When I was in college, I once got some advice from my small group leader regarding my relationship with my then boyfriend (now husband). She said I had to protect my reputation vigilantly and told me to avoid even the outward appearance of improper behavior between the two of us. I didn’t get the importance of what she was saying at that time and I told her so. Who cared what people were saying or thinking, as long as I knew and God knew I was in the right? Wasn’t what God thought more important than idle gossip?
When I became actively involved in youth ministry I came to see the depth of her wisdom. Your reputation matters in youth ministry (or any ministry). It matters an awful lot actually. Even when the facts would clear you from any wrong doing, the sheer matter that there was any ground for speculation can cost you dearly. You won’t be the first (or the last) one in youth ministry to get into problems because of outward appearances, rather than factual wrong doings.
The Bible states the importance of a good name, a good reputation clearly:
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.” (Proverbs 22:1 NKJV)
Reputation matters for several reasons:
Reputation builds respect
If you have a good reputation as a youth leader, it will go a long way in gaining respect from parents, church members, elders, etc. Respect is an important foundation for an effective youth ministry, because people will want to work with you and for you, will respect your decisions and insights and will support you.
Do not underestimate the importance of having people’s respect. If they respect you in one area (for instance your moral integrity), they’ll respect you in other areas as well. But the opposite is true as well. I once saw a leader lash out in private at somebody when he thought no one was looking. It made me wonder what else was going on in his behavior that I didn’t know about and I started to doubt his character and his ministry as a whole.
Reputation builds trust
Obviously, trust and respect are closely related and trust often grows out of respect. A solid reputation will make people trust you in all areas of your ministry.
I had a trust-based relationship with the pastor responsible for youth ministry in my last church. He trusted me because he knew my reputation. It meant he didn’t feel the need to supervise closely, freeing up his time for more important matters.We both had more effective ministries because of the trust between us.
Reputation prevents problems
I’ve had one golden rule for as long as I’ve been in youth ministry: I do not meet with guys (teens or leaders) in a private place without anyone else present. I will meet them in a public place, I’ll meet them in church or where ever, but not in private. It’s actually something I learned from Billy Graham who did the same (with women obviously) and wouldn’t even meet then First Lady Hillary Clinton in private!
It’s a rule that simply prevents problems like giving opportunity for people to become to attached to you or vice versa. It also prevents people from being able to attack your reputation. Nobody could ever accuse me of doing anything improper, because everyone knew this rule.
Reputation matters to God
As Christians, we are ambassadors of Christ. The sad reality is that others may be out to ‘expose’ us as frauds or hypocrites. Just take the website that is offering 1 million dollars trying to disprove Tim Tebow’s statement about being a virgin. They’re clearly out to ridicule him, make him out to be a liar. Our reputations matter because the world is looking at us. When people can accuse us of anything un-Christianlike, they take down God’s name as well.
But the opposite may be true as well. Look at this verse from 1 Peter 2:
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshy lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11, 12 NKJV)
God wants us to show honorable conduct among the ‘Gentiles’, the non-Christians we come into contact with on a daily basis. Our pristine reputation will ultimately bring honor and glory to God’s Name.
There’s one last point I want to make. A good reputation is first of all about what you do, about your actions. But it’s just as much about what you don’t do, about avoiding even the appearance of wrong doing. What people see matters, not just what you actually do. Recently, the German president had to step down because he accepted certain deals and gifts. Legally, not all of them were wrong, but it damaged his reputation to the point where he couldn’t do his job anymore.
Protect your reputation by making good judgment calls when it comes to moral issues. Take the high road in all cases and don’t give people any reason to doubt your reputation. It will most certainly positively impact your youth ministry, but even more important: it will bring glory to God’s name.
How good is your reputation in your youth ministry? Do you ever consciously think about how others see you? What could you do to improve your reputation?