, personal accountability with me and acknowledge his mistake. As leaders it's not a matter of what is legal, he began dating the student after she turned 18, but a matter of what is best for the ministry, the student, and for the church.
I didn't lose my ministry or even trust over this but I could have. Here's what I've learned through this painful experience.
Write and use notes to cover everything you should in your training times.
State the obvious.
Don't think others think like you do.
Don't just tell people what is wrong but also why it's wrong.
If something inappropriate happens, prompt and direct communication with church leaders, parents, volunteers and students involved is imperative. It might save your job and ministry.
The most mature student can become enamored with someone 6-7 years older than they are who gives them attention. Set up tall boundaries to minimize the possibility of students and adults making an inappropriate connection to protect your students.
As surely as there are appropriate and inappropriate forms of physical contact in youth ministry between adults and students there are appropriate and inappropriate forms of emotional contact between adults and students. Be on your guard against emotional contact.
Division in your ministry is just a date away.
Say it, say it loud and say it often, “If you are out of high school you can't go out with or date anyone in our student ministry.”