Un-blurring The Line (Relationships with Students)

February 14th, 2017

The evening news, newspapers and internet seems like a running weekly ticker update on the latest teacher, coach and yes, “youth pastors” crossing the line into inappropriate relationships with a student.

Whatever you are called in your ministry context: pastor, director, leader, worker… we need to be careful when it comes to our relationships with students.

We, of course, want to have “relational” ministry. Books and seminars have been teaching us relational ministry for years, and we should be doing ministry that builds Godly, appropriate connections and relationships in our ministry. It is, after all, one of the most powerful things we can do in the lives of our students, is to introduce them to a relationship with God and others.

The lines however become blurred quickly when relational ministry becomes relationship ministry, that becomes just relationships. Even if it is not moving into inappropriate, abusive situations, we must work hard to un-blur the lines…

Friendly Not Friends.

While working on my masters in education a few years ago, one of our professors said something that has stuck with me, even more so in a church setting- You can be friendly with students without being friends.” The fact is simple, while we want to have a good relationship with students and build a community of faith, we as adults are not their friends, even though they sometimes see us that way.

Your students have friends—their age, they don’t need a 20+-year-old being their best friend. Often we drift into how some parents are trying to parent as their child’s friend, not their parent. Do not fall into the same trap, because it will quickly become a slippery relationship slope for you as well.

Invested Not Intimate.

As we invest our time, efforts and ourselves into serving students we naturally connect with them, and they with us. When students come from homes and relationships where they are not being invested in, we naturally become people they connect with. Even students that come from good homes are drawn to people who take the time to listen, care, and pray with them. Especially as we have deep discussions on spiritual things, closely connected to the emotion, the line can seem blurry as we feel closer to students and they to us. What looks like investment and humbly serving students can easily drift into false feelings of intimacy. Be care to invest in students’ minds, heart, and lives while keeping a clear line drawn back from the entrance into intimate connection.

Caring Godly Love Not Human Attraction

We use an unfortunate phrase in youth ministry settings  “loving on students”.  If you take half a second to think about how that sounds to someone outside a church-setting, you will see how creepy that really sounds. We do want to show students love. We do want show them an example of God-centered “love” (agape).  As brothers and sisters in Christ in the settling of church, we want to teach them about how to live in the loving family of God (philia). The problem comes is when we cross the line of loving on students into “loving our students” (eros).

Why is the news packed with stories of inappropriate relationships between a formerly caring adult and a student?  Part of the issue is that while we are working to build a “relational” ministry, many time we are also trying to build an “attractional” ministry. We are trying to attract students to our events, activities, teaching and in the mean time also attracting them to us. Our personality, style and that we truly care about them.  We must be very clear and set our stance firm: our ministry needs to be about caring for and loving students in a  way that will attract them to Christ—not to us, otherwise not only will we blur the line, we will quickly erase it! Ministry built on attracting students to a person and not Christ are just waiting for disaster!

[bctt tweet=”Our ministry needs to be about loving students in a way that will attract them to Christ, not to us.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Professional Not Personal

Paid… unpaid…underpaid…Whatever you are, you are a professional. Even if this is not your profession, as a person in authority and leadership we are seen as the person in charge. The ministry we are working in needs to have clear expectations, rules and policies in place for you and your helpers. When it comes to how we are to act with students, it needs to be more professional and far less personal!  Our professional relationship with a student must never cross the line into a personal relationship. This may seem cold or business-like but there is a way to minister to students that does not enter into our personal spaces, emotions and relationships.

My prayer for you is that God would guard your heart, mind and life as you work to guard the heart mind and lives of students. We have all seen and heard of way too many people falling because they blurred, lost and then crossed the line with a student or someone else in their ministry. 

dan.DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting, he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like YouthWorker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints  on his own blog “The JH Uth Guy” at JRHIGHUTHGUY.BLOGSPOT.COM

This post was previously published by jrhighuthguy.blogspot.com.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.