I learned so many great things at Bible college. I learned how to study the Bible and how to do a word study. I learned how to lead a small group and how to utilize my specific gifts. In Bible college I learned how to manage finances and how to develop other leaders. I was taught and mentored by some of the wisest and strongest individuals I will ever cross paths with. For that I am forever grateful. However, one of the things that has impacted my life, my ministry the greatest was not taught to me at Bible college. I don’t remember many discussions around how to handle your gut feelings, or accusations, or specific boundaries in ministry.
For me I say Bible college, but I know others who would say church, or mentors, or leaders. Regardless of the source, I am confident that there isn’t enough conversation around how to handle these things. I’m amazed looking back at how many people are or have been involved in ministry or mentor relationships that have never had a discussion or training around these things.
Looking back, there are specific things I wish I would have learned. Looking back there are things that I wish I wouldn’t have been afraid to talk about. Looking back, I think many of us feel the same hurt and pain and have the same questions. With that being said, here are some of the things I wish I would have learned.
It’s okay to trust your gut.
This is something I have wrestled with for years. I can look back to specific moments when in my heart I knew something was wrong. I didn’t speak up because I had always been under the impression that you had to have “hard evidence” to present a concern. I know I am not the only one who wrestled with this and I know I won’t be the last one. I wish Bible college had taught me how to process those feelings, those thoughts. I wish Bible college would have given me a guidebook on how to approach somebody else with those types of concerns.
There are boundaries in ministry and they aren’t situational.
We talked boundaries in Bible College. We talked about what was and wasn’t appropriate. This conversation did happen, but it was brief and vague. “In youth ministry you should never be alone with a student. You should always travel with at least one other person. You should always communicate with parents about where their children are and who they are with.” I knew these things, I had heard these things. The problem was, I didn’t fully understand there is NEVER an exception to the rules. It was easy to see a hurting child and think they were being ministered to in the most difficult and impressionable times of their life. I wish Bible college would have taught me no situation is big enough to throw out the rules. I wish Bible college would have taught me that boundaries don’t move or change based in who is involved.
Not all predators look like predators.
This one probably hurts the most. I can honestly say that hundreds, if not thousands of individuals were deceived. Deceived by talent, by passion, by friendship, by fun, by GOOD things. I wish Bible college would have taught me that a predator can have an amazing musical ability. A predator can teach and lead in ways that are breathtaking. A predator can make their way into your heart as one of your dearest friends. A predator can change lives for the good at the exact same time they are destroying others for the worse.
Your responsibility isn’t to protect reputations, but to protect the people you are serving.
This is very closely connected with my first point. I remember wrestling with “Is it worth it to possibly ruin someone’s reputation/ministry for the rest of their life if I am wrong? What if I am over reacting? What if me speaking out destroys the talent, the passion, the friendship when I have no actual proof of anything?” I wish Bible college would have told me that only 4-8% of reports or allegations are false. I wish Bible college would have told me that my first priority was to protect the ones who couldn’t protect themselves. I wish Bible college would have explained that speaking up, if done the correct way would do more good than bad.
You can’t always believe someone is getting help when they say they are.
I had tough conversations. I challenged boundaries that I saw being crossed. I asked hard questions. I was fooled and trusted the other person when they told me they understood. I was fooled when they told me they would follow up and have conversations with leaders who knew better than me. Leaders who could help him because they were closer to the situation. Leaders who knew what these children were going through. Leaders who knew details he couldn’t share with me out of an obligation to protect their privacy. I wish Bible college would have taught me that it was okay to follow up with these leaders he said he was talking with. I wish Bible college would have taught me it was okay to ask if he was actually getting help.
I wish I would have been taught the obligation that comes with ministry. I wish we would have dug into specific situations and how to handle them. I wish we would have covered the legal side of things better than just a 5 minute discussion. I wish Bible college would have explained the importance of not only knowing this as a Bible college student, but as a leader, as a volunteer, as a friend, as a partner, as a sponsor. I wish Bible college would have explained how important it is to properly equip those around you with how to understand this.
There are a lot of things that I can’t go back and change about my education and time in Bible college. However, like mentioned above, it is clear that there is not enough conversation around this. Let’s start talking. Let’s make sure no other Bible college student, or minister, or sponsor, or friend has to wrestle with the same wishes and regrets in the future. Let’s make a change together.