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This session should be looked at in tandem with the session on sexual health - click here. This session is huge so use what you need or consider using over 2-3 sessions.

HORMONE CENTRAL

Just before I started youth work at my church, I heard that most of the 20 or so young people in the newly formed youth work had or were dating each other. Someone would go out with one person, then move on etc. Not exactly serious but certainly serial dating..!

Things aren't quite the same in the group now (in fact, completely the opposite), but dating, as you know, is a big issue with young people. In this session we take a look at marriage, sex and the Bible, have a few exercises, bits for you to do, look at the issue of dating non-Christians and use what's useful.

It would be fair to say that I'm not an expert on dating.. so add, modify and let this session be a tool to inspire.

Proverbs 31

Thinking about the ladies, a good place to start is Proverbs 31.10-31 which describes some of the characteristics of a good wife. But this isn't just for women as it shares info for a good husband too. If you're thinking of a prospective life partner (or even a date) this is a good place to go find out some info:

- a good wife / husband can be hard to find so choose with care!
- in a relationship, trust and loyalty are essential. Should have total confidence in them!
- ladies, as tough as blokes may seem, the truth is most are quite sensitive. Don't mock blokes. A good wife / girlfriend brings her man good and not harm.
- a relationship is for a lifetime, not just for Christmas.
- a good woman / man is a hard worker. Not obsessive but someone who works well and honestly.

- someone who puts the needs of others, their family first.
- a woman who provides for her family, a bloke who will provide for his family - and treat others with respect.
- someone who sees a good bargain, a good investment. A woman who looks after the pennies, who is financially savvy.
- a woman who cares for people, looks out for the poor and needy.
- a lady who makes sure her family are clothed, provided for and that the house is looked after

- the husband is respected within his area of work and beyond
- the husband shows wisdom, has good relationships with other people, and serves according to his calling faithfully in the church.
- the husband really pays attention to his wife and praises her in public and private, genuinely appreciating and loving her.

- a woman who speaks with wisdom and gives faithful instruction to her husband, friends and family
- she is not lazy (please note this seems to be a disease of blokes way more than women!!)
- the woman's husband and children speak highly of her and praise her (big her up).

- a woman who fears God, loves God, trusts God, is obedient to God, growing in God. The same must be true of the man too! Beauty is only temporary but as Brian Houston at Hillsong say, you should see a woman as the archaeologist sees his wife - with age, she grows ever more interesting!

SOUNDS LIKE A LOT HUH?! Yep. But the life of love is a life of faithful loyalty. As a recent book says, marriage is another one of God's ways to make us more holy. Before thinking of marriage, life partners, think: do you want to be made more holy by God?

Other Common Sense Principles to think about..

Are you thinking about dating someone? Some fit lad or lass caught your eye? Here's some good ideas. These are from the wisdom that people have told me and God has revealed to me, not from personal experience.

- Remember first and foremost that a Godly relationship involves 3 people - there's you and your wife / husband or girlfriend / boyfriend. But right at the centre is God. He must be central otherwise your relationship will fail.

- What are the family like? This is often a good guide. A Christian family brings with it a Christian spiritual inheritance that is rarely found elsewhere. You can very often tell where people's families have a Christian, missionary, Godly legacy.

- What is the mother of the girl like? (If possible to know this, I realise death, adoption, family breakup may not always make this possible). Very often a girl will become like her mother. A bloke usually turns out fairly like the old man, but this is not as guaranteed. When you meet or hear about the family, the parents, do you like what you see and feel? Is it loving, caring, Godly, do they demonstrate characteristics you are looking for in your life partner? It's a good sign if they do!

- What are they like with other people? Are they a gossip, arrogant, full of themselves? Leave them alone.

- Can you trust them? Trust is essential. If they can't be trusted with small things, how can you trust them in a relationship? Integrity, faithfulness, loyalty are essential.

- Are they reliable? Do they turn up to things - reliability values people. If they are regularly late or unreliable, this needs sorting before things go much further!

- How does someone present in public and in private? Do the private and public life match up? A good sign if they do and both are Godly!

- What do they want out of a relationship? If you want to go out with someone who you'll marry and your partner just wants someone to date, you may be best off avoiding that relationship.

- Be careful of someone who puts lots of demands on you very quickly. This isn't a great sign. What do I mean by great demands? You must live in my home town, you should quit your job, if you really loved me you'd do x, y or z. That type of thing probably shows a controlling person, a clingy person or someone not yet mature enough to handle a long-lasting relationship!

