Monday, June 16, 2014

REPOSTED: My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon

On June 12, 2014, Christianity Today posted an article by a youth pastor who had sex with one of his students.  Due to an overwhelming amount of backlash, they had a "change of heart" and removed the entire article.  What they left behind was a link to the edited article at the Internet Archive.  However, that link is less than useful because it will only let you read the first 2-3 paragraphs.  In any event, I believe that deleting that article was a GRAVE ERROR!

The article, which was written by an ANONYMOUS former youth pastor, is about the effects on him, his family, his local church, their families and the ANONYMOUS young girl he had a relationship with.  Due to the overwhelming quantity of ANONYMITY involved in this article, I believe that it can and SHOULD BE used as a WARNING to others who would involve themselves in youth ministry!

Christianity Today says that part of the reason they regretted posting the article, was because "The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration."  That's nonsense.  The author is currently serving a prison sentence and is unable to effectively communicate PERSONALLY with ALL of those that he harmed.  I sincerely believe that this writing is an EXCELLENT FIRST STEP towards that goal AND I have made it available here IN ITS ENTIRETY, for you to decide for yourself.



My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon
The spiral into sin that destroyed my life and ministry.
Name Withheld

Seven years ago I was hired by my church to be the new youth minister. The youth group was on life support at the time, with only a few students involved. My wife and I, newly married, already had good relationships with the students and their parents and, with my college ministry experience, I seemed to be the perfect fit for the position.

The ministry grew steadily. Within a few years the group that once struggled to fill a minivan was taking over 40 students to camp every summer. Teens were involved in every area of our church. The students were participating in local, regional, and international missions, and were inviting their friends to our activities. The gospel was being taught, and students were accepting Christ, getting baptized, and serving.

Other youth ministers, wanting to experience the same growth in their groups, would ask me for tips on how to reach and connect with students. The growth of the youth group was so significant that our church was pursuing the purchase of a bus and considering plans to expand the facility and build a gym. We had outgrown our own building. I had no doubt that God had called me to the position and that he had even greater things in store for the ministry and for me.

But there was one problem. Because of that problem, I am now in prison and the youth group is back on life support. This is the story of how I went from being a successful youth minister to a convicted felon in 3 easy steps.

My inner failure

A few years into my marriage and ministry I began to believe a lie. The realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home. From my perspective, I was excelling at work and at home—and this perceived lack of appreciation led me to believe I deserved more.

Meanwhile, there was someone else in my life that appreciated me very much. Seeking approval and appreciation, I gravitated toward that person. She and I were always happy to see each other and looked forward to each other's company. Before long, we were texting each other and interacting through social media. Nothing scandalous or questionable—a Facebook "like" or comment here, a friendly text there. Things friends do.

But I knew what appeared innocent was, in reality, wrong and very dangerous. Red flags kept popping up. Why was I not talking about this "friendship" with my wife? Why was I being secretive and sneaky about it? Why didn't I, in the earliest stages, when I knew the "friendship" was rapidly escalating beyond what it should be, slam on the brakes?

The answer: I had failed to address the sin in my life. Sin that is not dealt with doesn't fade away. It destroys us from the inside.

Consider King David's adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. Well before Bathsheba's pregnancy and David's successful plot to have her husband Uriah killed, the King was already acting selfishly:

"In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem." (2 Samuel 11:1.)

At a time when kings went out to war, David chose to stay home and pursue leisure rather than fight alongside his countrymen. David's choice to stay home provides an insight into where his heart was at the moment. He was being selfish. Perhaps he considered himself better than his soldiers or deserving of more pleasure than the average man. David's selfishness led to adultery, which then led to lying, deceit, and murder. The effects of his sin hurt his family for generations.

Selfishness is at the root of all sin and I had been very selfish. I fooled myself into thinking that by working hard and being a good father, I had earned a certain amount of reward. Since I felt I was not being rewarded at home, I deserved to be rewarded elsewhere. I never thought those words clearly, but my actions clearly revealed the condition of my heart.

