This Online Article and Training was written by a guest writer, Rebecca Hastings. Rebecca has been the Student Ministry Girls Associate at Shades Mountain Baptist Church since 2018. She has a heart for seeing teenagers understand their identity in Christ and take ownership of their faith. She loves doing relational ministry as she also helps execute the every day of the student ministry world. Rebecca loves to hang out with her friends while drinking coffee or eating delicious food, watch movies, and enjoy the occasional beautiful days of Alabama weather. She is currently engaged to her best friend and cannot wait to see where life takes them after they get married in October!
Relationships are easy, right? That's why everyone has different types of relationships, and we talk about them all the time! Let’s be honest. Are relationships easy to navigate? Not so much. Are they navigable? Absolutely! Think about the students that you work with regularly. Do they handle relationships well? I would guess that a lot of them do not, but I cannot blame them. The older I get, the wiser I become, which is why we need to share this wisdom with our students! So, what do these students need to know when it comes to walking through relationships well?
Students need to recognize that communication is key.
“He didn’t even tell me!” “Why is she getting so emotional over that? It’s not a big deal!” “They are always doing fun things together but never include me. I just feel on the outside.” How many times do we hear comments like the ones above? After years of feeling this way about so many situations in life, I have found that I need to ask one question: “What is taking place on the other side of the situation?” What was the guy’s motivation behind not telling the girl who he was assigned to for a class project? Maybe the girl is getting emotional over the situation because it triggered something negative that happened in her past. Is there a reason the friends have not been inviting the student? Students tend to get stuck in the mindset that they are being slighted because the other person is doing the wrong, but the truth is it is a two-way street. Everyone receives and responds to information in different ways from one another. Without acknowledging that not everyone thinks the same way they do, students begin to make assumptions about the motivations of the other person. We need to encourage our students to engage in communication even when it is not easy, or they do not want to. In order to move forward in relationships, students need to ask about the other side of the story. Communication is key to having a healthy relationship of any sort, but our students are afraid to engage in it more often than not.
Students need to understand how to handle conflict and confrontation.
Conflict and confrontation are not easy for teenagers, just as it is not easy for adults! Even if it is not easy to do, Christ calls us to confront our brothers and sisters in Christ and to lean into conflict. More often than not, students will talk about the difficulties they are having with their friends and how they do not know what to do about it. I will typically ask, "Have you talked to them about it?" and many times, their response is they have not. They want the problem to be solved, but they don't know what next steps to take. What I have come to learn is that in our hurt, we want to defend ourselves and not admit where we were wrong. Our pride spills over, and we want to blame everyone else. What does Jesus tell us in Matthew 7:1-5? He teaches that we first need to examine the wrong in ourselves before we point out what everyone else is doing because let's be real, we know how much of a sinner we are. We need to encourage students to first look at who they have been in the situation and where they have fallen short. Once they can acknowledge their own sin and where they fell short, then they can go to the other person involved and humbly work through the situation. An important factor in this conversation is showing students they need to admit when they were wrong in the situation. Students also need to be careful not to point fingers the entire time; rather, they can talk about how it made them feel and how to humbly move forward and get on the same page.
Students need to remember where they receive their identity – in Christ.
Guys. Girls. Social media. Movies. Music. Books. They all influence the minds of our students and what they believe matters. They believe their bodies have to look this perfect way to be liked or even noticed. They believe they must act a certain way to be seen as someone who is datable. Their interests have to be in whatever is considered cool at the time, even if they really don’t care about it. They try to perform in a certain manner or make specific accomplishments to be seen and praised. Why do our students (and even ourselves) do this? So they can feel seen or make them feel loved. They cover themselves in Band-Aids to make them feel or look better, but in reality, it is just temporary. When identity is in the wrong source, they will never feel enough or like they finally made it; there is always something more. Our students need to understand they are loved by God, no matter how messed up, shameful, and not enough they feel. In Jeremiah 31:3, God is telling the Israelites that he is going to restore Israel after they have been in exile from their homeland for 70 years. The Israelites had messed up, put other things before Him, and served other gods, so they had to walk in the consequences of their actions and motivations. But God did not leave them. He still loved them and wanted them to be restored to Him. God tells them that he loves them and is going to rebuild Israel! Our students need to see that we are like Israel. God calls us to Him, but so many times, we worship things in place of God, which throws off our identity. Our students need to know that God has chosen them and is pursuing them –they just need to surrender to His eternal, steadfast, and redeeming love. We desire steadfast love, knowing that someone is there, cares, and wants to invest in who we are. We desire to feel loved, but that desire will never feel complete until we let the source of that love be found in the one who created it – God and God alone. Once they can understand that, they will be able to walk in a relationship more freely, knowing their identity is in Christ because He is the one that knows them fully.
Students need to know their relationship status is not the end all be all.
Whether they are single or dating, interested in a romantic relationship, or completely repelled by it, students need to know their relationship status does not define them. Each stage of life brings its own excitements and difficulties, but all too often, we long for what we do not have. During this month of February and even when relationships are the hot topic, remind your students it is okay to be single because it is a gift from the Lord as well. If they are not interested in relationships right now, that is okay too! Let’s encourage our students to be where they are in their current moment and stage of life.
Students need to know their ministers are human, just like them.
Have you ever been in a conversation with a student knowing the choices they are making and how it is affecting their life, but they will not admit it to you? How often is it because we are the "set apart and perfect" ministers who "don't struggle or act out in sin"? We need to remind students that we are human too! Living in this world is hard, and we mess up all the time. If we are not honest with students about our life, then they are not going, to be honest in return. Students typically will share information on one level of transparency below what you share. If we share at a level 5 of transparency, they will probably share at a level 4. If we share only a little bit of transparency, how can we expect them to feel comfortable and confident sharing with us? Of course, we need to use discretion over the specifics that we share, but it is good to remind them that we are also sinners and do not judge them for what they are struggling with in life. May we create a space where students feel comfortable talking about their life, and may we point them back to the cross as we navigate relationships in this world.