- How do the terms of the relationship work out? For example, does one person almost use the other person. I've looked on at a relationship where the girl saw the bloke as her fall-back person.. The girl contacted the lad when she was lonely, depressed, bored or when her mates weren't around. The bloke ended up feeling used, which he was being. This is not the basis for a relationship! That relationship didn't work out not surprisingly!

- On the flipside, blokes need to remember that girls are sensitive and need care, little touches such as sending cards, flowers, text messages, gifts, surprise things, cooking food for her etc. It shows how you value the female. A female likes the male to be attentive to her, not obsessively though! Simply listening to her, commenting on her appearance will show amazing results!

- Girls, remember to support your bloke publicly and privately and do not reveal secrets about in your chats with mates.

- Remember in a relationship not to forget those around you, such as your friends. You may have had your friends for a long time, your relationship may or may not work out. Make sure you have friends and family to come back to if things fail. More than that, if the price of a relationship is to the exclusion of everyone else, it's not worth pursuing. On the flipside of this, don't treat the other person simply as another friend - they must and should be much more than this, your best friend (apart from Jesus who should always be number one!)

- What skills does each person bring to the relationship? For example, if you're both terrible at organisation, it may not be great, or you'll both need to learn pretty quickly. We're not looking for clones of us, often we look for someone with skills to compliment ours. But important skills that are too wide apart, or non-existent in both parties, won't help!

- Are they spiritually and emotionally stable? I would avoid a girl who said stuff like, 'need a bloke to help me in my spiritual life'. That's a big danger sign to me! Why? We should look for spiritual compatibility not just emotional or physical. While it's good to be there for someone, you don't want to be drained by them, but support each other!

- Do you share the same priorities in life? If I like hip hop and love hip hop ministry, I probably won't get on with someone who hates it. On a deeper level, if someone doesn't want children and another does, that's a big enough tension to sound warning bells! If someone likes cats and dogs (like me!), do you both like animals?

- Shared values - this is even deeper. I would look for a woman who shared the same spiritual values, wants to go a similar way on the faith journey, believes similar things to what I do about the Bible.

- Do you pray together, want to pray together? Believe me, you should as it brings a spiritual connection between people. In fact, there's a warning here for those working with others of the opposite sex, be careful not to pray together just the two of you. It does forge a bond between 2 people, this is why it's so essential in a relationship or marriage.

- Do you want to work together in ministry? How would this work out? Talk and think about it?

- Similar intelligence is not always a great guide but it can seriously help. If you're fairly bright and a thinking person, you won't click with someone who doesn't want to think too much!

- Similar age is a significant factor. These days, people are coming together from vastly different ages (age becomes less important as you get older) but when you're say 17, 18, 19, life is different and has different priorities, opportunities, challenges to when you're in your 20s, 30s etc.

- How independent minded is the other person? Someone who's too independent minded is someone who doesn't, or feels they don't need someone else. This is difficult because a relationship is about allowing someone else to love, care for and value you. If you won't let them or if they won't let you, this will make for a very difficult relationship.

- Ladies, listen closely, you aren't responsible for, and you won't be able to 'change' a man in some kind of miraculous way. So stop thinking that way. Yes, you will have an impact. So look for deep and Godly characteristics in a man now rather than demanding them later. And remember, it's the Holy Spirit that changes people, not you! (Same lesson for blokes too)

- At the end of the day, though, God brings man and woman together. Let no-one set apart what God has sorted out!

FACTS

Interesting study of teenage abstinence and sexual health from religionjournal.com. Also check out battle for truth.org.

EXERCISES

That game where you have a licorice lace, and a girl at one end and a lad at the other. They have to eat the lace towards each other. If you feel dodgy about this, get a husband and wife team to do this bit, much to the amusement of the young people I'm sure..

Or the game where people sit around in the room and one has to go up to another, present them with a gift and say 'I love you' without laughing. Or variations on this. Play it by ear as for many young people this is a difficult to deal with area. It may be safer to stick with leaders doing silly stuff or getting young people doing this who don't mind!!

