Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Youth Pastor Indicted. . . Good Intentions and Poor Judgment. . .

I'm sure the campfire would burn long into the night if it was surrounded by youth workers sharing stories of the risky, dangerous, and downright stupid things they had done over the years. . . all in the name of ministry. I know I could keep a campfire burning for days with the litany of stories recounting my own stupidity. There were those famous electric chairs, snow-tubes tied to the rear bumper of my car, and a whole lot more. And if I had stayed in local church ministry rather than starting CPYU back in 1991, my list of stuff would be even longer. Not only that, it might have caught up to me as a shift has been made into a more dangerous and litigious culture.

The big youth ministry story here in our central Pennsylvania world is one that features a grand jury indictment handed down last Friday against the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church  in nearby Middletown, and 28-year-old youth pastor Andrew Jordan, who's been charged with false imprisonment and simple assault.

In a nutshell, here's what happened:
Andrew and his youth ministry team decided back on March 21 to devote a Wednesday evening youth meeting to an experiential learning opportunity about missions and the persecution some missionaries face in countries opposed to the Gospel. While the students were meeting, the room went dark and men with flashlights entered the room. Reporter Bernard Harris describes what happened next: "They flipped over chairs, ordered the teens to the floor, covered the teens' heads with pillow cases and bound their wrists with zip ties. The teens were led into the back of a cargo van and driven around before being taken to a windowless, unfinished basement. Once there, the pillowcases were removed. They saw one of their captors holding an assault rifle. Nearby, behind a tarp, the teens overheard the men interrogate their youth pastor. They used power tools to torture him and, when they brought him before the teens, there was blood on his face. But the blood, like the entire incident, was fake. The teens were led to a bonfire where they were told the exercise at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God was intended to show the persecution endured by Christians in other parts of the world."


While some of the kids figured out that what was happening wasn't real, others were deeply traumatized. . . which led to one mother reporting the event to law enforcement authorities. Now, Jordan and his church are facing the possibility of  some rather severe penalties, which could include a prison sentence.


There are lessons here for youth workers. Perhaps the biggest lessons are about how we teach lessons to our students. In a post-Columbine world, we need to be very very careful about experiential learning. Sure, there will be those situations where our students are thrust into unplanned and chaotic situations that God uses in powerful ways. I think of two of my youth pastor friends who were leading youth groups when horrible bus crashes occurred that resulted in devastating injuries and loss of life. But that's not what we're talking about here. We must never throw our kids into contrived risky and difficult situations without advance planning, advance consultation, advance parental permission, and advance explanation. Taking kids through a ropes course, a whitewater rafting experience, or even a missions trip to another country fall into this category. In addition, like the Emergency Broadcast System announcement that "this is a test. . . this is only a test," these more risky experiences like the youth meeting at Glad Tidings Assembly of God should be done (if at all) only after all the advance work and lots of disclaimers so that everyone knows what's really going on. (To be honest, I think there are more effective and deeply meaningful ways to accomplish the goal of educating kids about missions and persecution).

As I look back on my own youth ministry experience there are many things I would do differently. Some of my memories evoke a shaking of my head in disbelief that I could ever have been so foolish. Andrew Jordan's story, my story, and the stories of just about anyone and everyone doing youth ministry issue a clear warning: think, think, think and consult before you act. It really is wiser to ask permission than to ask for forgiveness. 

11 comments:

dglssfrd said...

A scary story, but a good reminder that how learning activities can be misinterpreted.

Chase Knudsen said...

what an idiot. J/K! Andrew had an excellent "idea" but unfortunately like you said Walt, we need to cover all our bases first. Perhaps culture isn't ready for that type of stuff, yet. But in all seriousness there could be a day when persecution comes to our front door in the United States like we hear about over seas? I guess until that day we better stick with dodgeball, better safe than sued. ;)

Anonymous said...

The activity he did to those kids isn't being misinterpreted, it was poorly thought out and shouldn't have happened. You don't try to teach kids (especially those in a youth group) something by unwillingly putting them through possibly the scariest situation in their lives. It was extreme, and should never have taken place. Poor judgement on his part, and now he's being held accountable for a decision he made. Making kids think their going to die is not a learning experience.

austinmccann.com said...

Wow, hate to hear a fellow youth pastor is in this kind of trouble when he had good intentions. I think one of the majors things we can learn here is "parental permission." We need to always tell the parents what's ahead and when we are doing activities.

Kent K said...

wow...i'd leave a comment but i am afraid i may confess to some stupid things stupid i've done and get indicted too! too bad the impression is going to be more about a kid's mom and her rights in our country vs. what the youth guy intended.

Anonymous said...

WOw! I almost don't know what to say. Dumb thing to do without letting the parents into it, YES! But, is the mother of the kid so cold to have the youth guy that has put so many hurs into preparation and thinking about how to help the kids spiritually and become adults that Fear the Lord and do what is right - is beyond my understanding.
Does the Youth guy need a little guidance and maybe even a mentor to bounce off ideas from now on (two heads bathed in prayer think better than on) - I would say YES!
But, hello!! Aren't we suppose to be Christians? Where is the Christian attitude here?

Abram K-J said...

I don't think it matters what the youth pastor intended. ("... paved with good intentions.") Nor was this a good idea, nor is this a matter of misinterpretation. An assault rifle? Pillowcases over their heads? The pillowcases over their heads alone is a safety issue... what if one of the kids had hyperventilated or suffocated?

As far as pedagogy goes, duress and utter fear compromise the learner's ability to learn, so even purely from the standpoint of so-called experiential education, this was poorly executed.

Please, fellow youth pastors... if this doesn't immediately strike you as a bad decision through and through, think long and hard... and pray for the wisdom that God promises to give even the most foolish of us--myself included.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember hearing in the original story the youth whose parent is complaining was a visitor to the youth group that week.

Anonymous said...

Good idea...bad idea..whichever...it definitely yielded poor results. I understand what Andrew wanted to accomplish and also where things went wrong. Either way, keeping the church and Andrew in prayer, can't imagine the fear and remorse he must be having...

Anonymous said...

Regardless of opinions regarding methods etc (and clearly this was a "fail" on many levels)...let's keep Andrew and the church in prayer. I am sure he is experiencing plenty of fear, anxiety, remorse, etc....

Lauri said...

How do you suggest one mentor a youth director?
If the rules say "drive safely" and the youth director says she knows she can drive safely at 15+mph. There's a permission slip and "It's in God's Hands". How do you approach it without sounding like a worrywart?