We live in a society and culture that elevates immorality. We have some ministry giants we once knew compromise their integrity and lifestyle. If we want to last in ministry we have to always put ourselves in a position of living above reproach. It seems like the norm with news coming out about how a well known leader in the church has compromised their integrity once again. I have experienced this first hand and have sat on the other side of the table with one of my former mentors who I love dearly who comprised their integrity and crossed some boundaries they said they would never cross. What I have come to learn is no one is exempt from crossing boundaries and that is why we have to set ourselves up to succeed. This isn’t intended to be a “scare you straight” but some practices I have put into place over the years to create accountability around me as I lead in ministry. I want to last in ministry and I would guess you do too but in order to last we can not be naive thinking we are the exception and set up boundaries and accountability. Here are 5 boundaries I have personally lived by that have saved me in ministry that I continue to have and ask people to hold me accountable to. I hope these can be helpful for you as you lead students or are in a position of authority.
1. Be an “open book” (people around you/ spouses if married, etc.)
Use this with discretion and with those whom you trust. Allow yourself to be an open book to those around you. Essentially, “Rat yourself out.” If you are married, never hide anything from your spouse. Issues begin to arise when we have desires that can lead us down a road towards compromising our integrity and we try to hide it. Whether it be big or small we should be an open book with those we trust. When you have taken too many looks at that person at the gym share that with someone. When you’re scrolling through social media and go down the rabbit trail, share that with someone. If you have a desire to flirt with a coworker and have not acted on it, share that with someone. If you are married, reassure them they can look at your social media, emails, texts, etc if they were to ask. My wife knows the passwords to all my social accounts and that doesn’t mean she is hovering and doesn’t trust me. It is my way of being an open book and communicating I have nothing to hide. I am gaining accountability and trust from my wife because I am willing to put it all on the table. The same goes for those who are single. Who do you have in your life that can check in on you from time to time or even just have access to see what you are engaging in? When we allow ourselves to become an open book and rat ourselves out, the less likely we are to stay in the dark and hide the things we know we shouldn’t be doing. Isolation will only hinder us as youth workers and is a dangerous place to be. It is where sin can grow. Be an open book and rat yourself out.
2. Never be alone with the opposite gender
For those who work with students this is key. Never put yourself in a suspicious situation even if you have no intentions or it comes across innocently. As youth workers we always want to position ourselves to be above reproach. If you do meet with someone of the opposite gender, whether a student or leader do it in a public place. Never do it behind closed doors or in areas people aren’t around. To be even more above reproach, have someone else present as you meet with this student or leader. For example, I am a male youth worker so if I’m meeting with a female student I always invite their small group leader to join the conversation. We should be very cautious of who we are spending our time with and how we are being intentional with setting ourselves up well. If you work with a counterpart who is the opposite gender, do you create boundaries when meeting to discuss ministry? Do people know you are meeting with this individual to talk through ministry? Whether it’s a student, leader, or counterpart we have to be very careful with how we go about meeting with them because we know stories that started as something innocent but when left unchecked it has led to those compromising their boundaries and integrity.
3. Be real with your temptations
This may be difficult to start doing because you have to be honest with the sin in your life that you hide from everyone around you. But if you are never real about the sin you continue to dabble in it has the potential to pour over into your life and relationships and cause you to cross boundaries you never thought you would cross. When you give in to sin, especially some sexual sin such as porn, confess immediately to someone you trust and ask for help. If you continue to “feed the beast” and never confess or become real with yourself you will go down a road you always told yourself you would never go down. I have seen so much healing in my life when I became real with myself and brought others in who I trust to help me overcome those temptations. What is the sin you are struggling with? Who knows about it? Who is holding you accountable in this area? Or Are you just trying to hide it? If you are fearful of your supervisors knowing because you may lose your job let me reassure you that it can be far worse if the sin is left unchecked. Be real with who you are and what you struggle with and bring it into the light.
4. If you ask, “Is this okay?” go with that gut feeling
I recently had a conversation with a ministry leader asking about whether or not he should take one of his staff members of the opposite gender to their staff meeting at Starbucks just them two. His intention was never inappropriate or out of line. He was simply wrestling with how that may look if he and his co worker of the opposite gender were seen leaving the parking lot together to go to their meeting. I have learned over and over in ministry that if I’m asking, “is this okay?” or have any hesitations to just go with that gut feeling. This ministry leader did just that. He went with his gut and just picked up starbucks and brought it back to the office to have the meeting where other people would be. This may sound ridiculous or extra but again, we as youth workers want to be professional and always look to be above reproach. Always go with your gut because as the old saying goes “better safe than sorry.”
5. Clearly define boundaries
I have learned that defining boundaries have held me accountable time and time again. I have seen this in my normal relationships as well. It is no different working in youth ministry. We as youth workers need to clearly define boundaries not just go through the motions and handle each situation as they come. You must determine what you stand for and not compromise that. Take some time to write those down whether on paper or in a Google doc. When you have defined those, share them with someone and hold yourself accountable to those boundaries. This is your blueprint and map to guide you through doing ministry when situations arise that would make it easy for you to compromise your integrity in some way. This is true of sexual sin, drinking or smoking, gossip, etc. Clearly define your boundaries, share them with someone, and keep yourself to those boundaries.
I want youth workers to win. I want to see youth workers last in ministry including myself. It will take work and it will start with acknowledging that we are not exempt from the rule. We have a real enemy who wants to take us out and we want to be ready for when the temptations come. Let’s be youth workers with integrity. Lets model for the church what it looks like to last in ministry. You got this!
Guest post by Scotty Keesee
Scotty has almost 10 years in the trenches in student ministry and is one of the youth leads at Sandals Church in Riverside, CA. He loves to lead leaders and talk culture, ministry, and strategy. He has a wonderful wife and two amazing boys.