BIBLE EXAMPLES OF MAN AND WOMAN BROUGHT TOGETHER

There's a mad thing that went round people's emails about the different and bizarre ways man and woman were brought together in the Bible - here's just a few:

'Help water your future wife's flock' - Moses and Zipporah, Exodus 2.16-21

'Go attack and defeat a city and get the king's daughter in marriage' - Othniel and Acsah, Joshua 15.16-17

'Defeat the philistines, bring back their foreskins to the king and get the king's daughter' - David and Michal, 1 Samuel 18.26-28

'Be the slave of a man with a family of only daughters' - Jarha and wife, 1 Chronicles 2.34-36

'Bring back the woman who helps you get a drink from the well and waters your camels to be the wife of your master's son' - Isaac and Rebekah, Genesis 24

I'm off down to the well.. OK, so I'm sending my servant down the well for me..

DON'T TOUCH!

A basic principle nicely put to advise young people on the do's and don't's of dating is - don't touch what you haven't got and don't touch between the top of the torso and the top of the legs. Kind of simplistic but effective! Also, if a situation is getting risky, get out! Respect people's privacy. No means no. Remember that people have feelings and messing round with people's feelings is never nice.

And as the slogan says, 'True Love Waits' (until marriage, before having sex). An amazing thing that God has set there for our protection and enjoyment.

(Bible verses from Genesis 1.27-28, Genesis 2.24, Exodus 20.14 & 17, Matthew 5.27-30).

YOUNG PEOPLE THINK

About a time when you or one of your mates went out with someone, it ended, horrible, oh no, and then the girl (or lad) started dissing you (or your mate). Actually, despite your bravado, that can really hurt. People may say, 'she was a tart' or 'he was a crap kisser' and so on.. Marriage should be a place where a lot of this is very secure. Sex, your intimate secrets and more can be between you and your husband/wife, not on display. What a real sense of security, trust and protection.

Talking of sex, with STI/STD (sexually transmitted diseases) infection rates rising especially in young people, marriage is a place where if 2 people have been and are continue to be faithful, you are pretty much guaranteed to avoid these problems. In addition, with very real medical (let alone moral and spiritual) concerns about the risk and potential damage caused by the morning-after-pill, plus the fact that around 60% of young people wished they had waited, sex is for within marriage alone! It's also a place where 2 become 1, united as one body, with God's blessing.

Click here for info on sexual health - with Christian young people, some may need to be modified.

For obvious reasons, use married couples (and youth leaders who are going to be married) to expand on these points and present them. For more specific boy-girl topics, break down into all-male and all-female groups, as I'm sure you're aware!

Topics you could look at - sex, how far do you go, relationship rules, periods, hormones, masturbation, love, lust, homosexuality etc. In all this, BE VERY CAREFUL. Do NOT expose young people's minds to things they don't need to be exposed to. For example, one youth leader no longer in our youth team did a sex talk where they talked about very inappropriate things that some of the guys had no idea about. Don't pollute their minds or yours. The Bible says think on things that are noble, pure and good (Philippians 4.8)

FOR THE GIRLS AND FOR THE LADS

Give a brief description of the differences between lads and girls. What relationships mean, what they look for, how they react, differences in flirting, what girls and lads look for in the opposite sex, the little signs and things to look for, dirty talk, teenage girls and how their minds work - this last point especially aimed at male youth leaders so they can protect themselves and be aware.

IN THE BEGINNING

There is nothing wrong with dating per se. Let's look at the Bible:

In Genesis 2.7 we read that God created man. In verse 18 of chapter 2, God in his wisdom said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is right for him.' So God recognised the need and took the initiative. We also find that woman is right for man (not another man). We also find that many times, man needs woman (his God-given best 'helper') in order to be fully satisfied and effective.

I realise that when God said 'it is not good that man is alone' he wasn't just referring to marriage. Not everyone gets married. Marriage is not for everyone - like the Apostle Paul. My view is that our priority in these matters, and our advice to young people is that our priority is Jesus, the Kingdom of God, righteousness. Read Matthew 6.33. I also realise that this verse extends to all kinds of relationships - friends, church, house groups etc. There are many ways we can 'not be alone'.

Back to Genesis. Man was busy, naming the animals, birds and all the wild animals. Man was occupied and working but he realised something was missing. In verse 20 we read that, 'Adam did not find a helper that was right for him'. So God recognised the need and then man did. This is always how it is in all things whether we recognise it or not! God brought the woman right for man. We aren't always the best judge of this!

Interestingly, we find that after God created woman from man, we read in verse 22 that, 'The Lord God.. brought the woman to the man.' Must have been very intriguing for both of them.. 'Hello, and what are you?' - 'What am I?! What are you?!'

