What You Can Do
Love can be very confusing - especially for young people. Their music and their movies are always making suggestions about love - how to conduct the pursuit for love, when is it really love, what are the joys and pain of love. Young people are searching for guidance regarding the ways of love. Churches that choose to not respond to issues of love, dating, intimacy often stand the risk of missing one of the acute needs of developing adolescents. The challenge for us to define love is further complicated by a common cultural definition that often equates love with physical intimacy. Here is the statistics (from the Spring 1999 edition of Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner):
- 56% of women and 73% of men have become sexually active before their 18th birthday.
- About 25% of sexually experience teens become infected with a Sexually Transmitted Disease/ Infection each year.
- 1 Million teens becomes pregnant each year, resulting in 14% intended birth, 37% unintended birth, 35% abortion and 14% miscarriage.
Young People need to hear our church’s message in the same light that disciples heard the challenge on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35) As were the disciples (24:17), today’s youth have moments of being heartbroken (they stood still, their faces downcast) regarding love relationships. Breakup, jealously, embarrassment, regrets are all part of the learning and growing process of developing intimate relationships. Not unlike Emmaus-bound disciples, today’s young people have enough information to make them sick to their stomachs regarding intimacy and love. The previous mentioned statistics are often replayed for young people to provide momentary pause/heartburn to young people in love and/or their parents. Nonetheless, if churches are only about addressing the heartbrokenness of young people or encouraging their heartburn, they have missed the implications of the Emmaus walk. Jesus after listening to the tale of the disciples helped to make sense of their story. He made so much sense; the disciples concluded their day by describing their hearts as burning within them. (24:32)
Effective ministry with young people who are in dating relationships works at encouraging young people to recognize that their own "hearts burning" experiences are mere hints of the love that God has for them.
Ideas for Program Leaders:
- Invite young people to evangelize their dates as well as their friends by bringing them to church activities. There are not many places in the adolescent world that are perceived as "date-friendly." That list might include a movie theater, a school dance or sporting activity, or a house left unsupervised by working or busy adults. Should not your church and your church activities be on that informal list of places that are teen-tested and teen-approved as an o.k. place to bring a date?
- Establish standards of behavior for couples at your events. Make clear that these standards are developed out of respect for the other participants as well as assuring that everyone will be able to participate fully and freely throughout the program. A common rule of thumb might be that of "what would be acceptable at the grandparent’s dinner table."
- Remind your peer leaders that church youth programs are often a safe, fun, and inexpensive way to have parent approved double dates or group date. It is also a great way to introduce new members to your group or church.
- Participants should be discouraged from overt or extended public displays of affection. They should be mindful to not exclusively monopolize one another’s time or attention as well. When planning icebreakers or warmer activities, endeavor to be sensitive to games that might near or cross someone’s boundaries for physical space or emotional maneuvering. Games that model inappropriate flirting behaviors or question persuasion tactics should be avoided even in the name of fun.
Ideas for Skills Development:
- Communication workshops can be an attractive program alternative for a youth ministry program. Be attentive to the differences in communication patterns between men and women. There are many popular mainstream, as well as Christian published materials, addressing the differences between Mars and Venus.
- Expressing and Understanding Feelings Appropriately can often be a skill that young people need a safe place to practice. When this activity takes the form of a game or role-play, it provides a neutral opportunity for trusted adults and peers to provide feedback and positive critique. In addition, it allows participants opportunity to attempt to "read" the emotions of another.
- Manners and Etiquette are still used, if not often taught or discussed, today. A workshop that emphasizes simple "please and thank you" might build off a workshop on Prayer which would include forms of petition and thanksgiving. Respect for each other demands our ability to show it and give it. Eye Contact is part of good communication. Handshakes have their origins in battle opponents showing each other that they are unarmed. There is logic to the layout of silverware and reasons why we have napkins on our laps. Young people can come to appreciate standards of behavior if they understand societal expectations. Many of these are skills and most all skills can be taught, practice, and coached on a step-by-step basis.
- For young people who are dating while active in your church activities, the question might arise as to the right way or Christian way to break - up. Young people need to have information to assist them in assessing the appropriateness of their dating choices. Chap Clark, in "Next Time I fall in Love," suggests that young people work on maintaining a sense of equal intimacy in choices of emotions, time, physical touch, information regarding facts and feelings shared, and commitment.
