Does your youth ministry have a code of conduct for all volunteers and leaders? If not, I strongly advise you to make one, or to discuss doing this with your leader or pastor.
I’ve discovered that a code of conduct creates clarity for all involved, helps prevents conflicts and promotes a culture of transparency and accountability (actually, the same goes for all youth group rules that you create together and communicate). The process made us even grow closer as a team and helped me renew my motivation to be a youth leader.
My Experiences with a Code of Conduct
Several years ago we (the leadership team of the youth ministry, I was a (volunteer) team leader at that time, responsible for all communication) decided to write a code of conduct for all our volunteers. We wanted to put something on paper that we could hold youth leaders to and that we could show to potential new leaders to make clear what was expected of them.
When we suggested this, most of our volunteers fully supported the idea. We devoted several meetings to the subjects and asked our small group leaders and all other volunteers for input. What did they think should be in it?
Some items were easy, we quickly agreed on a few key theological items (infallibility of the Bible for instance), the support of the mission and vision of both our church and the youth ministry, and the importance of church attendance.
We discussed several ‘hot items’, such as smoking (is it okay for a youth leader to smoke and should we tell parents of their kids smoke), the use of alcohol (we decided to ban alcohol from all youth activities, including those at the homes of youth leaders. Please see the note at the end of the post for an explanation!), and I remember a very interesting exchange of opinions on when it’s okay to share things a student has told in private to you with others. We also agreed on strict guidelines for pastoral counseling of someone of the other sex.
But the most interesting discussions were about how we could describe what it means to be a youth leader, to actually lead youth and be an example to students. How can you describe this? When are you a good example to students and when are you not? We talked about this for a long time and it brought us closer together. All of us wanted to be an example, bit to try and define what that meant together, made us realize this isn’t as easy as it may seem. In the end, we opted for a relatively broad description:
An important task of a youth worker is to take care of students. He/she invests in building relationships with students. These relationships are the basis for giving both spiritual and pastoral care to a student in helping them grow into maturity. A youth worker is constantly aware of being an example to the students and chooses to be a good one. This relates to working on his/her own relationship with God, his/her lifestyle, choices he/she makes, how he/she deals with others and how conflicts are handled. A youth worker tries to teach knowledge and share experiences with students, according to 2 Tim. 2:2.
The result of our efforts and discussions was a code of conduct that all volunteers wholeheartedly supported, but it was more than that. We had also agreed to transparency and accountability among youth leaders and along the way, we had grown closer. We had shared what it meant for us to be a youth leader and how it was our deepest desire to lead students in an exemplary way. It was a wonderful experience and it renewed my motivation to be a youth leader.
We’ve used that code of conduct for many years. Every year at the start of the season, we brought it to everyone’s attention and asked them to read it again. We required all new leaders to read it and give us their written support and agreement. And yes, I’ve also used it when youth leaders didn’t behave as agreed to in the code of conduct. I’ve found out it made those particular conversations easier, because the ‘rules’ were written down on paper and they had agreed to them, so there was no room for discussion on whether or not what they had done was ‘acceptable’.
If your ministry doesn’t have a code of conduct yet, I strongly advise you to make one. Do it together with all your volunteers and take the time to get it right. And once it’s there, make sure it stays ‘alive’. You have to revisit it every now and then to see if it’s still up to date. Make all new leaders sign it and make all existing leaders read it again each season to refresh their memory.
Does your ministry have a code of conduct? Does it work well or is it more of a formality that no one ever does anything with?
NOTE: this code of conduct was for our youth ministry for 16-23 years olds and in Holland it’s legal to drink beer and wine from 16 and strong liquor from 18. It is socially completely accepted to drink wine and beer at dinner, even in Christian families (in moderate amounts obviously). The strong ‘taboo’ there is in some churches against the use of alcohol, is almost non-existing in The Netherlands. I’m just explaining the social and cultural context here, not condemning or approving anything…[Photo Credit: Jim Hammer on Flickr, Creative Commons]