I’m in the middle of a blogging series called Dumb. These posts are all about the dumb things I’ve done as a student pastor. My hope is that you can learn from my mistakes instead of making your own. My overall point is this: Student ministry is hugely important! What we do to invest in the lives of students and lead them into growing relationships with Jesus is amazingly powerful We can’t screw it up!
I’ve broken my mistakes into three categories: burned out, disqualified, and ineffective. You can check out my posts on burn out here.
One Little Mistake
It was 10 pm. The event had been long and exhausting and here I was waiting for a parent. Of course. Why are we always waiting for parents to pick up their kids?!? I care about my volunteers so I let them all go home to get some rest. That was 30 minutes ago. That was my first mistake. Here I was, alone with a female student, waiting for her parent. Waiting, waiting, waiting. 11 pm. That was my 2nd mistake.
I finally got her parent on the phone. He’d fallen asleep and for some ridiculous reason, he didn’t have a car tonight. You have to be kidding me!!! I’m so tired! Forget it! I’ll bring her home myself. 11:30 pm. I’m driving alone with a female student in my car. That was my 3rd mistake.
Here’s the thing: Nothing happened. There was no weirdness, no attraction, no nothing. There wasn’t even a conversation because I was so annoyed and tired. But, that’s not the point. This girl was an incredibly broken girl. The thing about broken people is that they do broken things. I’ve heard many stories of youth workers being accused of inappropriate behavior with students. How many ministries and churches have been discredited by inappropriate behavior or even the accusation of inappropriate behavior. Like I said, in this situation, nothing happened, but that’s not the point. In the case of an accusation, how could I have defended myself?
Broken people do broken things and we all know of several instances in which youth workers got caught in the mess. What I’ve learned is that one little mistake can destroy a career, a ministry, a family, a church. And, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you did something morally wrong or not. One slip in judgement at 11:30 at night, when you’re utterly decimated by fatigue and frustration can bring the whole thing down. It’s not fair but it’s absolutely true.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that dumb isn’t usually intentional. It’s usually not malicious. Dumb happens when we’re exhausted, frustrated and when our guard is down. Boundaries, accountability and policies protect us when we’re exhausted.
These days, my philosophy is that anyone is capable of a lapse in judgment, or worse. I recognize that I am a fallen and broken human being and everyone that I work with and serve is in the same boat. The wise thing to do is create boundaries, to accept accountability and to work and serve within clear policies. Student ministry is too important for us to be dumb.