This is a guest post by my good friend Marv Penner. Marv is a global youth ministry leader, the author of several books, a professor, leader of Youth Specialties Canada, and prayer warrior. You can follow Marv on Twitter at @marvpenner.
I heard another tragic story today… another youth worker crossed the line and betrayed the trust of a teenager, a family, a youth group, a congregation and a community when he became sexually involved with one of the students in his care.
It looks like it will cost him his marriage, his relationship with his own kids, his job, his home and his reputation. Even if some of those things can eventually be salvaged, it will also inevitably cost him his self-respect. How do you look in the mirror and feel good about what you see, when you begin to count the cost–not so much to yourself, but to all the others who get caught in the crossfire.
I have a theory on why these sad stories seem to occur with such frequency.
It’s because most of us sincerely believe that it would never happen to us. The thought of an immoral relationship with a teenager or fellow youth worker seems completely beyond the realm of possibility… and for most of us, the chance of it happening tomorrow are very slim.
But here’s the problem. These stories rarely happen “tomorrow.” They almost always happen after a long gradual unraveling… an almost imperceptible slow slide down a slippery slope of multiple compromises where the final fatal steps aren’t that big–and are quite easily rationalized.
Here are 8 warning signs that might reveal you’re on a slippery slope with one of your students or co-workers.
1. You are having sexual thoughts or relational fantasies about them.
2. You are jealous when you see them spending time with a fellow youth worker–especially if they seem to be deepening their relationship.
3. You look for excuses to be together as often as possible and you look forward to those times because of how you feel when you are with them.
4. Someone who cares about you–a spouse, fellow youth worker, or even one of the other students in your group expresses concern about your relationship
5. You find yourself flirting with them and enjoying the power it gives you.
6. You often feel self-conscious about how they see you and find yourself hoping that you’re making a good impression.
7. You find yourself probing for information that is titillating or sexually explicit under the guise of “counseling” them.
8. You rationalize feelings of guilt that you have about any of the above telling yourself that it’s no big deal, that nothing wrong could possibly happen and you’re nowhere near the line you have established for yourself. You may be getting closer than you think.
When a trusted adult spiritual leader falls morally, the damage to the souls of teenagers is immeasurable. Youth ministry is a sacred trust. I can’t think of a greater responsibility than to guard the hearts of the next generation. The best way to do that is for us to guard our own hearts.
1. How were you impacted when a leader you respected crossed a line and betrayed your trust?
2. Why do you think inappropriate relationships are so common?