A wrong and vicious cycle

Wrong thinking leads to sin, and sin leads to more wrong thinking. In the early stages of this extramarital relationship, I thought that I was seeking approval from someone other than my wife because I was not receiving it from my wife. But me seeking approval and appreciation elsewhere had dramatically impacted how I related to my wife. The unaddressed sin—my selfishness—caused my wife to respond to me differently. I see now that I failed to nurture our marriage properly, but at the time I silently blamed her for driving me away.

The "friendship" continued to develop. Talking and texting turned flirtatious. Flirting led to a physical relationship. It was all very slow and gradual, but it was constantly escalating. We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things, but the allure of sin was strong. We had given the devil far more than a foothold and had quenched the Holy Spirit's prodding so many times, there was little-to-no willpower left.

We tried to end our involvement with each other many times, but it never lasted. How many smokers have quit smoking only to cave in at the next opportunity for a cigarette? We quit so many times, but the temptation of "one more time" proved too strong.

Like David, my selfishness led to infidelity. Then, to destruction.

Loving me, instead of Jesus

As a minister in my early 30's, I was in the sweet spot—about halfway between the age of a student and the parents. The students looked up to me as a cool older brother that they could go to with life's problems. The parents saw me as a responsible young adult with whom they could trust their sweet, rebellious teens. I wanted the parents to trust me and the students to love me.

If the parents trusted me, they would support the ministry. But I didn't want just a youth group full of students that were forced to attend. I wanted the youth to love their group. More honestly, I wanted the students to love me.

The youth group was very small the first few years. The beauty of a small group is that one can build meaningful relationships with every student in the group, a task which proves more difficult when the group grows. In those early years, the group was very close. It felt like a family. As the years passed, the students who were middle-schoolers during the group's infancy became the core members, the leaders in a large group. Youth group is a year-round commitment. School teachers have students for 9 months, then trade them in for a whole new group. A youth minister is involved in the lives of his students year-round for up to 6 years. Over the years I had become very close with the small handful of students that had been involved since the early years. They had developed into leaders and I depended on them for feedback when planning activities. One of those students, though, I was depending on for more than just feedback.

My heart was not totally corrupt. My team of youth workers and I worked hard to have a Christ-centered ministry and there was much fruit to prove it. But I was often made the hero of the group's successes. With false modesty, I would accept the praise of parents, church members and students. Many were aware of the group's humble beginnings. They patted me on the back for ushering in a season of unprecedented growth. I would pay lip service to their compliments by crediting "a great team of committed youth workers," and "students' boldness in inviting friends." I knew that when the youth workers and students were recognized, it was still a reflection upon my leadership abilities. Not once did I credit the Lord —as Paul did in 1 Cor 3:6: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."

If I was applauded by the church. I was revered by the students. They loved the camps, retreats and mission trips I planned. The activities and games I organized were the most fun. My lessons were smart, funny and memorable. I was preaching about Christ crucified, but if He had shown up at one of my events, He would have been no higher than the second most important man there. I was the king of my own little kingdom, but pride comes before the fall.

In early June of 2012 I was the keynote speaker at a baccalaureate service for the graduates of the largest high school in our community. Later that month I took over 40 students to a missions-based camp. There were hundreds of students at camp and my youth group was the largest. A couple of weeks later I led a mission trip to Haiti for the outgoing seniors. Throughout all of this, the too-close relationship continued.

By all visible measures, I was a success and the youth group was firing on all cylinders, a model for other ministries to emulate. By the invisible measures that only the Lord can see, though, I was filthy and bringing nothing but dishonor to my position as a minister and to Jesus' name. In spite of me, the group continued to grow, flourish and produce fruit.

Warnings ignored

If the consequences of sin are so painful, so severe, why doesn't God prevent us from falling so far? God does not stop us from sinning, but neither is he sitting idly by, waiting for us to stumble. He provides clear warnings for us in his word. He uses other believers to hold us to account and, most amazingly, he use the Holy Spirit to speak to us from the inside.

