What is a tolerant, 21st-century church leader to do? Judge? Defy the
spirit of the age? Ignore the issue and hope it goes away? Assume our
leaders are fundraising the cost of the trip by moonlighting as
We start with our purpose for youth ministry: to
develop a faith framework for understanding the world and life values
that hang on the framework; hence the exposure trip to Peru. I assume
the trip has been planned to expose our youth to the grinding poverty
of many and the wealth of few.
A faith framework says the
counterbalance to selfish exploitation is covenant relationship with
God. It means right relationships with one another, with institutions
and nations, and the Earth. Marriage is a covenant relationship. Many
of our youth carry the pain of parents who found covenant love and
faithfulness problematic. Youth ministry offers an alternate future to
When I meet with our leaders together, I will gently tell
them what I saw and then I’ll listen. The best-case scenario is a
plausible explanation. Next best would be gratitude for the opportunity
to reflect on marriage covenants, the fickleness of sexual attractions
and the impact on those who look to their leaders to show them faith
I fear that is faint hope. More likely they will be
embarrassed and react with denial, anger or withdrawal — none of which
bodes well for an impending trip. They may go to the youth or parents
or the congregation looking for allies to justify their love, or to
take their side against unfair accusations.
Once it hits the
fan, no one will want to reflect on how a broken covenant relationship
has damaged the youth, two families and the church community. The trip
has been planned to build a framework for life and faith in youth, not
around the needs of their leaders. We will hope for the best, but I am
prepared to find two new chaperones for the trip. And I am prepared to
spend as much time as needed with these two dynamic leaders to rebuild
what has been damaged.
I’ve known these folks for a long time. I trusted and encouraged them.
I know their spouses and their own children, too. I am angry and
disappointed. I also wonder if I overlooked symptoms that were setting
them up for trouble. There should always be at least three youth
leaders. Why didn’t we do that?
This is a family problem. A
church family problem. When youth leaders violate the love and trust
that kids place in them, all hell breaks loose. Kids are hurt and
disappointed. They begin to squabble among themselves. Some start
imitating their leaders. It can get very divisive.
parents have heard hints from their kids about this romantic stuff
between the youth leaders. Young people look for vibes like that. They
are not stupid. I should not assume that I am the first to spot the
problem. Parents are going to be mad though. Maybe at me.
know that when I see someone in a compromising moment, it is very
likely that they saw me, too. So we are already in this together. It is
their problem and mine. This trouble in our community is more important
than the trip to Peru. As a matter of fact, this is itself “an exposure
tour,” which our teens and our congregation must all make. From these
crises we learn and grow up in the Gospel. So, I bring the couple
What do they plan to do about their relationship?
Their spouses and children? How do they propose to explain this to the
teens as well as their own families? How can I help them in this
Then I call a meeting of the Session to help me deal
with the hurt in the church and maybe save the trip. These two leaders
cannot go, but there are always others who can do a good job and are
often willing at times like these.
We are on a journey now of
Christian living and learning together. Our motto, “no secrets,” will
be sorely tried, but will give us truth for facing reality honestly and
hope for eventual reconciliation.
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