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Youth Leadership 101: Boundaries and lifestyle issues for youth leaders

Youth Leadership 101Boundaries are so critical to the health of any youth leader. We could talk about the need to say “no” and protect personal and family time. We could talk about setting emotional boundaries with teens and their personal situations. We could also talk about setting boundaries on how vulnerable we make ourselves with teenagers (i.e. sharing details about a divorce or addiction). Fortunately, most of those issues have already been discussed in previous articles here at Life In Student Ministry (see “How I will crash and burn(out) in ministry” for example), so let’s talk about some other boundaries that may often be understood but never explicitly stated until it’s too late.

The following are boundaries I set for staff and adult leaders who serve in the youth ministry at my church:

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Utilize careful judgment at all times in the exercise of personal freedom, particularly when associated with and/or relating to students, either publicly or privately. We recognize that many of us have opinions and practices on certain lifestyle issues that differ from one another, such as how we conduct ourselves and the language we use. Furthermore, the Bible, to which we attribute the ultimate authority for all Christian life, is not explicit on every issue within our culture. Nevertheless, many Christians have historically condemned the use of certain words and body language.

Lifestyle issues are complicated further by the reality that we are in a position of trust and influence in the youth ministry. Therefore, with respect to such issues as the use of language, entertainment, gambling, and other behavioral matters that are open to abuse, misuse and misunderstanding, the following biblical principles must be followed:

  • The Bible condemns self-indulgence while commanding self-control (Gal. 5:19-25).
  • The Bible commands respect of one’s body (1 Thes. 4:4; 1 Cor. 6:18-20).
  • Community interests are to be put ahead of self-interest (Phil. 2:3-5).

Personal liberty is to be set aside:

  • When its exercise could hinder a student’s spiritual development;
  • When its exercise could be misunderstood in such a way as to hinder one’s own witness, or that of our student ministry;
  • When culture abuse suggests the need for Christian leaders to exercise self-restraint;
  • When an action could endanger another person’s safety or well-being.

Please Note: This is not intended to be a legalistic definition of right and wrong. It is meant to provide principles to limit the experience of Christian liberty because of the position of influence in which we find ourselves.

  • Be purposeful in who you talk to and hangout with at youth. ALWAYS ALWAYS watch for the new person or someone who looks like they are feeling left out.
  • No driving girls alone in your car if you are a guy; no driving guys alone in your car if you’re a girl – EVER! It is not acceptable and there is no exception. Sometimes there are sticky situations that may seem unavoidable, but they are avoidable. Call someone, get help, make two trips, be honest, do whatever it takes to avoid the situation. This sets parents’ minds at ease, covers the ministry’s reputation, and watches out for you! Along these same lines, be careful about even being alone in a room at church for too long with a student of the opposite gender.
  • No dating youth members. Staff/student romantic relationships are an ABSOLUTE NO! It may be flattering to you, but have nothing to do with it. Talk to Tim immediately.
  • Girl leaders will work closely with and minister to girls and guy leaders will work closely with and minister to guys. Mingling is cool, but a defined standard of boundaries is an excellent example for students, as well as making a disciplined attempt at maintaining focus while removing distraction.
  • Dating a fellow youth staff member is no problem (unless you’re married!), but please keep your focus on the students at youth group. Please, no PDA. If you’re married, then PDA with your spouse is fine, but keep it under control. Whether we like it or not, students are watching us very closely. Keep it clean, keep it Christ-centered.
  • Language boundaries: no swearing permitted. In no way can foul language be promoted. This includes coarse joking, rude remarks, gossip, inappropriate sarcasm, and negativity. Please and Thank You.

Posted on January 27, 2009

  • http://www.rethinkingyouth.blogspot.com Brian

    “No driving girls alone in your car if you are a guy; no driving guys alone in your car if you’re a girl – EVER”

    Tim, I agree with this and would go a step further: No driving girls alone if you’re a girl. No driving guys alone if your’re a guy. My ministries utilize a two adult rule (as do the Boy Scouts and others) which states that at least two adults must be present with youth in any situation. Simply ruling against opposite sex one-one-one situations doesn’t account for the fact that you likely have gay youth in your ministry, or gay adults. The two adult rule accounts for all variations.
    Peace,
    Brian

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @Brian: I agree with you mostly. If there are two adults available, I definitely recommend that both be present. However, I think it’s becoming too easy for churches to start crippling ministry out of fear of what could happen. Truth is, there’s risk no matter what. The risk is greatly minimized by not allowing opposite sex students and leaders to be alone together, but when you say I can’t ever be alone with a kid to talk, I feel like it’s slipping into the “crippling the ministry to much” area. I’ll feel comfortable taking the risk of driving a guy home once in a while if necessary.

  • carolyn

    Ah, Tim you did not mention the TEXTING!!!! There is no accountability for this one. No trail! This is one that needs to be addressed more than anything. Keep everything in the open, tell another what you are doing, be accountable, above reproach, and work in two’s or threes….
    If you cannot, before you begin, ask a senior teen to hold you accountable. It gives them a level of maturity and leadership.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @Carolyn: I’m curious, how would you put true accountability in place for text messaging? Or even Facebook messages, instant messaging, and email for that matter? Personally, I send text messages to students, but I limit it with girls. If a girl just has a quick question, that’s totally fine, but if she’s sending me lots of messages asking things about how my day went and everything, then those I usually respond once with a brief answer and leave it at that.

  • carie

    The texting is huge! No need for leaders to be texting with the kids socially. Avoid the very appearance of inpropriaty

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