In his Word, God gives ample warning against sin as well as instructions on how to avoid it. He repeatedly calls believers to be holy because he is holy. Our failure to fully recognize the holiness of God is directly responsible for our failure to obey him.

When Uzzah saw the Ark of the Covenant tipping over and was struck dead for reaching out to stabilize it, was God being unfair? No, God had given clear instructions that no one was to touch the ark because it was holy.

R.C. Sproul writes in his seminal book The Holiness of God that Uzzah considered his hand more holy that the muddy, sinless ground beneath him. He failed to recognize how completely holy God is and how much sin separates us from him. God does not look upon sin. The reason Jesus cried out from the cross "My God, why have you forsaken me?" was because in that moment he was bearing the sins of the world. Jesus felt the Father's gaze leave him. We wonder why we don't feel the presence of God in our lives while we're all tangled up with sin. It is because we separated ourselves from him.

Just like Uzzah had no excuse, neither did I. God's Word gave me plenty of warnings and instructions, which I failed to heed.

God also uses other believers to draw attention to our sin. Early in the relationship, my "friend" and I were accused of being too close to each other. We were offended and dismissed the allegations as jealous words. After all, at the time we were just talking. Even then though, we were lying to ourselves and others. We knew that our relationship had crossed a line and discretion was needed. We played off the allegations and used them as an excuse to draw closer to each other. Sin had a powerful hold on us.

Third, God convicts us of sin through the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God lives within the believer. He is guiding us to all truth, discerning spiritual things for our human minds, praying for us with deep groans when our words fail and convicting us of our sin. Consider this: The same Spirit that hovered over the face of the deep at creation lives within you. The same spirit that came in power on the day of Pentecost lives within you. The same Spirit that Jesus promised to send to us as a counselor lives within you.

That Spirit, the spirit of God, convicts us and pleads with us to resist sin. Yet we ignore the warnings. We quench the Holy Spirit. Once a sinner ignores the prodding of the Holy Spirit the first time, it is easier to do each subsequent time. Eventually the sinner becomes numb to the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

God never gives up on us, but when it is the only remaining option, he will give us over to our sins. In the Bible, when God "gave them over to their sin" (Romans 1:24), it means that he allowed sinners to hit rock bottom, so they would then realize their need to be rescued. God does not want anyone to sin. He hates sin and does not look upon it. Yet he also knows when someone is so lost in sin that their only hope of returning to him is to reach the end of themselves and recognize their need for a savior.

In my extramarital relationship I did not heed God's warnings or commands given to me in the scriptures. I failed to admit my sin and repent when confronted by another believer. I also quenched the Holy Spirit and became numb to the Spirit's pleadings.

All things come into the light

You may have guessed by now that the "friend" in my relationship was a student. She was one of the core students, involved from the very beginning. Our families were very close, which meant a lot of time together over the years. She adored me and I loved the adoration.

When my wife discovered incriminating text messages on my phone, I knew instantly that everything was about to come crashing down. After hours of screaming and crying, she packed some bags, loaded our 2 kids into the minivan and left the house at 3 AM. I have not seen my kids since. It has been over a year. The only time I have seen my wife has been in court. We have not communicated in one year. I lost my job, and was required to drop out of seminary. I pleaded guilty to 2 felonies, am serving time in prison and will be a registered sex offender for the rest of my life.

You know your own area of selfishness. Maybe it's dangerously close to mine. Are you flirting with a student, playing favorites or struggling with lust? Whatever it is, stop now. Repent of your sin and make it known to those who need to know: your spouse, your boss, your accountability partner. Deal with your sin before it destroys your life and brings down your family and church in the process.

Submit your ministry, marriage and life to the Lord. He is faithful. He will establish you and guard you from the evil one. Put to death in you what is earthly, so God can get back to using you for His glory.

Sooner or later, all things come into the light.


