Youth ministry offers many churches their best—and perhaps only—opportunity to reach middle- and high-school students and teach them about the love of Christ. It's a critical effort that deserves our full attention as we watch an increasingly changing landscape of beliefs, attitudes, and morals unfold in American culture. Connecting with these students requires the full commitment of church leaders to properly staff and resource their youth ministries, and to make certain the work done speaks deeply to these students in contexts they know and understand.
This is hard work. It often requires creativity and flexibility, ranging from socially minded service projects to pick-ups and drop-offs of students to ongoing exchanges of texts with students to remind them of upcoming events.
This creativity and flexibility may be essential. It also may introduce potential risk and legal liabilities that the church must be prepared to address.
Unfortunately, many do not prepare as well as they should. Daily headlines only confirm this. Consider these from the past few years:
In Washington, a youth pastor sent sexually explicit e-mails to a girl in the youth group. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In Florida last year, a 15-passenger van carrying a church youth group rolled over, killing 1 person and injuring 19 others.
In Oregon, a 15-year-old boy and an adult camp counselor fell into a pool at the base of a waterfall during a youth retreat involving multiple churches. Both drowned. The family of the boy is now suing the camp organizer and churches for $13 million.