As a youth pastor/leader, I believe the biggest hurdle we all face is to do whatever we can to avoid “awkward.” Every game, every story, every joke, every interaction has this pressure to not be “awkward” and it’s enough to keep us up at night in cold sweats. But I think some of the most awkward moments can come from interacting with a student of the opposite gender. Why? Well, it could be because of the fact that history shows many church workers who have made mistakes. It could just be due to the fact that they’re in their most awkward phase and so it’s all their fault. It could be that you need to go to counseling to reveal something from your childhood. But this isn’t a small topic. A good portion of our youth groups are of the opposite gender and we need to intentionally think, plan, and process ways to love these children of God without getting a “pass” because we’re afraid of the “awkward” or worse, afraid of making a mistake or the perception of a mistake. So, because I’m a dude, I’m going to write to the fellow dudes. How do we intentionally and carefully show love to the girls in our youth groups? I mean, Jesus met with that woman at the well in John 4, right? And that was even bolder as she was a Samaritan also. I’m gonna break this down into two categories: Some things you should know and Some things you should/shouldn't do Some of this comes from my own experience. Some of this comes from conversations with my adult female volunteers. Some of this comes from training from different conferences specifically about ministering to teenage girls. So here we go... Some things you should know:
- They will develop crushes on you. I was in denial about this for a long time after I was told this at a conference once. I’m not that great. I’m super humble. Probably the most humble. But the reality is I am regularly being vulnerable with the students in every message that I deliver, and so naturally there is a connection that I am trying to establish with them. Because of this spiritual connection, an emotional connection can be made and you can become more than just a spiritual leader in their eyes.
- Satan is good at what he does. He’s had a lot of practice. He knows you and he knows them. If he can get one of you to think inappropriate thoughts, win. If he can get one of you to act on those inappropriate thoughts, double win. However, if he can’t get anywhere with his tricks, then he will try to insert lies into what did or didn’t happen in your conversation. That could come from the girl, or it could come from an onlooker that assumed the worst.
- They are more confused than they let on. Physical changes and hormones are not only confusing but pressure-filled by society. Their burdens from childhood are starting to resurface. They’re trying to figure out who they are and who they should become. In all of their daily confusion, you are a stable, spiritually and emotionally mature, good-listener.
Some things you should/shouldn’t do:
- Pray. Obvious, right? But seriously, James 1:5 says that if you ask for wisdom, God’s gonna give it to you. Every time. So tap into that source everytime you enter into a conversation with a female student.
- Never be alone. You can talk with them in a private conversation while others are somewhere else in the room. But never be in a room alone together. Ever.
- Give normal hugs. I also learned this at a conference once. The awkward side-hug has to go. It immediately establishes a non-verbal conversation about their body parts being different than yours. Just give them a hug and move on. I don’t really feel the need to talk about the difference between a normal, brief hug and an extended hug that borders on the line of a grope. So, c’mon. Be smart.
- Have in mind a female adult leader that you can refer them to if the conversation starts getting too personal. Tell that leader ahead of time that you may occasionally send a girl her way. But have one ear to them and one ear to Heaven listening for any cues on if you need to redirect them to someone else.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But just remember to love them like Jesus loves them and to be wise with your verbal and nonverbal communication. Satan’s looking for an “in.” However, you have the Holy Spirit inside of you that wants to help direct you so that you don’t have to live in fear of the awkward, or worse.