I think we may have gone a bit overboard when it comes to relationships between youth leaders and students of the opposite sex. We have become so careful to avoid any and all appearances of wrongdoing, that we are basically keeping youth leaders and students of the opposite sex away from each other. And that is plain wrong.

It is healthy and beneficial for students to have a discipling relationship with leaders, both men and women. And obviously, by relationship I don’t mean a romantic one, but a friendship, a mentor-mentee kind of thing where discipling is the main goal. If anything, we need to facilitate opposite sex discipling rather than try to prevent them.

Yes, healthy boundaries are necessary in opposite sex discipling, but not insurmountable walls... 

Our students need men and women

Our students need different things from men and women and they need both. It’s not just the girls that need female leaders, the guys do too. As women, we can sometimes help them with stuff their moms, sisters, and/or girlfriends can’t. I know that I have offered a helpful female perspective on countless occasions.

The same way, it’s not just the guys that need male leaders. Many girls grow up with (semi) absent fathers and a positive male role model is of crucial importance to them. Guys can teach girls about what matters to guys, about how a guy should treat them.

Also, sometimes the ‘click’ that’s needed between a leader and a student to have a meaningful discipling relationship happens with people from different sexes. I know that I often have an easier time bonding with guys than with girls, despite that fact that I’m a woman. For some reasons, guys find me easy to talk to. I’ve always had a lot of guys as friends, even when I was a teen myself. And can we just agree that on principle, that is okay?

Healthy boundaries

Just to be clear, I am all for boundaries when it comes to contact between leaders and students. Boundaries are necessary to protect both the (vulnerable) students and the (equally vulnerable) youth leaders. But in our honest efforts to set up boundaries, we’ve sometimes created insurmountable walls.

Yes, you should have a rule that says leaders cannot be alone with someone from the opposite sex (or maybe even someone from the same sex) without anyone else present. That’s a healthy rule and one that I have always kept. Just meet in a public place, or somewhere where others can at least observe you.

Yes, it’s usually a good idea when someone else is present as well, for instance a spouse. My husband has often sat in on talks I’ve had with guys, even if he was just a silent observer. Other times he was just in the house when someone was there. It helps communicate clearly what type of relationship I’m striving for with a student.

But please, let’s not make it impossible for youth leaders to connect with students and disciple them, even if they’re from the opposite sex. Allow them to hang out, have fun, connect, and connect. Some of the biggest impact I’ve had on students’ lived has been on guys and both they and I would have missed out on that if I’d let myself be convinced that I could only disciple girls.

Do you agree with me on the issue of opposite sex discipling or do you think that we need strict(er) rules for relationships between leaders and students?