There is always drama involved with student ministry. Sure, as student pastors we do our best to minimize that drama, but you will never be able to get rid of it altogether. One of the prime sources of drama is when you have students dating each other within the ministry. Now, this isn’t all bad. I met my wife in the student ministry and there are numerous others who share that same story. After all, there are worse places that people could meet each other to begin a relationship. The drama comes when this relationship is unhealthy and sometimes causes damage to the unity of your ministry.
Before we get too far into this I want to let you know this isn’t about students dating or not dating within your student ministry. That isn’t something you can control. Instead, I want to point you to a specific issue that is often misunderstood by parents, by those who lead student ministries, and by the students themselves. The misunderstanding is that students who are dating should study the Bible together, on their own, and that it will help them grow spiritually together. I think this is a terrible idea and could cause more damage than it will help them grow.
Studying the Bible is a good thing. You know that. It will also help your students to grow spiritually. Most parents know that as well. The problem with the idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend studying it together is that it will draw them together more than just spiritually with the Lord. People connect with each other on three levels: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As you grow in your connection with one, it will lead you to grow in your connection in the other two areas. If you are married, you know that when you’re connecting on an emotional level with your spouse your physical connection is much better. As you are seeking to know Jesus, it binds you together and improves the emotional and physical connection that you have. The same is true for your students.
When you, or their parents, encourage students who are dating to study the Bible together you are encouraging their spiritual connection. This is an intimate step and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Studying the Bible together will lead them to a deeper connection emotionally and physically that can’t be just “turned off.” These are exactly the things, at this age, that we want students to take slowly and healthily. Instead, being part of your student ministry, being connected to a small group, and their parents discipling them are things that should be happening in concert with students who are dating in your ministry. The focus here should be individual discipleship outside of their relationship instead of them discipling each other.
Take the extra step to reach out to these students and their parents to help them date in a healthy way, or even discover that it’s something they aren’t ready for just yet. Their parents, with you as a willing teammate, can help to preserve the heart of a student and the unity of your student ministry with some extra attention. Personally, I am thankful for my own student pastor and my small group leader at the time who walked with me through the beginning stages of dating the person who would eventually become my wife.
Ben Trueblood serves as the Director of Student Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources and has served the local church as a student pastor for thirteen years.