A quote from Perkins School of Youth Ministry in January has stuck with me all year (voiced by our own Charles Harrison, no less): “I’m sick and tired of youth ministers getting fired for the wrong reasons.”
He was talking about all of the idiotic, careless, & wholly avoidable reasons that good youthworkers often exit the profession: poor boundaries, questionable ethics, Underwear Day on ski trips… though apparently the latter is not a firing offense. Just stuff that somebody should have realized was a poor exercise in judgment and stopped before it started. On the other end of that spectrum, however, is a less considered list of genuinely good reasons to get fired or leave your job: unchecked systemic abuse in a local body, defense of social issues, or even supporting a youth or family against unfair condemnation in the community.
Like the idiot list, of course, the just cause list need not always end in unemployment. Do you know where your line in the sand is? Have you thought in advance about at what point you might need to step down in defense of an ideal?
I’ve had several instances in my own ministry where I’ve had to at least consider picking up a stick to draw the line. Overwhelming parental support for a local Southern Baptist “community” discipleship event clashed with my desire to instill Wesleyan discipleship practice & understanding of grace in our youth. I knew that we’d be walking into a theological arm twist that would create a lot of unpacking/repacking spiritually for our group, particularly our younger youth. I conceded to the event when I learned that we’d be able to direct our own small groups, enabling our leaders to unpack in real time, so to speak. When we hit the last worship session and were greeted with a rapture warning video and a second segment that began with a thunderous movie-guy-voiceover bellowing, “SIX THOUSAND YEARS AGO…” I felt renewed validation in my objection and was delighted to hear one of my kids down the row say, “Did we just turn some kind of corner here?”
Beyond denominational practice and process, I’ve encountered racism and intolerance within my own ministry that has more than given me pause. There are even instances where I would be at odds with our denomination’s stance on certain social issues. Taking a stand against attitudes within your local congregation with the denomination’s Social Principles on your side would be dicey enough; do you know yourself and your denomination well enough to know where that support falls away?
Fortunately, we are encouraged within Wesleyan practice to “think and let think,” and most days don’t come down to a do-or-die direct question about personal belief. But it’s important to think about. What issues or situations form your boundaries? Have you played out an “if it came down to this, I suppose I’d need to resign” scenario in your mind? Have you ever had to remained silent simply to keep your job? Was that a good choice?
youthworker :: musician :: friend :: twitter: @elvisfreakshow
www.kevinalton.com :: www.youthworkercircuit.com