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Restoring Relationships

hearts′ empath ♥ brick-red ♥ brecciated jasper & black hematite stylized as an aphrodisiac silphion seed overdubbed by a tricolor broken-hearts-symbol ಌ

It’s February, when a young man’s fancy is led toward relationships, especially the romantic kind. Okay it’s mainly by the media. But let me touch a subject that will not only help a romantic relationship, but hopefully go beyond that, to every relationship. And since I’m writing to youth workers let me speak in the context of youth ministry. The beauty of a relationship goes beyond how it begins to how it endures.  This is all about restoring right relationships.

Many youth groups I know are at first glance a tight-knit community but the youth worker who knows the group may feel the tensions that are invisible to the outsider. Every community is a group of imperfect people coming together, which means that as the youth group grows and evolves relationships strain. They sometimes break.

Teens, especially, can be emotionally volatile. A phrase wrongly worded could be misinterpreted as an insult. Annoying ways while playing a friendly sport could turn into a full-blown fight…or worse. The point is we sin against others and relationships are broken. The youth group may be keeping deep emotions of anger and resentment beneath the surface.

This is bound to happen in any group short of perfection. But in Christ Jesus, there is a way for repentant sinners to be restored into beautiful relationships.

First off, we need to take a closer look at ourselves.

As youth leaders we ourselves will not be immune to chaotic relationships. Indeed the pressures of ministry may make leaders more prone to the temptation to hurt others. But one way we can lead the charge of preserving and restoring right relationships is to acknowledge this fact in ourselves and have the humility to indeed show that you are also a sinner. A sinner on the path of repentance.

Says Paul David Tripp,

“One of the ways I preach the Gospel is declaring my own need for it. And that can be done casually. I was talking to my 17-year-old son recently. I felt I’d been impatient with him. And I said: “It’s not going to be any surprise to you that I’m going to say I’m a sinner.” Well he laughed at that, because I also said: “You have a robust experience of the same.” Then I said, “You know there are times when I think of myself more than you, and last night was one of those times.” And he said, “I do the same thing with you Dad, and I forgive you.” After that exchange there was a warmth between us.

I think the same attitude of being humble and repentant can work wonders not only between parent and child but also for the youth worker with our relationships with our fellow peers and even those youth under our care.

We also need to look up. For God gives great priority to relationships. Christ Jesus says in the Gospel (Matt. 5:23-24):

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Translating this in the present day: If you are in the midst of worship and realize that you have offended [insert the name of a member of the youth group here]—stop your worship, make peace with him/her and then you can worship.

I would say that our relationships with others affect our relationship with God too.  Therefore, as youth leaders, helping your youth in mending their relationships will be very important to your ministry. So I pray you urge your youth to practice this, even as you model it in your life: If we are the ones in the wrong—make it a priority and run to forgiveness.

But what if we are the offended party?

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. ~Matthew. 18:15-17

Go…” says the passage, telling us that we should begin the process that will lead to forgiveness even if we are the ones wronged. Not to offer forgiveness before a person owns up to wrongdoing, but rather to help one to realize that sin has occurred and lead both toward a restored relationship. What is necessary for that to happen is the courage of the offended party to confront his offender.

Too often, many misunderstandings and offenses reach the youth group (or the church) at large first, even before the person accused hears about it. Not because the one in the wrong refused to listen but because the one who felt the wrong did not have the courage to approach the other in a brotherly manner. And may have expressed his feelings to others…who told it to others. So if we are the ones wronged—still we should make it a priority that forgiveness be given a chance.

Sometimes though youth ministers have the unenviable role of being the mediator as one or both the people involved may not make the first step.

In this case–courage, wisdom and love is required in dealing with reconciliation. In situations like these, the sooner you bring people to the point of listening to one another the easier it will be to restore right relationship. For the purpose is always to gain a brother.

Our partner, the church, should not be forgotten in this. It is the last resort, usually when the problem is too big to handle and this takes the form of bringing the concerns to your immediate superior. We may be in charge of the youth but we don’t have all the answers to some problems and sometimes we may have to turn things over to people who are trained to handle these.

Let me say that this role as I have described here, the youth worker as a restorer of youth relationships is a great responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. Still, there is great joy to be found in it. Some time ago I was able to help two friends come to meet and discuss their differences and though the meeting did not end in agreement, there was a friendship preserved. One phrase stuck in my mind that later caused me to break down with tears, for I thought of Jesus saying these words to me: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”

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