So we can assure young people (and maybe ourselves) that you do not need to go out and 'find' a life partner. It is God who brings people together in his time and way. We do not have to chase. Dating may be fun and almost irresistible for some young people but it's not essential.

Verse 24, 'So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.' That's a very clear Biblical picture of what marriage is - or should be, and a representation of Jesus and his church.

Then man realised he was kind of lonely. God created woman from man. God said, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' While God did not specifically mean dating/marriage (but also more general human relationships), it can certainly be applied to this statement from God.

If we look at Genesis 24, we also see that Isaac's wife was brought to him, in this case through the wisdom of Abraham and the actions of the servant. By the way, Derek Prince believes this passage is a representation of the bride of Christ (Rebekah = the church) being brought to Christ (as represented by Isaac) by the messenger or the servant (the Holy Spirit).

In Matthew 19, Jesus was being asked provocative questions by the Pharisees about divorce. In verses 4-6, Jesus quotes Genesis 1.27 and 2.24. So we learn that marriage is not an Old Testament thing but has authority today.

So dating is basically boy and girl going out. As you're well aware, these 'relationships' aren't always what you may consider a proper relationship, and can last from half a day through to a couple of years. Sometimes they are for life. Let's read a story..

A STORY FROM MY LIFE - TO SHOW MY DATING INCOMPETENCE (SORT OF)

I was at a works conference. At the conference (for around 300 staff), I thought I saw a girl who was on my course. Not knowing most people there I thought I'd go across and say hi. As I walked over to this girl sitting with 2 mates and was about 5 metres away, I realised it was not the girl.

So here I am standing in the middle of a room, looking at these 3 pretty women who I didn't know, having thought one of them was someone else. They stared at me. I stared at them. Silence.

What to say.. hmm.. So I said, 'OK, you're not who I thought you were so now I'm gonna go away before I look totally stupid.' They just laughed and flirtatiously said it was a great chat-up line. As I walked back to my table feeling very small and a bit stupid I realised I had to spend the rest of the day at a conference with them.

Not yet another one of my incompetent attempts at dating, but maybe it will work for you..

SOME MORE EXERCISES AROUND DATING

Many of us have had the situation where young people are dating and it can cause a real shift in dynamic in the group. One time we had some leads visiting from Watford and attention was on them more than the youth service! Get young people to look at dating and habits in a private survey:

1. From your Bible experience can you find examples of dating in the Bible?

2. What kind of value does God put on relationships? What about you?

3. Have you treated someone badly in a relationship? How? How would you go back and do it differently according to Bible principles? Have you been badly treated? What was it like?

Some of this may be hard for some young people as they will not have dated, but may have wanted to. Others may simply not really be interested. I was more into football and dance music than women. But it is a sensitive area.

Let's look at some further questions:

1. If you had to name one celebrity you'd go out with, who would it be and why? (For a more practical exercise here, get some magazines and have them cut out the person they'd like!)

2. What would make your perfect partner - be realistic?!

3. What of these qualities would be most important to you if dating someone - put them in order but don't use those ones not important to you...

- Loving
- Trust
- Loyalty
- Good looking
- Good sense of humour
- Up for stuff
- Outgoing
- Sporty
- Cool
- Kind
- Sensitive
- Godly
- Happy
- Positive
- Doesn't whinge
- Helpful
- Popular
- Sexy
- Thinks differently
- Good possibility to marry
- Off the planet

DATING

It is important to stress that not everyone dates a lot and that dating isn't all that. It can be fun but it can hurt when things split up. Dating is not essential. Some people like to have lots of dates in order to find security. Others date to find that one person. Some date for fun. Others wait for the right person. No one thing is right.

Some people are called to be single, like the Apostle Paul. Your ministry may be one of a lot of travel, a lot of danger, very intense or at all hours of the day. A relationship wouldn't be possible or sensible. Others can achieve more on their own. Everyone is different.

However, as we've seen, on many occasions in the Bible, God brought people together. As we'll see this started with Adam and Eve, was the case for Isaac and others. The New Testament is less clear but we see both couples and singles working together for the Gospel in different ways. Your guys will be the same!

DON'T YOU JUST HATE THAT!

One of the very worst things about dating is that sometimes, friends get left out. I know of a couple of young people with boyfriends who speak to another girl a lot but far less (if at all) when their boyfriends are present. Many times in relationships a best friend gets almost pushed away. I have lost a number of friends in the past who became so involved with a girl, they no longer bothered to meet up with their mates. When relationships ended, there were times where there were few if any friends left.