After what I'm sure was an insurmountable amount of backlash, the article was edited with the following ADDITIONAL comment from the original author (to be honest, I think it was overkill):



Author's Note: In response to readers' concerns, the author of this piece has offered the following clarification: "I recognize that what I initially considered a consensual relationship was actually preying on a minor. Youth pastors who do the same are not "in relationship" but are indeed sexual predators. I take 100 percent of the responsibility for what happened."


So what do you think?  Should this article have been ELIMINATED from the Internet, or is there some actual value in it?  Is there anything useful that WE can learn from it?

Proverbs 27:17 (GW) - As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens the wits of another.

I think that there's some useful discussion that should take place here...
Will you join me?

NOTE: This is a family-friendly blog.  That means that CRUDE LANGUAGE will not be tolerated.  Please use your inner-editor to filter out extraneous and unnecessary words.

NOTE2:  If somehow the original author of this piece finds this site, I would love to hear from you so that I can update people on your situation without unfairly biasing what you have to say.

2 comments:

  1. God bless you Pastor Keith, At first glance reading this letter there are a few things that stood out to me as very contradictory concerning this man who committed child abuse. His letter I find very disturbing and find it difficult to believe his sincerity for the following reasons. He begins his letter with the trouble his church was having and how through his efforts he seemed to have rescued the church's youth ministry which I have no doubt he did. (He said, "But I was often made the hero of the group's successes") Why? Because this man is a pedophile. Pedophiles are predators and quite skilled at gaining admiration and confidence with adults and children. He said, " I would pay lip service to their compliments by crediting "a great team of committed youth workers," and "students' boldness in inviting friends." His success, kindness and manipulation is his bait for the prey. Even at the expense of his own self proclaimed apology/fault to gain sympathy. At one point in the letter he either recognizes his selfishness or knows the right words to say to redeem himself. Either way, he admittedly committed the crime and therefore IS a pedophile. It is about gaining control and being in control which he shows in his efforts and proclamation He stated, "The beauty of a small group is that one can build meaningful relationships with every student in the group". He recognizes the dynamics of gaining intimacy with his group. He also said, "I knew that when the youth workers and students were recognized, it was still a reflection upon my leadership abilities." HE was in control and he knew it. Further along as he tells his story I found it quite troubling he kept referring to the young girl and himself as "We" over and over as if including her in his crime. It is subtle but very common for pedophiles to do. This shows a lack of taking full responsibility. Yes I realize his claims of fault but you can't have it both ways. If he indeed does claim complete responsibility for his actions then he would not have used "We". He said, "We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things" - "We had given the devil far more than a foothold" and "We quit so many times, but the temptation of "one more time" proved too strong" and so on. In a sexual abuse situation such as pedophilia there is no "We". It is him, he was in a position of authority, he was in a position of power, he is the adult. The child is never to blame because they are a child. A child who needs guidance. The reason so many pedophiles use the church as their source is because we are so trusting, and especially children. Most children are taught to trust policemen, their teachers, coaches pastors and youth ministers. Anyone who holds a position of safety and authority. That's what makes this particular crime so heinous. His jailhouse confession while it may be genuine is suspect and it would be difficult for most people to ever trust him again. We can get a glimpse into his intent by knowing the tactics and manipulation of predators and abusers. I don't ever negate the love, healing and power of Jesus Christ but if only for awareness of this growing problem in the churches I think it timely for this story to be posted. More needs to be done by parents to protect our tender young children who are so vulnerable from the ravening wolves. NOTE: According to yellodyno.com There are 400,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and an estimated 80 to 100,000 of them are missing. Between 1% and 5% of our population molest children and 96% of sexual offenders are male. Very few pedophiles stop offending over their lifetime. Rarely are the offenders of young victims strangers. Keep our children safe.
    Dr. Darlene Russell, pastoral psychologist

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sister,

      First of all, I had no idea you visited my blog!

      Second, I couldn't be happier than to have you comment on this!

      I agree with 100% of what you have written and am pleased that you rightly pointed out some of the many things WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS LETTER!

      Glad to hear from you and thank you so much for your professional insight and for all of your comments!

      Delete