Why Youth Leaders Need Accountability
By Stephen Arterburn
I believe one-quarter of all youth ministers should resign immediately.
If you knew what I know, you’d agree with me. I’m a professional counselor and former youth worker. I’ve worked intimately with hundreds of youth ministers, helping them win back the ground lost to moral disaster. Recently I spoke at a national youth workers convention. After my talk, I was bombarded by appointments with outwardly strong, upstanding leaders in trouble.
I listened as they revealed their secret struggles: pornography, illicit affairs, inappropriately touching kids in their youth group, theft, alcohol, and drugs. You name it; I heard about it.
A common thread bound their problems together.
Not one of the youth workers I talked to was involved in an accountable relationship. Not one of them had someone to call or meet with before doing something questionable or stupid. And until they talked to me, not one of them had chosen to make their private life public to even one person.
Why Youth Workers Run From Accountability
Youth ministers hate accountability. And I see two reasons why:
A Renegade Mentality—There’s a strong affinity for rebellion in many youth leaders. They’re often the renegades on the church staff—they see themselves as the innovators, the run-and-gun specialists. They crave freedom.
There is no other category of church minister that is afforded so much detachment from other ministers. No one has less accountability. Like the rest of the human race, they fear the cost they’d have to pay to become accountable.
And because teenage behavior is a mystery to many church members, they’re not surprised their youth minister’s behavior is a mystery too. But left to roam free, many youth workers spin themselves into a web of trouble.
A Repulsion for Submission—I know why so many youth leaders are so afraid of accountability. This may make you squirm, but the issue is submission. People are reluctant to submit themselves to the direction and guidance of another person. Youth workers are no different. Most treat submission as a husband-wife issue. But they don’t apply the concept to their own lives.
Ask yourself: “Am I willing to submit myself to another human being for help with my greatest vulnerabilities?” Most are not. Most aren’t even willing to talk about their greatest vulnerabilities, much less seek someone’s help with them. But balanced, appropriate submission to a person you trust can guarantee your ministry’s long-term integrity.
Why Youth Workers Must Be Accountable
Recently, a young youth worker came to me to discuss his problem with lust and how it had impacted his ministry. Several times he’d inappropriately touched young girls in his group. Each time he felt further away from God. Guilt consumed him. He doubted his salvation.
I asked him to submit to my direction. I knew that if he was willing to become accountable, he could renew his relationship with God and avert catastrophe. He agreed to do it. And my counsel was tough: I asked him to leave the ministry, find another job, and attend a therapy group for sex addicts. I didn’t know if he was sexually addicted, but I did know he’d find accountability in that group.
I must admit I was surprised when he accepted my “prescription.” He was determined to pay the price to heal the wounds that’d led to his destructive behavior.
And if you’re not willing to risk accountability as that young man did, you’re in trouble. Perhaps not today, but you will be.
You will be tempted through your greatest vulnerabilities. Jesus was. Hebrews 4:15 confirms it: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
When temptation intrudes on your life, you’ll feel tremendous inner pressure to rely on yourself to make the right decision. Don’t buy the lie. Alone, you may resist temptation for a while. But not for long. The best protection is to enter into a partnership with one or more people to protect yourself from falling victim to sin.
Your accountable relationships will help you dredge the depths of your character. And as you follow the Apostle James’ instructions in James 5:16—“Confess your sins to one another”—you’ll find strength where weakness once ran rampant.
If you don’t face your temptations through accountability, you’ll probably seek comfort in “church-oholism.” The pain of guilt will drive you to busyness in an attempt to work your problems away. All the while, you’ll look like a dedicated servant of Christ. But if you’re like many others, you’ll work and work until some foolish mistake forces you to abandon your life mission. Believe me: I hear stories of wasted lives all the time.
How to Be Accountable
The decision to seek accountable relationships is difficult. But acting on that decision is relatively simple. Approach one or more people you respect spiritually and ask if you can meet on a regular basis—once a month or once a week, depending on your need. Form a partnership with your “accountable friends”—submit your life and your decisions to each other’s guidance and correction.
But before you meet, determine to fight your tendency to justify your behavior. Be brutally, painfully honest about your motives.
Then, abide by the following guidelines:
1. Be clear about your expectations for the relationship. Accountability must be voluntary, not forced.
2. Establish mutual accountability. All parties must agree to expose their “feet of clay” in the relationship.
3. Measure your success through progress, not performance. Progress means each person is growing. Performance focuses only on knowing the “right” answers.
Don’t wait. Start thinking about accountable relationships now. If you dawdle, you may make a foolish mistake that will force accountability on you. The personal price of submission and accountability is high, but it’s a bargain compared to the wrecked lives I’ve seen.
Stephen Arterburn is an author, a speaker and the founder of New Life Treatment Centers in California.