Not all people are or will be blessed with positive family relationships. Some don’t have brothers or sisters. Some will never become spouses or parents. Many might live far from relatives or be estranged. Yet each and every one of us has the opportunity to be and have a friend.
God provides us with friendships in order to nurture and support one another, and to strengthen our faith in Him. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Having solid companions is valuable at any stage in life but is especially integral for young people.
Teens need friends to help them weather the stresses of adolescence, feel accepted, and grow spiritually. Teenage friendships improve mental health well into adulthood. Healthy teen friendships can strengthen faith and bless lives with encouraging partnership and support. It is essential for youth workers to equip students with the tools necessary to build and maintain solid friend relationships, especially those that point back to Jesus.
God Values Friendship
Scripture clearly reminds us that God blesses and uses friendships. The book of Proverbs is full of beautiful statements on the nature of friendship. Additionally, the Bible provides us with a number of exemplary friendships that exhibit qualities that strengthen companions. We see friendship modeled in such relationships as David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Barnabas, and Jesus and the disciples. These relationships can be studied with students to point out the significance of God-centered friends. Biblical alliances remind us of the importance of traits like loyalty, commitment, and love. God does not want us to operate in solitude, but provides us with others who can share in the blessings and burdens of life.
The Changing Face of Socialization
Twenty-first century relationships look different. The prevalence of technology has altered how teens often make and interact with friends, which is important to be aware of. Teenagers regularly “meet” one another in video game chat rooms or online clubs. They are likely to have friends around the world, although they might have never met them in person. Students who do physically see one another still spend a significant percentage of time engaging via text or social media, sometimes even while in the same room! Youth are adept at selecting just the right emoji to match any occasion, yet they often struggle when it comes to holding conversation or meeting others in “real time.”
There are benefits to keeping in touch with friends in other places, and technology can be a wonderful tool to connect teenagers. However, we ought to encourage face to face interaction as much as possible. When working with youth, we should create opportunities for teens to come together and practice embodied friendships, providing them with genuine communication skills and stressing the significance of truly being together. Practicing interpersonal social techniques in group settings will hopefully spill over into other friendships. Youth groups, regardless of size, are areas for teens to feel the joy and acceptance of being part of a community and being surrounded with fellow believers.
Qualities to Encourage
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
Teenagers who have close Christian friendships are blessed with encouraging partners that provide support and strength in times of need. These bonds enhance long-term life quality and promote faith development and retention. But what makes a great friendship? What kinds of characteristics should we be stressing to students as we facilitate friends?
Any relationship takes effort on both sides, as well as open communication. We should practice meaningful communication with teens, guiding them in methods of interaction and expression. Listening to others is a key component of this. As we model and practice listening well, we guide students to understand how it feels to be heard and cared for.
Friendships also require loyalty and trust. Solid friends are honest and intentional about supporting one another through positive and negative events. True friends are glad for the success of others, and encourage each other during tough seasons. We all do well to follow the reminders of Paul: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). God blesses friendships with joy in times of celebration, and also provides friends to shoulder struggles that accompany life.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Christian friends should keep one another accountable spiritually. They should pray for and with one another and regularly engage in faith conversations. These faith friendships are especially critical for teenagers as they navigate the demands and stressors of adolescence. These friends can be the ones to challenge when a young person is tempted or is beginning to be influenced away from Scripture. Helping youth foster friendships in this time can be crucial to sharing the Gospel. Strong relationships based on Christ will stand the test of time and physical distance, continuing to provide encouragement even into adulthood.
Nurturing Teen Friendships
As we work with teenage students, we have opportunities to facilitate relationships and to coach youth in how to develop and practice quality friendships. Of course, teens can be encouraged to have a variety of friends. There is nothing wrong with having non-Christian acquaintances and being an influence in their lives for Christ. But it’s also essential to spend time with other believers who can partner in the faith.
We can also promote depth, rather than breadth when seeking friends. Teens should aim for an “entrée” companion, rather than a few “salad bar” friends. One or two close friends are more beneficial than a handful of casual relationships.
As we work with youth, we can explicitly teach friendship skills, but we should also allow organic friendships to grow as students spend time together and learn what it means to be and have a friend. We can provide tools and resources for them and guide them to share with one another.
The most important thing we can do is pray. As we pray for and with our teens regarding friendships, we encourage them to seek the Lord first and foremost in all things. God will guide and maintain Christian friendships that provide teens with delight, support, and encouragement.