Relationships. This is a topic that, as a youth pastor, you’ve probably discussed with your students more times than you can even count. Teenagers often find themselves in a season of searching for relationships. They may be looking for a dating relationship, or simply a friendship with someone who “understands them.” Why are relationships so important to discuss? What types of relationships should we be guiding our students towards?

Relationships Are Biblical

The first stop on our journey to creating healthy relationships is our relationship with God. Proverbs 18:24 says, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It’s often difficult for teenagers to understand having a “relationship” with God. In my (almost) 6 years of youth ministry, I’ve gotten questions like:

 “How can I have a relationship with someone I can’t even see?”
 “How do I know God is listening when I talk to Him?”
 “How can I talk to someone that I never hear talk back to me?”
A true relationship with God stems from a real encounter with God. Just like in earthly relationships, you don’t develop a friendship with a person without meeting them first. An encounter with God doesn’t have to happen during an incredible youth service or an amazing worship song. I’ve had some of the realest encounters with God on my way to work, when I’m in my car and it’s just me and God. I know that I have a solid thirty minutes to talk with Him. We need to encourage our students to really set themselves up to have one-on-one time with God. Once they get to know Him and experience His love, their other relationships will follow suit.

Wordly Relationships vs. Spiritual Relationships

This is the part that teenagers rarely like to discuss, but it’s often what is standing in the way of good relationships. Growing up, I had several friends from school that I loved hanging out with. We liked the same music, shared the same tastes in clothes and, in general, had a lot in common. Then, I had a few friends from my youth group. I never really hung out with those friends outside of church. What I found was that the friends I had the most in common with often didn’t encourage me to make good decisions. Why? Because they didn’t really care about my relationship with God. They didn’t care if decisions I made caused me to stumble in my walk with Christ. The friendships that I developed with the Christ-focused teenagers at my church ended up being some of the most real friendships I’ve ever had. Those were friends that would pray with me and give me advice based on what the Bible said. Those were also friends that would call me out when I was headed in a direction that wasn’t pointing towards Jesus. Those are the relationships we should be steering our students towards: Christ-centered relationships instead of world-focused relationships.

“Pruning” Relationships

If you’ve made it through the first two points, then saddle up; this one is going to be a bumpy ride. If I’ve learned anything about teenagers, it’s that they hate being told someone is “bad for them” or that a relationship they’re in is an “unhealthy relationship.” These are the conversations that are always tough for youth pastors. We care so much about them, and we want to help guide their decisions, but we are also fearful that it will cause them to run away from church, or even their relationship with God. The truth is that these conversations need to happen. We need to invest in our students beyond what we say at a Wednesday night youth service. If we are witnessing them wasting time on a relationship that is not pointing them towards Christ, we need to help them prune out that relationship.
Being a youth pastor is not always sunshine and cupcakes. There are days of tough conversations, constructive criticism and guidance in a direction your students may not want to follow. When those days come, remember the calling God has placed on your life. You are shepherding them through one of the most important seasons in their life. God has placed YOU in their lives to help guide, direct, encourage, support and love them, despite what their life stories may bring. Let your relationships with your students be an example of the relationship we have with God: unconditional and limitless.

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About The Author

Kirsten lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, Carl and her beautiful daughter, Maci. She and her husband serve as Youth Pastors and Worship Leaders at their church. She loves her job and the opportunity she has to serve pastors and ministry leaders full time. When she’s not at work or church, you can probably find her wandering the aisles of Target with a Starbucks coffee in hand.