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Of Love and Youth

I know it’s past February. So why is this article still about love? Well, I’m trying to address a problem.

Yes, February is the most natural time to talk too youth about love and relationships particularly with those of the opposite gender. There is no problem with that, what is problematic is that this topic usually only happens in February, if at all. What do I mean? The teenage years are when the child’s body, mind and emotions move to another stage of relating with the opposite sex. This will be the time of first love, of social and emotional awkwardness, and of experiences that could shape a person for a lifetime. Some of us may have forgotten it (that’s how traumatic it was) but try to remember that period in your past to get an idea of what the youth of today might be going through. Not only that developmental psychologists classify love and developing committed relationships as a milestone in the life of even young adults. In other words youth are the ones who need guidance and answers to questions about love and relationships the most.

Chap Clark read hundreds of studies of adolescent sexuality and then went and talked to groups of young people. He found that that for teenagers these issues were central, catastrophic and yet virtually ignored by academics and even those who work directly with youth.1 How about you? When was the last time you tackled this topic (outside of February)? And are we really engaging the hearts of our young people?

Because if we do not engage and answer satisfyingly the questions they are asking they will get their answers elsewhere. Typically, part of what a young person knows on this topic comes from observing and listening to others. This could be adults or their parents. This could come from relatives, friends and acquaintances. And in this information age, many are very much influenced by what they read and listen to: television, movies and the internet. In the process they could obtain a view of love and relationships opposed to the Biblical view.

And this problem becomes obvious one way or another as it affects not only the individual but their families and relationships as well. As I’ve ministered to young people and youth leaders I have found that of the many problems encountered in youth ministry, the majority trace their roots to this: our young people are believing the lies of love and relationship that the world is telling them.

To take on this topic here are some steps to consider:

  1. Go deep into the Bible to discover what God says about love. The Bible speaks and addresses the deep issues of the heart beyond the popular ways the world has come to think of it. But more often than not when these matters are discussed in the church, the conversation gets redirected to our love for God. But perhaps our strategy should be not moving away from these things but by discussing them. Use this area to point to Christ even as you address the needs of young people. And the Bible has a lot of practical things to say about human relationships as well.2 Yes, the world may have grown more complicated but the Bible still speaks to every situation we could possibly encounter on this issue and I pray we get our guiding principles from what it tells us.
  2. Understand the environment your youth are living in. We may be well versed in God’s thoughts on love and relationship but severely underestimate what the world is telling our youth. This is no longer our parent’s generation. Technological changes, globally connected cultures and information available 24/7 have created a horde of situations older generations or even older youth leaders have never dealt with. We must try to understand what life is bringing them in this area so that they will be able to effectively apply God’s Word to it.
  3. If you do your research you will quickly see that there is a deep divide between what God is saying in his Word and what is happening in the world of young people. Our role is to bridge that divide. Here are some practical ways we can do that:
    • Create an environment where it is safe to talk about love, relationships and all the things that young people normally talk about.
    • Leaders should walk their talk. Our words should reflect the actions of our leaders.
    • Emphasize love and relationships throughout the year, not only in February.

Finally, understand that we ourselves have the need to love and be loved. One reason that the emotional lives of young people are not dealt with is that we have not come to terms with this part of our life. By the percentages, this is an area where many of us are weak.3 We don’t have to be perfect in this area, in fact when we are open and share with discretion (for this is an area where we need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves) God can use our story. Paul testified: “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor. 12:7-9) Like him we too can highlight, in our struggles, the power of Christ upon us.

 

References:

  1. As stated in his Chap Clark’s book Hurt: Inside the World of Teenagers
  2. See for example Tim Keller’s discussion on what the Bible has to say about sex.
  3. You can check out statistics here.

 

This post is taken from the Youth Connection, a series of leadership articles we email once every two months to graduates of our trainings, if you want to be on the list sign-up here.

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