Dating: 3 Tips for Shepherding Students

You remember the girlfriend or boyfriend you had in high school, right? he one you were going to marry and live happily ever after with? Did it happen? If so, then congrats!

However, if it didn’t happen, then you are probably in the majority of adults who had high school relationships. Either way, your ministry students in relationships are in the thick of finding “The One” before they graduate, and chances are there will be ups and downs along the way. Let’s look at how these dating relationships can influence your ministry. 

#1 Communication 

Communication is a broad word, but for good reason. The ways in which we communicate with students who are dating can be just as broad. When we teach in a large group, in small groups, in classes, or during one-on-one discipleship, we communicate to students who are in dating relationships, and we need to be aware of them. Their dating relationships aren’t off limits for biblical insights and instructions. 

This, of course; does not mean that we should try to break up students or call them out when we have good insight for them, but we should always be mindful of those relationships in times of study and teaching. Being mindful of those relationships will help us speak truth into those areas of our students’ lives in a way that will hopefully begin to shape their biblical views of dating and marriage.  

I personally think of the students in our ministry who are dating while trying to formulate series on love or relationships or when developing illustrations to communicate a biblical insight. Simply being aware of these relationships help us shepherd our students well during our teaching ministry. 

This, of course; does not mean that we should try to break up students or call them out when we have good insight for them, but we should always be mindful of those relationships in times of study and teaching.

#2 Breaking Up 

I don’t know if you’ve done this, but I know I have. A student has a recent break-up, and they are upset. Being a good student minister you ask them, “Hey, how are things? You need to talk about something?” So far, so good. Then they unload an elaborate breakup story about the ending of this amazing three-week relationship, to which you simply respond by saying, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” And then you go on with your day as if you just solved all their problems. 

I know, I know, that’s terrible, but we all know it happens. When we run a student ministry, trying to find a balance with our families, and anticipating the next church drama to deal with, we think of these break-ups as something so small and insignificant. 

This is not so in the mind of a student. They were bought in to that relationship, for some, in sinful ways. They gave themselves away in ways they might never have back. They bore all to someone else to be given nothing in return, feeling empty and hopeless. Their minds and hearts rush with emotions from what others think of them, to what God thinks of them. It is during this time when some sweet ministry can take place. Break-ups are times of vulnerability when a student is in need of the gospel message and the satisfaction that only Christ offers. The death of that relationship can be an opportunity for new life or growth in their relationship with God.  

#3 Same-Sex Relationships 

I bring this one in at number 3 because it is a growing reality in our ministries, even in rural Oklahoma. This is an interesting issue because of all the culture wars being fought over same-sex relationships, but if there is one thing needed to address this issue, it is education. A lack of education on this issue can be theologically unfaithful, and can lead to a lack of compassion.  

First, there are some amazing books to help youth pastors understand and respond to those in same-sex relationships. For a quick theological understanding of homosexuality and the Bible, Kevin DeYoung’s book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality is a quick and concise read. Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue reminds readers that same-sex relationships are not just an issue, but rather involve real flesh and blood, image bearers of God, human people. Mark Yarhouse also offers a look into the emotional aspects of same-sex relationships in Homosexuality and the Christian

In addition, youth pastors should have conversations with students in same-sex relationships or with those who might struggle with same-sex attraction to get a robust understanding of what is going on. Then from these areas of education comes a biblical, wise, and compassionate response to students dealing with same-sex relationships, which is how we all want to communicate.  

Current dating trends and habits might have changed since you dated, but if we stay tuned in with our students who are dating, remain compassionate during break-ups, and educate ourselves on the growing sexual revolution, by God’s grace we can shepherd our students through a formative process.

About The Author: Andrew Harper

Andrew is the husband to Amber, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the student pastor at First Baptist church of Altus, OK. He spends his time reading, drinking coffee, and schooling students in ping pong. His goal is to see students find their place in the mission of God.