Ideas for Programming:
- Here is a discussion starting point for a parent meeting regarding young people and dating. Ask parents to remember back to an early, positive, significant, or meaningful experience of touch - holding hands, a kiss, walking arm-in-arm - while dating. (This is a great discussion started I have used with Catholic educators- some of the older nuns that I have addressed really enjoy it!) In small groups have them briefly answer the following questions by offering them on a one-by-one basis:
1. If I had a time machine and took a picture of the moment of which you are thinking, please describe that picture with only facts and details, no emotions.
2. Please describe three feeling words that you had at that moment.
3. Briefly tell the story
4. Describe what made that touch positive, significant, or meaningful
- If your group is like most groups there will be many faces warmed with happy memories. Tell the group that you are moving on to the next activity. Ask the group to write a headline for your church newspaper. Headlines are very brief and succinct. The headline must be related to our church's message related to teens, dating, love, and sex. No discussion- just immediate brainstorms give quickly. There should be a noticeable mood change. Headlines might include "Don't Do It"; "Save Sex"; and "Wait." The remainder of the evening discussion might be related to the incongruity between our own experiences and our message towards the next generation? In addition, the Emmaus example at the beginning of the chapter might be expanded as a challenge for our church's role in sex education.
- How can your church become involved in Senior Proms or other annual formal and semi formal socials? Do you have church services available before or the next day and highlight their participation? Do you sponsor or cooperate with civic sponsored post prom celebrations? Do you help to organize group dates for many members, if appropriate to the school’s prom program? Do you develop alternative for young people who choose not to attend proms - perhaps a sit down dinner without the expense of the formal clothing and the rest? Can you host alternative programming for younger students such a non-prom or a morp (prom spelled backwards)?
- Movies are full of stories of love and passion. Unfortunately, many young people only see love and passion in rated R or NC-17 scenes. What are examples of sacrificial love in the movies? Perhaps a movie discussion series would provide opportunities to expand the definitions of what is love and what is passion. It would be advisable to limit selections to under PG-13 level without parental consent. Mix in oldies and the classics with more familiar modern movies.
- World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1 every year. Many commemorate a "Day without Arts" to remember so many in the artistic community who have been impacted by this disease. Could members of your faith community commit to a day of not using arts (television, radio, theater, and non-school printed materials)? A prayer service might be appropriate for your community. It might be fitting to wear red ribbons during programming efforts or to do an educational program for young people and their families on this day.
- For an intergenerational program, invite parents to schedule dates with their young people for various programs. Schedule a Father-Daughter event or a Mother-Son event. Always make sure to have a back-up listing of trusted and safe adults to step in for young people who have family situations that might prevent their participation. A candlelight dinner or a weekend morning brunch, a speaker, a prayer service, a dance, or any merger of the above might be very appealing to families.
- Valentines Day is another holiday for romantics. Fund-raisers that are designed to deliver valentine’s cards, singing telegrams or sweets could be popular for the entire church community. While these efforts are not meant towards competing with the culture, they do allow a church activity to seem relevant or even redefine a culturally traditional activity.
- True Love Waits is an international campaign designed to challenge students to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. Hundreds of thousands of students have pledged: "Believing that rue love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship." Invite young people together for an extended evening discussing sexual decision making and close with the commitment cards as part of a prayer service. Encourage the young person with a keepsake of the event and displaying their commitments in a public setting.
- As a faith community, take opportunities to celebrate commitments for chastity, honoring the gift of one’s sexuality by avoiding sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Young people need to see the model of single young adults who do not live a Melrose Place lifestyle and married couples who honor their commitments to one another.
Ideas for Expanding Awareness:
- At times of high activity, enjoyment, or significance, remind participants that your activities are drug free/sober activities and that this is always the wisest choice for other non-church free time activities and dates.
- Many communities have a crisis pregnancy center available to them. Consider volunteer/service opportunities for your young people as well as fund raising to support their efforts. These sites are often a source for speakers as well.
- Dating violence continues to be an often under addressed issue for young people. Both male and females preparing to date should understand the "Power and Control" dynamics prevalent in violent relationships. Domestic Violence shelters as well as law enforcement personnel might be helpful in this regard.