The following are some very important principles to keep in mind as we develop relationships with high school students.
1. You Must Assume a Leadership Role.
Your relationship is not a peer-to-peer relationship. Due to the differences in age, experience and maturity, you must provide the leadership. It can be like an older brother or older sister or as an adult friend. Sometimes it’s much like a teacher-student or coach-student friendship.
As the leader it’s very important for you to be a positive model of maturity. You want to be real, but not if it means stooping to a lower level of mature behavior. High school students are very idealistic. They can become disillusioned easily if you appear inconsistent or immature.
On a college campus, staff and students can disciple each other more as peers. But in a high school ministry, the staff must provide more leadership in the relationship.
2. Finds Ways They Can Give to You.
With all the input you are having in their life, it’s easy for the relationship to become somewhat unbalanced. You are helping them in many ways, but they also feel a need to contribute in some way to your life. Figure out what they can do to help you. Think creatively. They can help fix your car, teach you a new sport, help you with a hobby, or give you advice. In every case, your leadership is enhanced when there is balance. It helps to have give and take in the relationship.
3. Don’t Become Too Dependent on Each Other.
It sounds silly, but it happens. Obviously, your best friends need to be those your own age. You can’t expect high school students to meet all your friendship needs. And you can’t rely on your relationship with them – or ministry to them – to build your self worth.
Students can easily become dependent on us. Don’t ever control or smother their growth. They must become independently dependent on Christ. Be sure they are hearing from a variety of godly men and women.
Also, be careful about crushes that can sometimes develop. Watch how you relate with students of the opposite sex. It’s easy for them to grow fond of you and become emotionally attached. Our ministry’s standard operating procedure is for men to disciple guys and women to disciple girls. Serious counseling should also be turned over to a staff member of the same sex.
4. Be Careful with Your Transparency.
Imagine how you would have felt if one of the adults you admired had shared too much of himself with you. When we are overly vulnerable with young people, they don’t know how to handle it. Their idealism and lack of experience make it hard for them to understand the more intimate aspects of adult life. Be honest, be real, but be careful.
5. Be Aware of How Things Appear to Others.
Keeping kids out too late, telling parents you are going one place and then going someplace else, exaggerated physical affection, or even being alone with a student of the opposite sex can communicate things to other people that would make them suspicious of the relationship. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to avoid all appearance of evil. Ask yourself: “Could this cause parents, an administrator, or any other students to distrust me in any way?”
6. Get to Know Their Family.
Did you have any significant relationships with adults whom your parents had never met? Obviously, knowing the family will enhance your ministry to the student, as well as give you an opportunity to minister to other family members. It’s important to establish a trusting relationship with them. (See the Ministry Skill: How to Work with Parents)