Love Is In The Air
My experiences in youth ministry over the years have convinced me of the great need for solid biblical teaching in the areas of love, sex, and dating. Tragically, young Christians are exposed to almost no appropriate biblical teaching in these areas. They are, however, almost constantly fed from television, movies, music, and even school a steady secular diet of misinformation about sexuality and relationships.
Most reputable youth leaders must decide at some point or another how to handle the ripple effect of love blooming in the youth group. What should a teacher/leader do when a couple gets too touchy-feely during the Wednesday night Bible study? How do you minister to a young person who has just experienced a breakup? What happens when youth group members start taking sides with a dumper or the dumped? How do you minister to students you know have already gone physically too far in their relationships?
Honestly, there are no easy answers or standard procedures that can remedy these real-life situations. But there are some broad principles that can help a youth leader or teacher minister with grace and care when it comes to these difficult-to-handle topics.
Do Some Body Building
One of the most important attitudes that can be fostered in students is the concept of the body of Christ. Adolescents—especially middle schoolers—feel a great deal of worry about whether they measure up, fit in, or are really accepted. A youth Sunday school class, student ministry worship service, or Bible-study group should help to develop a body-of-Christ mentality in the students. Some body-of-Christ characteristics that must be emphasized include accepting and encouraging one another, breaking down cliques, loving the less fortunate, and bearing one another’s burdens.
By drawing attention to these concepts, you’ll help your group become centered on ministering to all members instead of to just the good-looking cheerleader or the handsome football player. Guys may begin to see the young ladies in the class not as potential dates but rather as their sisters in the Lord. By the way, teaching students to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ goes a long way toward curtailing a lot of potential relationship problems. I’ve often reminded guys, “Would you want a guy talking that way about your real sister?” Or I’ve asked a girl, “Would you want some girl to break your little brother’s heart?” Teaching students to relate to one another as family can certainly limit some of the rogue hormones and fatal attractions. Youth group events may be more group oriented and less couple oriented.
Remember Preventative Maintenance
When your car engine blows up because you forgot to check the oil level, it’s too late. When your chimney catches on fire because you didn’t get it cleaned last spring, there’s nothing you can do. One of the best measures to prevent these kinds of problems is regular, preventive maintenance.
Likewise, the best way to reduce the difficult situations that can arise when love is blooming in your student ministry is to do some preventive maintenance. Young people need to be taught biblical principles about love, dating, and sex. Teenagers need more than just the “thou shalt nots.” They need practical help to find nonsexual ways to say I love you, avoid harsh breakups, learn how to like themselves, and figure out how to ask for or decline a date. Students need help filtering out the sexual messages they’re bombarded with every day. Good preventive maintenance should include providing students (and their parents) with books, videos, and sound biblical teaching that will give them a fighting chance in this terribly unhealthy world.
Don’t Do This Alone, and Keep Parents in the Loop
If you’re going to teach, talk, share, discuss, or engage the topics of sexuality, PDA (public displays of affection), lust, love, dating, breakups, etc., don’t go out there on your own. You probably need to have this objective reviewed and approved by your lead pastor, Christian education board, church elders, or whoever you answer to. Remember, no pastor likes surprises.
One of the lessons I learned early was to value, involve, and encourage parental engagement in almost every aspect of our student ministry. When possible, be sure to secure the approval and endorsement of parents for their children to participate in the sessions. Be certain that you and those who assist you in student ministry are in every way mature enough to present and process this kind of material with distinction and good taste. Let parents know they’re welcome to these gatherings. Ask a few married couples who can communicate well to help you teach the series. Let parents know via social media, newsletters, phone calls, etc., that you’ll be addressing these important topics.
Perhaps no other topic in student ministry merits parental endorsement and validation more than this one. The ask-for-forgiveness-later approach would likely be catastrophic in this arena. Truthfully, parents should be handling these important and delicate issues more than student pastors and volunteers should, but sadly, that’s often not the case. Youth ministry icon Les Christie says it best: “By involving parents in ministry we can introduce them to the concept of teaching their children the faith and show them practical methods of carrying out their responsibilities. . . . The more parents are involved in your youth ministry, the less criticism you’ll receive.” [i]
Never Underestimate Unconditional Love
When teenagers know you genuinely love them, you can say almost anything to them and they’ll receive it. When young people know you’re sincerely interested in their best, they’ll be more open to your advice, encouragement, or caution. When an unmarried young lady is faced with pregnancy, unconditional love is the only appropriate response. When an eighth-grade boy feels rejected and useless because his girlfriend found another guy, only unconditional love seems to help.
It’s easy to dismiss a broken-hearted sixteen-year-old by thinking it’s only puppy love. But keep in mind that puppy love is a huge deal to the puppy! When puppy love is abounding in your student ministry or class, understand that your unconditional love as teacher, mentor, and friend is a wonderful gift. By showing the unconditional love of Christ, you elevate your students’ understanding of what real love is.
Randall Parris, DMin, currently serves the Church of God International Department of Youth and Discipleship as the discipleship and leadership development coordinator, and he also teaches youth ministry classes at Lee University. He loves training emerging leaders, equipping student pastors, and developing effective Christian education teachers. Randall and his wife, Rhonda, have two teenage children, Clay and Alysse, who daily remind them why youth ministry matters.
[i] Christie, Les. How to Recruit and Train Volunteer Youth Workers: Reaching More Kids with Less Stress. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1992, pg. 77.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.