Where was the church?

Last week an article on Leadership Journal entitled From Youth Minister to Felon made it's rounds in the Christian blogosphere. 

The article was written by a youth pastor now behind bars for statutory rape. Like others, I was horrified by it. 

The article felt like the convict's attempt to justify his behavior. It never named his crime and throughout it, I sensed no remorse from him. What's more, it never acknowledged that his underage victim was, in fact, a victim.

After a huge public outcry, #TakeDownThatPost, Leadership Journal finally removed the article, eventually offering an apology and an acknowledgment that they never should have printed it.

I'm grateful for that.

Even so, as a youth pastor, this weekend, I found myself still thinking about this article.

What this youth pastor did was not only wrong; It was a crime. And that makes me angry - at him and at his church. 

Where was this man's church as this crime was being committed?

Why was such a personality driven culture allowed to grow and flourish?

Why were there no boundaries in place? Where was this congregation's safe child policy?

I know that no structure is perfect but even so, doesn't the church have a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us – our children?

I certainly hope so... And not just because we're afraid of being sued.

Maybe it's just me, but as a youth pastor, I want my church

- To know what's going in my youth ministry; 

- To hold me accountable for building a ministry that's not centered solely on my personality; 

- To call me out whenever they see a Messiah complex rear it's ugly head and to remind me that students have one savior and I'm not it; 

- To challenge me to carve out days off in my schedule in order to take care of myself and my family as well as cultivate relationships with people my own age, who have nothing to do with my ministry; 

- To screen leaders who work with kids of any age; 

- To make it hard for leaders to begin serving and easy for them to stop; 

- To have a safe sanctuary policy that among other things, establishes appropriate boundaries for adult leaders' interactions with students; 

- To have a policy regarding social interaction between adult leaders and students on social media; 

- To regularly communicate to teens that the church should always be a place where they feel safe and that if they don't, we want them to talk to us (a pastor, staff member, adult leader, peer, or parent) about that; 

- To act swiftly if ever children and teens don't feel safe.

Maybe you think measures like the ones above are legalistic. To me, however, they demonstrate a church's deep care and commitment to it's youth.

And when a church cares, invests in, commits to, and protects it's youth, my hunch is they'll do the same for others – for the poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, and refugees.

That's a church I want to do more than work for. It's one I also want to be a part of.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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