While in college, on of my professors said to a room full of future youth pastors something that still echoes in my mind. “Make every decision as if you need to defend it in a court of law, because you just might.” Hyperbole? A little bit. Scare tactic? Most likely. Effective? Very.
And while it’s unrealistic, and unnecessary, to run every single decision you make through that filter, the point is valid. If you were to find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit, or being deposed about an incident in your youth ministry, would you be able to defend your decisions properly? It’s a scary scenario, no doubt. But one worth considering.
I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but there are a few areas youth ministry leaders would be wise to pay extra attention to, so they have answers to important questions should they ever arise. Here are a few to get you started…
Volunteers Who Work With Teenagers
– Did they fill out a formal application?
– Were they asked to provide references, and were those checked?
– What, if any, type of formal background check was utilized?
– Were they trained concerning appropriate conversation, discipline, touch, mandatory reporting, etc.
– Does your church have written policies in place to safeguard students from potential predators? What are the policies concerning relational ministry outside the walls of the church, being alone with students, etc.?
Off Campus Events and Activities
– Do you require parent-signed permission slips?
– Have those permission slips been approved by your church insurance provider?
– Do the permission slips detail the various activities that will take place?
– Who is allowed to drive teenagers in their vehicles? What criteria do they need to meet?
– Does the camp, or venue have adequate insurance of their own?
– Were parents notified in a timely manner?
– Did they speak into the decision to, or not to, seek professional medical attention?
– Was an injury/incident report filed?
In over 25 years of youth ministry, I’ve never found myself sitting in front of a lawyer, judge or jury because of something involving our youth group, and I hope I never do. And while it’s pretty scary to imagine such a scenario, force yourself to! Talk to the senior leaders in your church, and to your church insurance provider or legal council, to make sure you have safeguards and policies in place that can help keep your ministry a safe place for students and help keep you, and your church, out of hot water if a worst-case scenario should take place.
– Kurt / @kurtjohnston
P.S. – Need help preparing your volunteer leaders for tough situations like these? Be sure to check out Simply Youth Ministry’s TEAM tool. It includes 60+ HD training videos geared toward your volunteers. Plus, you can upload an unlimited number of your own training videos. Start your free trial!