Here’s the story of a youth worker guy I know and the mistake he made that led him to getting fired. Immediately.
I thought I was doing a good thing. I planned the lesson series around Christian Faith and Human Sexuality; what really could go wrong with that? My intent was to provide a solid foundation of abstinence in context of heterosexual relationships being the way God’s Word says.
I had just started at the church, fresh out of Bible college, and new to the denomination I was serving. I figured it didn’t matter, right? Sex before marriage is a sin and marriage is defined by God as a man and woman. The Bible seems pretty clear on that. That’s what I had been taught in my growing up years of Christian formation. What other way could there be to look at it?
In my first month at the church, I worked on my teaching plan for the next three months. I was pretty pleased with myself; I had topics for youth group all written on my iCal so I could look at what I needed whenever I ran across something.
I didn’t really advertise this series any differently than anything else I taught. There’s a link to ‘what’s happening next week’ on the youth page of our church website and so I posted the topic there…like I always did. No one ever said anything and frankly, I don’t think any of the parents ever even looked. They just dropped their kids off and went out for coffee or grocery shopped. Whatever they did during that 90 minutes.
My first clue that there might be a problem was when I handed out the first lesson of the series to my adult leaders that night at our ‘30 minutes before the doors open’ weekly pow-wow. My volunteers looked at it, looked at me, looked at it…and I began to realize something just may be wrong. Here’s how the conversation went:
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
One of the moms spoke up and said, “Have you shown this lesson to anyone for their OK?”
“No, not really. It’s been on my calendar for a while and I posted it on the website as the next lesson.”
“Nobody ever reads that,” said another adult.
“What the problem?” I asked.
“Well, first of all, this isn’t our denominational stance on the subject. Secondly, it feels like something we should have cleared through parents first.”
I hadn’t thought of all that. But it was 5 minutes before we opened the doors to let kids in and so I said, “I think it will be OK. It’s all biblical and so what could go that badly wrong?”
We got through the night, I taught the lesson, thought it went well…and then the texts started from a few parents. Then the phone calls began as the level of irate escalated. By the next morning, I was already in my boss’s office, along with the head of personnel, going over every step of what had happened.
Honestly? I felt blindsided. I had no idea I was doing anything risky or out of place. I thought parents would be tickled with me for approaching subjects they didn’t want to discuss with their kids.
Boy, I was wrong. It got ugly and by about a week later, I was fired/resigned. The revolving door of my tenure at that church swatting me on the backside as I left. I literally had not even unpacked all my boxes from moving in.
Let’s Unpack His Story
Here’s a list of things that outline where things went wrong:
- He created the teaching plan on his own.
- He was unaware and uninformed about the church’s denominational teachings on these particular subjects of sexuality.
- He hadn’t informed parents well ahead of time about the series so they could make a choice whether or not their child would participate.
- He gave his volunteers copies of the lesson at the very last minute.
- He never let his boss know that he’d like to teach on a subject that garners varying opinions.
Let’s unpack each of those just a little bit more…
A DNA Driven Teaching Plan
Each church has its own flavor and style; its own approach to God’s Word and how they live out that scripture in their congregational life. Not only should a church’s youth ministry have an over-arching 3-7-year scope and sequence of what it wants its youth to know, feel, and do with their Christ faith upon graduating out of the program – that plan must be spoken into by more than just the guy/girl a church hired to lead the ministry. After all, staff people come and go, so the Scripture interpretation has to come from what doesn’t change and that’s each local church or it’s denominational leanings.
It doesn’t help anyone for a youth worker to think in their mind, “Well, my denomination is wrong in how they see this or that. I’ll set the church straight by teaching the right things.” Not a helpful approach, friends. If you can’t live with and abide by what your church stands behind in matter of sexuality, I think it’s a church whose position you shouldn’t accept. If the guy in our story had checked first on what the church believed, he would have saved everyone a whole lot of grief and maybe his job. He could have made a better informed decision.
Whether or not parents exercise their right to teach and guide their children through touchy issues of sexuality – it’s still their right to do so. The subject of human sexuality draws lightening from many corners and this guy should have known better. But he was young, the ink hadn’t dried on his diploma, and he actually thought he knew better. So he took the choice out of parents hands. What he should have done was inform parents well ahead of time that this topic was to be discussed on what nights and given them a chance to see the particulars he would be teaching. Really, if he’s involved the church in figuring what subjects of faith should or shouldn’t be covered in the youth ministry’s scope and sequence, this step of informing parents wouldn’t be a surprise. They’d already be expecting it. Any parents that didn’t agree with the initial inclusion of certain sexuality topics into the teaching plan would have already had a chance to make their feelings known and the majority would have made a decision.
First of all, volunteers should never have to see a lesson last minute! It doesn’t matter what the topic is; if you want your team to help lead meaningful discussion, they have to have a chance to study and pray about the lesson.
Sure, the Holy Spirit brings up subjects at the last minute. But He doesn’t do it as nearly as often as youth leaders are unorganized and don’t plan the lesson far enough out as to give volunteers the time they need to prepare.
In the case of sexuality topics, or anything else that could be seen as controversial, the team should have met well ahead of that night, discussed what the church’s ministry stance would be, and how they would handle things as a team.
His Boss was the Last To Know
This is just a bad practice period. A pastor I worked for used to say, “Just don’t let me be surprised. I’ll back you up on most anything; just don’t let me be surprised.” Those words stuck with me.
When determining what lessons on sexuality should or shouldn’t be taught in the youth ministry, I think this guy’s first stop should have been to the pastor’s office even before a gathering of folks who would be speaking into the physical and spiritual goals of the ministry.
There’s probably no other subject area that causes more rankled emotional diatribes than any subject other than sexuality-related ones. Politics, maybe. But we rarely teach about that in our youth ministry since our subjects aren’t old enough to vote. Celebrating Halloween-Harry Potter-decorating with witches? That got me in trouble once…but still doesn’t measure up to human faith.
Don’t journey into this teaching area alone. Cross your I’s, dot your t’s, make sure you have lots of backing…and you’ll do fine. Oh, someone will still disagree with you, but that will be an isolated case, everyone would have had fair warning, and if you’ll give them that, you’ll likely keep your job.