Youth Ministry: Stay Safe and Have Fun

In his book Better Safe Than Sued, Jack Crabtree finds youth workers making many of the same mistakes that he warned against.

“The worst mistake that they make is that many youth workers say, ‘This won’t happen to me,’ ” said Crabtree, executive director of Long Island Youth for Christ, in a telephone interview with The Deacon’s Bench. “That’s the number one mistake, that they almost dismiss either evaluating carefully what it is that they’re doing or listening to correction, because it is overridden by this opinion that if nothing bad has happened to us yet, it won’t happen to us.”

An example of how this works, Crabtree said, is when a youth worker gets into a van and realizes that two of the ten teens in the vehicle aren’t wearing seat belts. The youth worker doesn’t enforce the seat belt rule, rationalizing that “I’m not going to drive that fast, and nothing is going to happen.”

Another problem, Crabtree said, is that people in youth ministry often don’t take time to learn from their mistakes. Fortunately, he said, most accidents aren’t serious, but “instead of using that opportunity to talk about it, people miss that moment and go on and repeat that same mistake again.”

Learning from other people’s mistakes is a good way to prevent them, but this often doesn’t happen, either. For example, Crabtree devoted a good deal of attention to sexual misconduct in his book, and it’s received widespread media attention in recent years, but the problem persists in youth ministries.

The way to prevent such disasters, Crabtree advised, is to avoid gray areas, such as sexual jokes with teens or back rubs with teens of the opposite sex. “We need to say to our staff workers and to our youth workers, ‘You can’t be talking sexually to our kids, and you can’t be having that kind of contact with them,’ ” he said.

Crabtree says, there’s been a great deal of awareness of safety concerns with youth ministry and lots of positive change in recent years. However, he says, “every generation needs to be re-educated. You can’t ever sit back with education and say, ‘We’ve done our job. It’s all done’. ”

Jack Crabtree is executive director of Long Island Youth for Christ and has been on the staff of the organization since 1971. He is former Mid Atlantic coordinator of the National Network of Youth Ministries and a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Huntington, NY.