Looking back now, it would seem the most important youth ministry story of 2011 wasn't really about youth ministry at all but its implications for those who work with youth in the Church are enormous. The scandal at Penn State brought to light once again the critical importance of establishing proper and consistent boundaries for adult-youth interactions in schools, clubs, sports teams and, yes, even youth ministries. I think this all boils down to two important questions:
1. Does your youth program have a policy that mandates that no adult is to be alone in private with a teen?
2. Do you allow exceptions to that rule?
I regularly lead boundary training workshops with youth ministry, church, and camp staffs. By far the most important rule I argue must be part of any safe church policy is the "two adult rule." Simply stated, there must be two adults present with youth at all times -- no exceptions. Oddly, this is the one rule that participants in these workshops often have the most difficulty accepting. Without fail, someone will always argue that there must be exceptions to that rule. The most common exception: "We follow that rule when the youth and adults are opposite gendered but not if they are same gendered." In other words, it's okay for a male youth leader to be alone with a guy but not a girl, or vice versa. My response: Take a look at the Penn State scandal. Take a look at what has happened in the Catholic Church. How well did that policy work out for them?
If you start allowing exceptions to the two-adult rule, you open the door to a host of difficulties. In particular, you send a clear message to pontential abusers that there is a hole in your safe church policy that they can exploit...and often the would-be abuser is the last person you would suspect.
Developing and maintaining strict boundary policies in our youth ministries shouldn't be about protecting ourselves from litigation or making our work easier. In truth, isn't it really about honoring our youth as children of God who deserve to be protected and treated with the utmost care and respect?