How To Make Sure Students Never Listen to Your Advice

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 tells mean stories about her ‘friends’ to look good with her other ‘friends.’ Then there’s the young man who trades his purity for a click on pornography, or the young woman who gives away her heart. And of course the big ones: alcohol, drugs, and pre-marital sex.

(Photo by LauraLewis23 at Creative Commons)

(Photo by LauraLewis23 at Creative Commons)

The question for the youth leader, of course, is how do we motivate young people to make right choices? How do 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, of course, is that 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.
  • Others try to shape their choices by pointing out the consequences. “If you have sex, you could get AIDS or STD’s.” The problem here is that young people are largely uncaring 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.
  • 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 reject God and His Word—an even greater loss.

So, what is the savvy youth leader (or parent) to do? Jesus gives us a hint when He says things like, “Out of the mouth flows the abundance of the heart,” or “Where your treasure lies, so there will your heart be also.” The Bible makes it clear that we are fundamentally heart-driven people (I’ll defend that another time …), 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 often happens when they have vision for why they should respond.

So …

  • Instead of “If you have sex you’ll get AIDS and STD’s,” it’s “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!”
  • Instead of, “If you choose to date a non-believer, you’re disobeying God and His Word,” it’s “God wants to be your best love—your #1 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.”
  • Instead of, “That pornography is wrong and is sin and is destroying your mind,” it’s “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 is leading from behind—nipping at their heels. The other is leading from in 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 often, when we can explain it in vision-filled, reasonable, forward-looking ways, we’ll be surprised at how willing they are to respond …

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