I really think it's important to stress that in any relationship, God has to be at the centre. Here's another reason why going out with a non-Christian isn't a great idea/. How can Jesus be at the centre when one person doesn't know Jesus. If God is at the centre then we need to accept that however difficult it may be, we cannot get caught up solely in the relationship but must make time for friends and family and others. That's what Jesus meant when he said love others as yourself. Let's warn young people (and ourselves) not to get caught up in a relationship that they become selfish. That is not what God calls us to do and when he sees us do this, it grieves the Holy Spirit.

OUR RESPONSE TO YOUNG PEOPLE DATING

As below, unconditional love, even in those times where we can see the relationship is unlikely to last. For many it's a phase and something many of us went through - or are going through - I don't know you! We should also be aware of how needs can change in a relationship. We need to be there to offer guidance, counselling and help should anything un-planned happen. Think for yourself how this can happen.

An exercise here - put a list of situations to the young people and see how they'd deal with it.. for example..

1. The most popular lad is going out with the most popular girl and they're always attached at the hip. They're often away from the church

2. The person you fancy does not seem to fancy you, you're not sure how to get their attention. How do you?

3. Two of the young people have been going out and had sex. Now you find out the girl is pregnant.

4. Your mate is going out with a non-Christian who is a really bad person and bad influence. How do you deal with it?

5. You're worried that your Christian mate and Christian boyfriend/girlfriend are getting too intimate..

Another exercise - get a load of pictures of famous celebrities in relationships (David & Victoria Beckham, Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard & Judy etc.) and talk, discuss about their personalities and them. What about pre-nuptial agreements!

DATING NON-CHRISTIANS

In Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 we read about the fact that two are better than one. In verse 12, we read the essential bit: 'An enemy might defeat one person, but two people together can defend themselves: a rope that is woven of three strings is hard to break.'

So a key ingredient, the key ingredient in a relationship is the third cord. The third cord is God. If a relationship, even a semi-serious teenage relationship, does not have God, it is not something that God is in, it will not work as effectively as it should or could - and is certainly not something God condones. Let's look further..

The Corinthian church was in a state. There were many un-Godly practices that make the church of today look innocent. Paul knew he needed to write to sort out these evil and un-Godly things. In 1 Corinthians 6.13 we find Paul talking to the church 'as if you were my children.' When we work with young people, in some ways we are acting as kind of friends-parents. So this gives extra authority to what Paul says.

1 Corinthians 6.14, 'You are not the same as those who do not believe. So do not join yourselves to them. Good and bad do not belong together. Light and darkness cannot share together.' The Bible is quite clear here. Despite the difficulties and conflicts it causes we must speak the truth that a Christian young person should not be with a non-Christian. In fact, the Bible goes on to compare it to good and bad, light and dark, even Jesus and the devil. Heavy stuff indeed.

1 Cor. 7:39 - A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.

2 Cor. 6:14-15 - Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

Practically, we realise it is difficult for young people to accept and do this as hormones, desires and feelings can overtake them. Many young people date non-Christians and come through un-scathed. So what should our response be?

The final point is that young people who date non-Christians do sometimes see the non-Christian person come to faith. So we can't be too hard and too religious on this one. Loving guidance and support is a far better option at times!

OUR RESPONSE TO YOUNG PEOPLE DATING NON-CHRISTIANS

Unconditional love. As a parent should give. This goes with support, advice, cajoling and tough words. But we must not alienate the young person. I have seen this almost happen, and actually happen and it has caused so much damage. We must speak the truth in love. If a leader is too involved, someone else must talk to the young person. It's rarely a sign of failure on your part!

We must point out that it's not God's best. We should also support the non-Christian if they attend. I have heard of non-Christians getting saved like this - 'flirt to convert' is one title. But it's not ideal and I don't think we're called to do this!

Young people say, 'my boyfriend is coming to youthwork stuff, he wouldn't be here otherwise' or 'they're getting close to God'. That is amazingly encouraging but an example of God working despite us, not because of us. We must continue to support the young people. And we must pray. Prayer brings results, in God's way and timing. We also have to know when to quit, when to stop moaning. They may even carry on because you don't like it, obviously!

Other young people can have a powerful part to play here. They may well be influenced in a negative way by older young people who you may need to confront. Or they can play a positive role in influencing others for God.

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