Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions
Most of our female students have crushes (say they are in love with) our Youth Pastor & male youth leaders. Some have even said that they can't wait until they are 18 so they can date them. These girls are 7-10 years younger than the leaders. How do we address this issue? Do you have any resources for this situation?
Kirstie, Boulder City, NV
Thank you for contacting The Source about crushes that can crush your ministry! You didn't phrase it that way, but by your email we can see that you're very aware of both the danger and the sensitivity of this situation. We give you a lot of credit for addressing it a.s.a.p.
Bottom line: Young girls can so easily read into guys' words, facial expressions, and body language, even when those guys don't intend to send misleading messages. Encourage your guys to be sure they're not sending emotional vibes or affectionate cues that say, "Your flirting is reciprocal." I'm NOT assuming they are; this is simply good advice I'd give anyone. Your male leaders probably know this already, but just in case, emphasize that they should NEVER be alone with females or drive them home alone.
Since these girls have been flirting with them, I suggest the guys go on the "offense" and be intentional about watching each others' backs on youth nights. They should be ready to "interrupt" the minute one of the girls approaches another guy leader, rescuing him from interaction with her. Hopefully, after a couple of weeks of doing this on Sundays and Wednesdays (or whenever you have group times), the girls will realize that they can't corner any of the guys. They may get irritated by the interruptions, but oh well.
If the girls are open in front of everyone in their flirting, I suggest you pull them aside one at a time and gently but directly suggest that they may not realize how their friendliness comes across and that you don't want them to be misunderstood by anyone... that you believe they are key students in (name of youth ministry) and want the younger girls to look up to them, but they can't look up to a flirt. :o)
If it continues, AFTER you've talked with them one on one, my next move might be to meet with them with the guy leaders (it's up to you if you do this with one girl at a time or all the girls together). In this scenario, you're there as a quiet witness and it's up to the guys to lovingly but directly say something like, "Jenny, we love that you're so faithful to (name of youth ministry), and we like that you're (sincere compliment about her character or personality). But sometimes when you (describe the behavior), we're not sure how to take it. Can you see why that would be uncomfortable to me as a (his age) year old, coming from you, a (her age) year old?" Then, he should be quiet and let her answer. She may get defensive, she may cry, or feel embarrassed, or none of the above. It doesn't matter. What matters is that she acknowledge his question in a way that lets you all know she understands what he's said.
Then, he could follow up with something like, "We think of you girls as little sisters and it's important to us that the other guys respect you like sisters, too. We'll pummel anyone who doesn't! OK, maybe not pummel, but do you understand that we believe in you as young ladies who have a destiny in God? (Let her acknowledge his comment.) That's how we look at every girl in (name of youth ministry). If you need to talk about anything, Kirstie's (name other female youth leaders, too) here for you." End the conversation there or by the guys praying for the girls.
I also want to encourage you and your other female leaders to gently but directly address the emotional needs of these girls with them. When the time is right, one-on-one, ask them open-ended questions about what might be missing in their relationship with Jesus (or even their own fathers) that may be causing them to look to their youth leaders (or guys at school) to fill. Affirm how that makes sense and is understandable, but that it’s important to allow people their proper place in our lives. Their youth leaders are spiritual big brothers and, in truth, authority figures in their lives. God belongs “on the throne” as our maker – the One who knows exactly what we need and when and is quite capable of meeting every internal (emotional) need.
I realize that it would be easy to simply address these girls’ behavior without helping them go to the root of their behavior (I don’t mean by trying to psychoanalyze them, but again, by simply asking them questions to get them to think about their motives and what they’re really needing).
Danette Matty, Resource Correspondent
The Source for Youth Ministry