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student ministry, youth ministry, asking good questions

3 Ways to Make Sure Students Never Take Your Advice

By Guest Contributor September 18, 2014

By: Rob Trenckmann


People do stupid things all the time. There’s the young man who gives away his integrity by cheating on a test. There’s the young woman who gossips about her “friends” to look good in front of her other “friends.” Then there’s the young man who clicks on pornography, or the young woman who gives away her heart. And of course the “big three”: alcohol, drugs, and pre-marital sex.

We know students will make mistakes—they’re human. But the question for youth leaders is, how will we motivate young people to make right choices? How will we steer them away from the painful pitfalls of life and into the good plan that God has for them?

There are lots of failed strategies:

  • Many try to control young people through rewards and consequences: “Young lady, if you come home pregnant, you can forget about living here.” The problem is, controlling morality through rewards and punishment is aimed at the moral development of children, not adolescents (click here for more on the moral development of teens). It’s largely ineffective for transformative change in students. And the minute the reward or punishment is no longer in play, the moral behavior is likely to follow.
  • Others try to shape their choices by pointing out the consequences: “If you have sex, you could get an STD.” The problem here is that young people largely don’t care about potential consequences. There is a biological reason for this—their brain hasn’t finished developing yet—and a developmental reason—they believe bad things only happen to other people. Trying to scare young people into right behavior is usually a dead-end street. They’ll always believe they are the exception to the rule.
  • Some try to shape people by using God and the Bible as a hammer: “The Bible says this is wrong. If you choose to disobey, you’re rejecting God and his plan for you.” Although this may be true, it’s dangerous ground to leverage God against a young person. They’re likely to reject the advice and God and his Word—an even greater loss.

So, what is the savvy youth leader to do? Jesus gives us a hint when he says things like, “Out of the mouth flows the abundance of the heart,” and “Where your treasure lies, so there will your heart be also.” The Bible makes it clear that we are fundamentally heart-driven people, so any moral shaping we do must start with heart-transformation.

In other words, for lasting change to happen, a student must want to respond. This happens when they have vision for why they should respond.

advice_quoteSo …

  • “If you have sex you’ll get an STD,” becomes “God made sex to be absolutely beautiful. He designed it and knows how it best works. Sex is made for marriage—and it is worth saving for that!”
  • “If you choose to date a non-believer, you’re disobeying God and his Word,” becomes “God wants to be your best love—your number-one affection. If the person you’re dating doesn’t share that, you can never be close to them on the deepest level—and that makes you unequal partners.”
  • “Pornography is wrong. It is sin destroying your mind,” becomes “Someday, when you get married, you want to be totally blown away by the beauty of your wife. You don’t want to have images of some fake person you’ve never met interfering with your absolute adoration of the woman God has given you.”

Can you feel the difference? One is leading from behind—nipping at their heels. The other is leading from the front—casting vision for where God wants them to go. Because young people are wrestling with the deep questions of life for the very first time, we simply must cast vision for why following Jesus makes sense. It has to work in real life. And when we can explain it in vision-filled, reasonable, forward-looking ways, we’ll be surprised at how willing they are to respond.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More