Building a Culture of Love
The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, speaking, and equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.
A Necessary Love
Jesus says this in Matthew 22: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (22:38-40, ESV). Love, with its dual—but not ultimately equal—objects of God and others, forms the third piece of our Triad, informing and enforcing the two other principles of faith and repentance. But how do we even define love in the first place?
The apostle John tells us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His only son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). Simply put, love is sacrificial action on behalf of another, a self-denying, others-serving act that encompasses all of life. John helps us see something else as well: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). In other words, God’s love for us in the face of His Son is the catalyst, the igniting flame, for our passionate self-denying, others-serving love for our fellow man. God’s movement of love towards us provides the context, the grounds, and the passion for our love towards others. And it is our movement of love towards Him that works itself out in love for others.
The world’s understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender, however, is an inward-referenced one. The world finds its catalyst for understanding sex, sexuality, and gender in the self and seeks to define sexual reality apart from the One who created sexuality in the beginning. In other words, the world has crippled sex, sexuality, and gender by stripping them of their intended focus: God and others.
One of the best ways, then, to steward our sexuality for the glory of God is to reestablish our heavenward gaze (check out Secularized Sexuality), and then, in light of Him, to focus on others. We act like true men and women when we sacrificially love God and others in practical, self-denying ways.
So how do we cultivate love in student ministry?
Embody the Language
The first thing we need to do is to actually embody love itself. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of love? Am I a woman of love? Am I striving to obey His commands, from making my own time with the Lord a priority to practically serving my husband, wife, or friends? How am I doing in thinking of practical ways to love and serve my students?”
In other words, love begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of love in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.
Use the Language
Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about love. What would that look like?
- We are constantly calling on students to love God and others in practical, small ways. A mistake I tend to make is calling on students to love God and others by “giving their lives to Him” or by “living for Him alone”. These are grand statements, but love for God and others is often worked out in the small moments that often pass us by. Love looks like actually doing our chores with a spirit of thankfulness to God for what He’s done for us. Love looks like taking the tray of another kid to the trash. Love looks like obeying Mom and Dad immediately. We must help students respond to the love of God for them by giving them practical ways to love Him and others in response.
- We are constantly unmasking the empty “love” of the world with the full and life-giving love of Christians. The world’s “love” tends to fade at inconvenience. The “love” that the hookup culture promises is a self-exalting, others-consuming love that exploits and dehumanizes. The world’s “love” is more about feeling and acceptance, rather than challenging, changing, and serving action in the face of God.
- We are constantly teaching and talking about the love of God. The apostle John, as noted above, wants to motivate us to love for others by showing us the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Let’s paint for students, through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a beautiful, compelling picture of God’s love for us in the sending of His Son. The Spirit will use this constant focus on the love of God in the Son, expounded from the Scriptures, to compel students outward in a life-act of sacrifice.
Facilitate Times of Love
One more thing we can do to cultivate a culture of love in student ministry is to give students opportunities to sacrificially love others. Is there a servant leadership team that a student can join to set up or clean up before and after events? Can you establish a mentor program with older, more mature high schoolers and younger, less mature middle schoolers?
The Triad of Life—faith, repentance, and love—is what we are after in our students. A life lived in constant and daily faith, practical repentance, and acts of love is one that necessarily forsakes the emptiness of sinful sexuality to find life in our life-giving God.