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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Church Staffs and the Opposite Sex

Lately, I've received a few requests for Westwinds' policy on staff meeting with members of the opposite sex.

In the past few years, I have personally witnessed (people I know) nearly two-dozen marriages fall apart and/or bad things happen because of romances that begin in the workplace. I have been on staff in two places where marital affairs have happened with people on staff. I have had a half-dozen close friends confess affairs that began in the workplace or while on staff at a church or para-church organization.

It's a problem everywhere--not just the church. But, let's face it--we are in the people business. Caring for them. Listening to them. Spending time together. Planning together. Celebrating together. Close contact. It's a . . . ahem . . . "hotbed" of temptation and potential danger.

In the last 6 months, I have personally counseled 4 couples (not on our staff) whose marriages are in turmoil or ending because of relationships fostered between a spouse and an "old friend" on Facebook. Every one of them began "innocent." Two began when the people were starting conversations about Jesus.

Last month, a fellow pastor friend of mine had a musician in the church catch the worship pastor (a woman) having sex in the church nursery with one of the men musicians before corporate worship began that Sunday morning. I want to throw up as I type this.

Below is our policy. It might help you. At least start conversation. But, your church will not fix any problems based on a policy. Safeguarding comes with conversation, prayer, accountability, question asking, and NEVER allowing anyone to think they are beyond making bad choices.

The following guidelines are to be used for the staff of Westwinds when meeting/communicating with the opposite sex.

1. Please make arrangements to meet on site at the church if a meeting requires a one on one scenario.

2. If a one on one meeting occurs, make sure you meet in an area visible to everyone i.e. not behind closed doors.

3. If a quiet environment is deemed necessary, please meet in a space where the door can be cracked open OR the door has a window in it.

4. If a meeting MUST be arranged off-site, please take the following steps:
a. Let another staff member know the meeting is taking place
b. Call your spouse if married to make them aware of the meeting
c. Meet in a public space where there is a crowd—coffee shop, restaurant, etc.

5. If you find yourself trying to “bend the rules,” you may have a problem you want to make someone aware of and seek counsel.

6. The fist-bump and the side-hug are your friends. There should never be any full-on frontal hugs. We believe Jesus likes hugs. We also believe most men like them—a lot.

7. Be careful not to establish ongoing counseling relationships with anyone in a one on one scenario. Encourage meeting in threes. Even fours. Sometimes, we have seasons of ongoing counseling but be wise.

8. Facebook and Twitter and other social networking are wonderful tools for ministry and also carry a high degree of potential danger for relationships to bloom into something unhealthy. Be careful of direct messages and “secret” messages.

9. At any time, an accountable staff member should be able to read what you have written to anyone in an email, Facebook message, Twitter, etc. unless it is a private family matter. Be careful of your wording.

10. Be careful of gift giving. Appreciation is encouraged but the types of gifts you send communicate something. Make your spouse aware of any opposite sex gifts and, if possible, make a staff member aware of the gift.

11. Touching, laying on of hands, and praying are biblical. Touching! Laying on of hands! and preying are not. Don’t be an idiot. A general rule of thumb is this: If you like it, (in that special way) do not do it. Ask yourself if you would hold hands and pray with the ugly smelly person in the same way as the pretty yummy smelling one.

12. Your cell phone contact list should be shared with your spouse and possibly a staff member.

13. When traveling from one place to another, travel in groups when at all possible. In the rare circumstance where you need to travel alone with the opposite sex, let a staff member know and let your spouse know about the travel, duration, and destination. Trips that are out of Jackson are frowned upon. We are stopping just shy of saying trips out of Jackson are prohibited.

14. Never shall a staff member attend any meeting, conference, or gathering overnight with someone of the opposite sex unless they are married.

15. In a rare circumstance where a staff member is engaged to be married and is traveling out of town with their spouse-to-be for a Westwinds related event, separate sleeping arrangements must be made and communicated. This is not in an effort to be the sin police, but rather to minimize fallout that affects us all.

16. No counseling of the opposite sex is to ever happen alone at Westwinds. Ask a staff member to stay longer if need be. If you are left alone in the building, end or reschedule your meeting.

17. Be willing to fess-up to any mild crushes, infatuations, etc. with a trusted staff member. These things happen and should be dealt with. Confess and ask for accountability. Coriolis is always available to help you through these things.

18. When emailing the opposite sex (or any written communication) in regard to a serious, relational, or potentially volatile situation, please consider having a staff member or your spouse proofread the letter. Again, this is about full disclosure. Quick emails in regard to serving opportunities, scheduling, etc. are not the potential problem. Be more concerned with ongoing written counsel or communication of a nature that may leave room for infatuations to blossom.

19. Learn to communicate love and appreciation for someone in ways that include the whole group--everyone. For instance:
a. Constantly telling the opposite sex you love and appreciate them is not “bad” but it isn’t wise. “WE ALL love you and appreciate you” comes off WAY different.
b. Consider thanking someone’s spouse at the same time you thank him or her. “Dear “Madame X”, thank you so much for the time you spent cleaning the studios! We love your dedication! Please thank your husband “Guy who doesn’t know I sent this letter” for holding down the fort at home while you served here. You are both heroes!”
c. “Here is a gift card for you! I hope you and your wife enjoy a great night out on the town!” Sounds way better then, “Go buy yourself something nice. You deserve it!”

20. Be careful of compliments regarding others’ appearance. It is not inappropriate (necessarily) to tell someone they look nice or their new haircut is styling, but be careful of falling in to these patterns. Ask yourself, “do I say this in order to impress this person or get a response in return?”

21. Avoid talk of a playful yet “innocent” nature. “Now that is sexy!” or “Bow chicka wow, check YOU out!” sound funny and may even be hyperbole (or a way to tease) on your part but leave room for misinterpretation as well as establishing a comfort level with using words that are usually reserved for married couples.

22. Be careful and practice full accountable disclosure when working on long-term projects with the opposite sex. Projects have the ability to stir unhealthy feelings towards another. It is possible to enter a project completely innocent and serve in the name of Jesus and come out on the other side with an unhealthy attraction. This is also true of crisis situations.

23. Be careful of counseling those in broken relationships. Your love and compassionate ear will be foreign to them and feelings for you may develop. This will make you feel good about yourself and probably think more highly of yourself then you should.

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